Man holding bow and hunting gear with sunset in background
Food and Recipes

In a guest blog by Michael Corrigan, he tells you everything you need to know about the food sources that make early-season deer hunting in Wakulla County successful.

Hunting zones and equipment you need

Wakulla County offers excellent early-season deer hunting opportunities. Starting in mid-September you can hunt the East/Northeast portion of the county that falls within the state’s established Hunting Zone C. This includes the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge “Newport” hunting area. This relatively small hunt area borders the State’s Flint Rock Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to the East and County Road 59 (Lighthouse Road) to the West. Other areas in the county that fall within the state’s established Hunting Zone D such as the Apalachicola WMA and Wakulla WMA open later in October. This time of year, you should be toting archery equipment while hunting deer over government managed land. And you have the option of using a crossbow if hunting whitetails over privately owned land. In order to enjoy consistent success during the early-season, you have to make an effort to become intimately familiar with naturally occurring (native) food sources that whitetails prefer.

Why early-season deer hunting is enjoyable

Bowhunting during the early-season in Wakulla County as well as other areas of Florida is typically a hot, humid and bug infested affair. But I truly cherish this time of year because I always invest ample time scouting for specific food sources and whitetails are very predictable in part due to low hunting pressure. Getting the first crack at deer is an undeniable advantage for the hunter and at no other time of the year am I more successful than the early-season. If I am sitting in a treestand on opening morning, you can bet I am perched twenty-yards or less from a hot food source – one that shows evidence of heavy deer traffic in the form of tracks and droppings. At the top of my deer food source list is the common persimmon. Whitetails relish the tasty fruit produced by persimmon trees and if you find one that is producing well, you can just about bet that deer will visit the tree regularly until the fruit is no longer available.

Scouting for persimmon trees

When I scout for persimmon trees, I often look for them in the off-season, during late winter and early spring before green up occurs. I do this because I can see further through the woods when the leaves are off. I simply stroll along wetland edges where persimmons typically occur and look for the most black colored tree trunks I can find. Occasionally, you will mistake the bark of a Persimmon tree for that of a Dogwood, Black Cherry or Tupelo, but with a little practice, you will be able to quickly distinguish between them. Most other trees that occur in or near wetlands have “swollen” trunks that are obviously larger near the base. Persimmon trees do not exhibit this characteristic. They appear very “post like” and have a very uniform trunk diameter from the base to the first branch. If you scout for Persimmon trees when the leaves are still on, there are a few characteristics you should look for. The leaves of a Persimmon tree occur alternately along the stem. In botanical terms, they are “oblong-ovate” to “ovate” in shape and have a partial metallic luster and often have black “spotty” blemishes on their upper green colored surface. More often than not, if you find a persimmon tree in the late summer it will be infested with webworms. Because of this, many experienced hunters often look for webworm infestations in order to locate persimmon trees.

Knowing the difference between male and female persimmon trees

When you discover a persimmon tree, determine the tree’s fruit production. In August persimmon fruit on the branch will appear green to yellow in color. Unlike acorn producing trees, not all persimmon trees produce fruit. Persimmon trees are either male or female. In botanical terms, the persimmon tree is considered “Dioecious.” Simply put, male trees produce male flowers and female trees produce female flowers. This means female trees bare fruit and male trees do not. So if you scout for persimmon trees in the winter like I do, you need to know a way to distinguish between female and male trees. To do this, I actually get on my hands and knees and rummage through the leaf litter at the base of the tree. I search meticulously for a “calyx”. This is one botanical term you will want to remember. A calyx is a morphological component of the flower that persists and stays attached to persimmon fruit when they develop. It is a four-point, star shaped structure that is located on the top of a persimmon fruit where the fruit is attached to the stem. This rigid, leathery star-shaped “hat” drops with the fruit and is not easily removed from it. The calyx of a persimmon fruit does not readily decay and with minimal effort you can find several in the leaf litter at the base of female trees. Identifying a calyx at the base of a Persimmon tree is direct evidence that the tree you discovered is female and therefore has the potential to produce fruit during hunting season.

Locating southern crabapple trees

Another food source that should make your short list is the Southern Crabapple. These small trees produce tiny apples that are sour to the taste. The fruit is comparable in size to persimmon fruit. Look for these trees along field edges and the shoulders of roadways. The fruit is green in color, so they can be difficult to identify. Typically if you find one tree, you will find many more in close proximity, perhaps even a thicket condition. If the trees are loaded with fruit, I will visit the site a day or two before my planned hunt and give the trees a good shaking. Doing this dislodges fruit from the branch and has the effect of increasing deer activity in the area leading up to the day of my hunt. Native Crabapples can be found easily in the Wakulla WMA and the St. Marks Newport hunting area. So even if you decide to scout only a few days before the season opener, you should be able to locate a suitable place to hang a treestand or setup a ground blind and take advantage of a food source that Wakulla whitetails crave.

Written by Michael Corrigan