The American Chestnut was the primary food source tree for wildlife – deer, bear, turkey, squirrel, and hogs. The chestnut forest could produce 2,000 pounds of mast or more per acre, more carbohydrate than an acre of corn! Chestnuts were the favored food in the fall for game, because the sweet tasting nuts were high in protein, carbohydrate and had no bitter tasting tannins like acorns.
Deer Are Programmed to Eat Chestnuts
Chestnuts are chosen by deer over all other nuts because of their taste and nutrition. They are high in carbohydrates (40%) and contain up to 10% high quality protein. This highly nutrient-rich food source provides critical energy during the rut in the fall. Chestnuts also have no bitter-tasting tannic acid (tannin). Deer have thousands more taste buds than humans and are sensitive to bitter tasting tannins. Deer prefer White Oak acorns over Red Oaks because they contain less tannin, and this is why deer prefer chestnuts over all acorns.
Deer Choose Chestnuts 100:1 Over Acorns
In tests performed by Dr. James Kroll “Dr. Deer” at the Whitetail Research Institute in Nacogdoches, TX, Kroll reports, “Even though the wild deer at this location had never seen a chestnut in many generations, they got on the chestnuts within ONLY AN HOUR after we put them out. The deer ate the chestnuts 100:1 over the acorns! Chestnuts are deer’s preferred food.”
The sweet taste of chestnut actually sweetens the meat of the animals that eat it. In Spain, hogs are raised on chestnut because of the excellent flavored meat it produces. Venison from chestnut-fed deer tastes like corn-fed venison, without the gamey taste of deer that feed on bitter-tasting acorns.
The biggest problem that chestnut orchardists have is that deer eat all of their harvest! One grower in NC was harvesting 10,000 pounds of nuts and harvesting every other day. When he started picking up nuts every day, his harvest jumped to 26,000 pounds! The deer were eating two-thirds of his crop every night. Other orchardists have had to fence 50 acre orchards to keep the deer out. One grower in Illinois made more money leasing his land to hunters at $1,500 per week than he did from harvesting the nuts.
Better than oak trees
Dunstan Chestnuts are clearly superior as a tree for attracting deer and wildlife and should be part of every deer management program.