I am not too familiar with the ANF outside of where our camp is but I have always wondered what the deer are eating near our camp, just south of Sheffield. I have yet to come across an oak tree. It seems everything is cherry or maple. And most of those seem old. The cherries are often blown down. I am not sure what any of the young trees coming up are but they are just skinny poles that make a lot of areas super thick and hard to walk through let alone see through.
Then this really got me wondering about food sources in my area: My hunting buddy ran into an older guy this Saturday who said he had been hunting the woods around our camp for 50+ years. He said the forest has really changed (lack of deer food) and the deer population is suffering. He said it used to be a lot of oaks but years ago they stripped all the bark off the oaks for oak tanning (???) and they never recovered. Then there used to be a lot of chestnut trees but they have died off.
I have had decent trail cam pulls but also ones that make me think ‘where are all the deer?’. Sometimes get more bear than deer. Anyone familiar with this area or similar landscape in your neck of the woods? Any credibility to what the older gentleman said? What are they eating?
Deer simply move less during frigid temperatures to conserve much needed calories which can be the difference between survival and starvation. Nutritious food is scarce during the winter and the deer's metabolism actually slows down significantly to help retain energy needed to keep the body warm.
Usually deer can comfortably survive the winter by eating their usual diet of twigs, stems, grasses, and other plants wherever they typically would find them, as well as by supplementing with higher-calorie foods such as nuts, fruits, and even mushrooms.
Unless there are winter food plots or farm crops available it can be difficult to pin point their food source. Best way is to get out in the snow and follow their tracks.
Deer are primarily browsers, vs grazing. That is why transitional growth is so important to them. A maturing forest has diminishing appeal. Things like logging, burns, reverting farmland, and hinge cutting provide good food sources. Anything that puts immature growth within their reach.
My camp is not far from yours. If you are not finding oaks in your area, you need to look a little harder. They are there. But they don't always produce so you have to check on them annually. Otherwise look for recent timber cuttings. If you can find regenerating cuts that are 1 to 5 years old, you will find deer.
They stripped the bark off the hemlock trees for tanning and cut everything else down for the timber. There wasn't a tree on any of those hills 120 years ago. The American chestnut got a blight and has never recovered. Only a few around. The hybrid American chestnut is resilient and if you plant them in the right area they will grow and should produce every year once they are mature enough.