I have a lot of Gambel Oak on my property, but I am on the dry end of its comfort zone so it is commonly called Scrub Oak here and not many on my property get over 3 feet tall. It is favored Mule Deer browse, at least in winter.
This little guy is right at 3 feet tall and in a place where I would like it to grow more… and produce acorns. It is adjacent to a path I use regularly and if it gets bigger I will start getting acorns to use year round. I have a couple bigger specimens, maybe 10 feet tall. Tall enough that some acorns and branches are above the deer graze line.
I will put some protection up for this one before winter to help it make the jump between deer browse and nut producer. Because these trees are browsed every year, it is hard to find and transplant tiny seedlings like I did in Texas.
This oak has vast underground structures called lignotubers that can make dense groves of Gambel Oaks or thickets that cover mountainsides.
I have several Oak groves like that, and if I had lost my forest, my Gambel Oaks would likely take over. If so, I would hope for more than 3 feet height.
As a white oak, Gambel Oaks have less tannin in their nuts than red oaks. Rinse out the tannin before eating. If it is bitter, rinse longer. For less rinsing, crack and grind first. Rinse in a cloth bag.
In Texas, I put cracked acorns in a mesh bag and hung them in the rain. Worked fine.
My favorite use for acorns is to grind them and add to cookie dough. Not cloyingly sweet American cookies, but barely sweet Mexican cookies. Also good to roll sugar cookies in instead of sugar.
Grind the acorns fine and add a cup to bread dough. Maybe this is my favorite. It is very good.
Nationally, oaks are premier wildlife food. Gambel Oak is my variation on that theme, and it feeds humans, birds, grouse, deer, chipmunk, and squirrels. Its sheer abundance in the mountains of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah keeps it high on the food list.
Gambel Oak hosts the larvae for Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly. Its range follows Gambel Oak very closely.
Oak tannin can be used in winemaking, but my shrubbies will not make oak barrels. They can make oak chips. I may never make a grape wine, but if I do, Gambel Oak chips may be called for.
Coming from the Pacific Northwest by way of Texas, and used to large oak trees, I still tend to overlook my scrubby little Gambel Oaks even though they are a major food source in my food forest.
If I help a few Gambel Oaks get up to 10 feet tall, perhaps they can provide more mast for wildlife and me.