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It's back ... The mighty American chestnut: deer everywhere are rejoicing at the return of this once prolific and preferred food source.

WHAT CAN A hunter do if he doesn't own land or have enough dollars to invest in a food plot? Purchase and plant a nut or fruit tree. With very little maintenance required compared to a food plot, you can have highly nutritious deer food dropping out of your trees in short order. Better yet, this is a gift you can give to yourself or a landowner that will last for years. And, by keeping the landowner happy, you can ensure yourself a property to hunt for years to come.


We have all heard about chestnuts roasting on an open fire in the classic Christmas song, but exactly what happened to the American chestnut? In 1904, the New York Zoological Park's (now the Bronx Zoo) chief forester, Hermann Mekel, noticed a fungus on some of his American chestnut trees. It was the lethal Asian bark fungus, and it evolved within the Chinese chestnuts the Park was using as nursery stock. Although the Chinese chestnut was not affected by the fungus, the American chestnut was highly susceptible. Because American chestnuts never evolved any resistance to the fungus, it was literally the beginning of the end for what many called the "Redwood of the East."


Within short order, scientists found that airborne spores From the fungus enter a wound in the tree and choke off the flow of nutrients. It didn't take long for the entire tree to be killed as a result.

Based on historical records, it's estimated the airborne bark fungus traveled 50 miles a year. Within a few decades, the chestnut blight killed up to three billion American chestnut trees on over 200 million acres of woodland. By 1950, the iconic American chestnut had virtually disappeared from its native range because of the chestnut blight.

Back in the 1950s, forward-thinking Dr. Robert T. Dunstan saw an opportunity to save the American chestnut by grafting it to a Chinese chestnut. His goal was to produce a blight-resistant chest nut with American traits. Sounds simple, right? Not really. First he had to find a surviving American chestnut, which was discovered in Salem, Ohio, in the early 1950s. After the tree was purposely inoculated with the blight and proved to be resistant, Dunstan had to grow a grafted tree until it produced nuts.

Once this tree produced nuts, Dunstan crossed the grafted tree to a Chinese chestnut and let it grow to production. This is when the fruits of his labor would show whether or not the hybrid American/Chinese tree would be resistant to the blight. It was a success, and the cross now bears his name--the Dunstan Chestnut--the only chestnut tree to have a plant patent. As you can imagine, this whole process took decades.

Chestnuts Versus Acorns

Dunstan Chestnuts can produce nuts in as few as two years, and by year six, can be loaded. All hunters know the attraction between acorns and deer. But did you know deer actually prefer chestnuts to all kinds of acorns? According to wildlife biologist Bob Humphrey, "Chestnuts are nutritionally superior, containing 40 percent carbohydrates, compared to about 10 percent for white oak acorns; 10 percent protein compared to four percent for white oak acorns; and two percent fat. compared to 10 percent in acorns."


To put this into perspective, American chestnuts are prolific carbohydrate machines. They can produce as much carbohydrate per acre as corn (without annual planting), and they are just what deer need for winter survival. And unlike oaks, which are very cyclical when it comes to nut production, American chestnuts produce nuts on a yearly basis. Most importantly, American chestnuts are hardy down to -25 degrees F. (Zone 4), and can withstand a wide variety of soil types, even rocky, acidic soils.


Thankfully, within the last century, white and red oaks have filled the void caused by the chestnut blight. Since chestnut trees grow faster and bigger than oaks, and since deer prefer chestnuts to acorns, many believe it's just a matter of time before the general public fully embraces the return of the iconic chestnut tree our forefathers depended on so heavily.

Dunstan Chestnut

Following on the heels of h is pioneering work, Dr. Dunstan's grandson, Bob D. Wallace, established a commercial chestnut nursery. Since 1981, Wallace has operated Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, the recognized national leader in the return of the chestnut to America. One important question he regularly answers is, "Does the blight affect your Dunstan Chestnuts?" As Wallace says, "It's very important to know that after over 30 years of research, no Dunstan Chestnut has ever died from the blight." Another important aspect of Dunstan Chestnuts is the total biomass of nuts per acre. These trees can produce hundreds of pounds of food per year, far exceeding any oak tree. Recently, Wallace has teamed up with Realtree Nurseries to help distribute and market the Dunstan Chestnut.

Chestnut Hill Tree Farm has also created special prices for the Quality Deer Management Association, Boy Scouts of America, 4-H, and other conservation groups that buy in bulk for fundraising projects. As Wallace says, "When it comes to deer and the Dunstan Chestnut, plant it, and the deer will come!" In fact, he has problems every year with deer digging up and eating the nuts out of his potted plants. Without a doubt, chestnuts are a deer's most preferred nut, period.

C.J.'s Summary

Because a chestnut tree flowers late, it's unaffected by an untimely frost which could wipe out an entire acorn crop. The reliable chestnut tree produces a highly nutritional nut on a yearly basis. You'll need a minimum of two trees so cross-pollination occurs for nut production. Most folks plant them in groups of five to 10, no more than 100 feet apart or as close as 30 feet.

After all these years, there are very small pockets of American chestnuts that survive. Most American chestnuts that survive today come from old stump sprouts and many never get more than 20 feet tall before the blight kills them.

To order the proven blight-resistant Dunstan Chestnut tree, go to or call 1-855-3867826. Order early because supplies are limited. This year, Dunstan Chestnuts will be available at Walmart. These trees grow in almost any soil type between Zones 4 to 9. You can expect nuts that are high in carbohydrates and protein in two to four years. This equates to 10-20 pounds of nuts per tree in 10 years.

For more information about chestnuts, visit The American Chestnut Foundation at or the American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation at Other nurseries such as Edward Fort Nurseries and Morse Nursery also sell Chinese chestnut and Chinese hybrid chestnuts.
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Title Annotation:Hunting Whitetails
Author:Winand, C.J.
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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