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Deer Love Chestnuts

In the early 1900s the dominant tree that was found in forests far and wide over the entire Eastern United States was the mighty and magnificent tree known as the American Chestnut. In the early 1900s, conservative estimates claimed there nearly four or more billion chestnut trees throughout the eastern part of the country.

By the early 1950s billions of chestnut trees were dead. They were killed not by the saw blades of lumberjacks, but rather by a hideous blight invader from Asia. Over the last 30 years or more however, frenzied efforts have been undertaken to combine the fungus resistance of the Chinese chestnut trees with the toughness of the American chestnut. The American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), and Syracuse University’s American Chestnut Research and Restoration Center (ACRRC) have worked jointly and tirelessly to find a biotechnological solution to the blight that killed the off billions of American chestnut trees by creating disease-resistant hybrid.

After decades of investigation plant breeders and geneticists may have discovered (all independently) at the same conclusion: they think they have created an American chestnut tree that can withstand the devastating fungus blight that wiped out billions of chestnut trees throughout the Northeast. The new hybrid trees have shown promising results in resisting the fungus, just as their counterparts, the Chinese chestnut trees do.

The American chestnut tree was fast growing and could reach heights of 50 or 60 feet tall in several years. Chestnuts were a prized food for Americans nationwide and were often a centerpiece table-fare during the holiday seasons. They were also an important tree to farmers and their stock. There hard, straight wood was prized by woodworkers who crafted fine furniture from the stout wood, and the mast of the chestnut tree was a valuable source of protein to wildlife such as deer, bear, turkey and many other wild critters.

As any wildlife manager knows who grow chestnut trees today, many types of animals, particularly white tailed deer, are extremely fond of chestnuts. Specialty growers like Chestnut Hill Nursery, (CHN) ( grow a hardy, blight resistant variety of chestnut trees known as Dunstan Chestnut™.

My contact at CHN, Robert Wallace told me, “deer absolutely love eating chestnuts.” Wallace went on to say, our fast growing chestnut trees can produce chestnuts in four to five years. A couple of years after that they will produce heavy yearly crops of very large and sweet-tasting nuts that average 15 to 35 nuts/lb. Deer, bear, pigs, wild turkey and many other animals will forage on chestnuts well into November.” Chestnuts are enthusiastically sought out by deer and other game because the nuts are sweet-tasting, and are very high in carbohydrates and protein.

I plant chestnut trees on our farm firstly to help restore the chestnut to its former glory and numbers, and as a nutrient rich food source for all types of wildlife. I began by planting a couple of dozen Dunstan Chestnut™ trees several years ago. All are now over 10-20 feet tall. This fall, I am excitedly anticipating my next chestnut crop and I expect many of my deer and other wildlife are eagerly awaiting this tasty crop as well.

If you want to help to restore the chestnut tree to its former magnificence and also help to increase the overall health of your deer and other wildlife, plan to plant chestnut trees on your land this year. You will do something wonderful for the environment and help your wildlife by providing them with a quality fall and winter food source.

In my book, Shooter’s Bible Guide to Planting Food Plots – A Comprehensive Handbook on Summer, Fall, and Winter Crops to Attract Deer to Your Property, there are 22 chapters and 213 pages of food plot and deer management information. There is a chapter about planting nut trees, particularly chestnut trees.

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