What Are Deer Eating?
Understanding what deer consume and how they change their diets to meet the nutritional requirements will improve your chances of making a good buck. While also increasing your enjoyment of whitetail hunting.
It is vital for the landowner or deer manager to efficiently manage deer to maximize productivity and antler quality. Recognizing and locating the plants and foods that deer enjoy is one of the most crucial woodsman skills. When I’m in the woods, I always monitor the availability of good deer foods and how much the deer consume.
Deer Aren’t the Same As Cows!
“Why there’s lots of green stuff for them here, they can’t be starving” is one of the most typical statements I hear concerning what deer consume. I could go to the hardware store, get some green paint, and manufacture deer food if green-made deer food!
Deer and cows represent the ruminant (those with a four-chambered “stomach”) feeding habits on the other end of the range.
- Deer Aren’t the Same As Cows!
- What Do Deer Prefer to Eat?
- What Do Deer Eat at Different Times of the Year?
- What Do Deer Consume in Different Parts of the Country?
- In My Location, What Do Deer Prefer to Eat?
When viewed from above, cows have a big nose and wide tongue to eat many plant species, notably grasses. Their rumen (first stomach chamber) is enormous. It can hold at least 49 liters of plants and liquids. It has a lot of different kinds of bacteria, protozoa, yeasts, and other organisms in it. This means that each has a different job when it comes to digesting different types of plants. Plants called grasses are the hardest to eat and are made of fiber. But calves digest them quickly. Roughage Eaters are a type of ruminant that includes cattle.
Concentrate Selectors, on the other hand, are whitetail deer. A whitetail’s head is sharply pointed from above, allowing it to reach inside plants and select specific plant sections. They have a long, slender tongue to harvest succulent stems and leaves. This means that the whitetail rumen holds about 2 liters (4 percent of a cow’s rumen). Deer have to replace this rumen every 3-4 hours to keep flora and fauna in their rumen as diverse and specialized as it used to be.
What Do Deer Prefer to Eat?
For example, whitetails eat leaves and twigs of woody plants, as well as forb (weed) and grasses. They also eat nuts and fruits as well as mushrooms in their food. The availability of each of these foods varies based on the time of year and weather conditions.
Even though whitetails prefer forbs over all other food sources, these plants cannot be counted on to be present when deer require them. In general, forbs are more digestible and nutrient-dense. Weeds don’t grow in freezing temperatures or during long periods of drought. Thus, they’re at best a temporary food source.
Browse is a deer’s primary source of nutrition. Shrubs or young trees within deer’s reach can browse plants. No matter the weather conditions, browse plants will always be available in some form or another. Even if browsing plants lose their leaves due to dryness or cold, their branches and twigs remain nutritious, unlike weeds, which simply vanish.
Interestingly, a deer is attracted to food plots. And if you want this to be more effective, you can lime your food plots, which is an excellent way to call out a deer. You can also check out for the best no-till food plots for deer to make them more attracted.
The mast is a term used to describe acorns, nuts, and fruits. They provide high-energy sources during periods of thermal stress or rapid body and antler growth. Deer use fruits including grapes, blackberries, mulberries, and plums as a high-energy, carbohydrate-rich food during antler growth. In reality, digestible energy is the limiting component for a healthy deer herd. When deer are putting on weight for the winter, soft fruits like apples and pears are a great energy source in the fall.
Acorns and chestnuts are the two most significant nuts, yet they serve distinct nutritional purposes. Acorns have a high fat and carbohydrate content but poor protein, whereas chestnuts have a high protein and carbohydrate content. Because chestnuts are fewer tannins, which hinders digestion, deer prefer them to acorns.
Except during the early stages of growth, when the grass shoots are more digestible, grasses are rarely a favored diet item of whitetails. Oats, wheat, and rye are among the most popular cereal grains. On the other hand, cereal grains have been selectively developed for about 5,000 years to make them more delicious.
Finally, mushrooms are the most underappreciated delicacy among deer. Phosphorus, the second most important element, is found in mushrooms and protein. Even in drier locations, you’d be astonished how many pounds of mushrooms are generated per acre naturally. Finding mushroom clusters might help you zero in on the best feeding spots.
What Do Deer Eat at Different Times of the Year?
In the year, whitetails struggle to restore weight lost during the fall rut and the winter that follows. That’s when forbs come into their own! They’re easy to digest and packed with energy, nutrients, and antioxidants. Mushrooms become a great prize because phosphorus is in such high need for antler growth and growing fawns.
Deer begin to browse vegetation, particularly the first choice plants, as spring ends and summer begins. In the middle and late summer, deer’s diet shifts to second-choice browsing plants and early fruits like grapes and berries. As autumn approaches, whitetails must find and consume enormous quantities of carbohydrate-rich foods such as acorns, chestnuts, apples, and pears. Nuts and mushrooms are abundant in phosphorus, which is required to replace the phosphorus lost during antler mineralization from a buck’s flat bones (ribs and skull).
What Do Deer Consume in Different Parts of the Country?
Browse plants are divided into three groups by wildlife biologists: first, second, and third choice. Browsing plant species reflect these three classifications in each geographic area. Knowing the first choice plants will help you discover good deer-eating areas.
Some browsing species may be the first choice in one geographic area but the second choice in another. Dogwood is a first-choice plant in eastern Canada but a second-choice plant in the southeastern United States.
The best browsing plants, in general, have an indeterminate growth pattern, which means they stay largely evergreen and put on new growth when rainfall and temperature circumstances allow. Japanese honeysuckle, greenbrier, blackberry, and Alabama supplejack are vining plants. Plants that aren’t as popular as browsing plants are determinant, meaning they only grow in the spring and early summer. These plants become less digestible after that.
In My Location, What Do Deer Prefer to Eat?
Publications on the favorite whitetail food plants in your state are available from most state game agencies, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and agricultural universities. A poster outlining recommended species is available from the Quality Deer Management Association.
The easiest approach to learning about browse plants is to get a plant identification book with color images. And then wander around your favorite deer woods, searching for indications of grazing. The distinction between deer and rabbit browsing is that deer (who lack upper front teeth) pinch off leaves and shoots. In contrast, rabbits have sharp incisors and leave a distinctive, angled, clean cut on the twig. It won’t take long to figure out which species get a lot of attention and which don’t.
Depending on their preferences, here’s a quick guide to what deer eat in your area.
What Deer Eat in Eastern Canada
- 1st choice: beaked hazel, white cedar, ground hemlock
- 2nd choice: maples, serviceberry, yellow beech
What Deer Eat in the Northeastern United States
- 1st choice: greenbrier, blackberry, dogwood
- 2nd choice: sassafras, maples, staghorn sumac
What Deer Eat in the Southeastern United States
- 1st choice: greenbrier, Japanese honeysuckle, Alabama supplejack
- 2nd choice: maples, American beautyberry, dogwood
What Deer Eat in the Central United States
- 1st choice: quaking aspen, common snowberry, dogwood
- 2nd choice: skunkbush sumac, Saskatoon serviceberry, bearberry
What Deer Eat in Southern United States/Mexico
- 1st choice: catclaw acacia, granjeno, kidneywood
- 2nd choice: prickly lime ash, blue wood condalia, latewood condalia
Frequently Asked Questions About What Do Deer Eat
Some of the types of food that deer love are: pecans, hickory nuts, beechnut acorns, and acorns. They also enjoy fruits like apples, blueberries, blackberries, and persimmons.
Deer eat different types of food, including leaves from woody plants, broad-leaved plants, seeds, grass, and mushrooms/lichens.
Feed deer fruits that can be found in their natural habitat. Do not feed them citrus or acidic fruits. Feed them corn only if it is recommended.
Feed deer hay, corn, kitchen scraps, potatoes, lettuce trimmings, or animal proteins from animals rendered into feed. If you do this during the winter, the deer might not eat the food because they will have a full stomach from the other food.
Carrots are a great vegetable to feed deer. They like to eat them, and they come in many different colors like orange, purple, red, and yellow. It is better to put your carrots in a garden where the deer can’t get to them.
Waste apples and potatoes are something that deer like to eat. They have a lot of calories in them, but they are not a healthy diet by themselves. This is because they are high in water and low in protein and fiber, which is not good for deer during the winter. If deer cannot find good quality natural food around your feed
If you feed deer in your backyard or at a park, you could be harming them instead of helping them. Feeding deer together at one site makes it more likely to catch diseases from other deer.
Supplemental feeding of wild deer is bad for them and can cause them to get sick. This can lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration, which could be deadly.
Corn is high in starch and a good source of digestible energy but can cause problems in a deer’s digestive system. When deer eat too much corn or another high-‐carbohydrate food, many complex changes occur in the rumen. A short-term consequence of eating too much corn is that the deer feel sick.
If you give a small amount of white bread to a deer, it won’t hurt them. But if too many deer eat too much bread, they might get sick from lactic acidosis. It’s not a good idea to put out lots of bread because you can’t control how much each deer will eat.
When food is scarce, deer will eat almost anything. This includes prickly-stemmed okra and hot peppers. Vegetables that deer prefer include beans, lettuce, cabbage, and cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
If you leave corn or bread out for deer to eat, they will eat it. But if you leave too much out, you can get sick and die. It’s OK to leave a little out, but only one or a few deer might eat it if you leave a lot out, and then they will get sick.
Deer will eat apples that are on the ground. This is because they need protein and calcium in their diet. Even if the apple is rotten or fermented, deer will still eat it as a snack.
When the temperature drops, deer often sleep under coniferous trees like pine trees. These trees’ dense, low branches protect the deer from wind and falling snow while creating a makeshift roof that holds in heat.
Deer will definitely eat sweet feed. This type of feed is made of different things, but usually, it is just grains like oats or corn mixed with molasses. … Sweet feed is often used as bait because deer love it so much.