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What do whitetail deer eat?

White-tailed deer eat as much as 5-9 pounds of food per day

See A List of Foods That Deer Eat In The:   Spring  |  Summer  |  Fall  |  Winter

Whtietail Doe Browsing On Leaves In The WoodsWhitetail deer are found across North America primarily in mixed hardwood forests and that feature some openings such as prairies and agricultural areas for foods sources. Like humans deer have food preferences and will eat their food preferences whenever and wherever they find them. When the deer’s food of choice is not available they will move on to less acceptable foods that offer less nutrition and are less tasty to the deer. Seasonal changes and deer pressure all effect the availability of foods that deer eat.

The whitetail deer is a Ruminate, which means they have multi chamber stomachs like cows. When a deer eats it’s food it stores it in one of it’s stomachs and then regurgitates it later and chews on the cut to continue digestion. This allows the deer to feed heavily for a few hours in the morning and evening then they move to a bedding area to lie down and chew their cud.

The primary diet of a whitetail deer is leaves, new shoots twigs, nuts, berries, shrubs and wild flowering herbs. These non woody plants are very important to a deer’s diet especially in the fall. Look for clear cuts, power line and field edges where the grass and brush are often cut back. These areas provide new growth plants which deer love to eat.

The whitetail deer is a opportunistic feeder. It will eat vegetables and new growth leaves, stems and agricultural crops when they have the opportunity. It is not uncommon for a deer to eat from more then one type of food source daily. The whitetail deer has also been known to eat some types of mushrooms. Studies by wildlife biologists indicate deer prefer particular plants and dislike or will not eat others at least not until the preferred foods are no longer available, By learning to "key" in on areas with preferred foods and with signs of browsing, you can enhance your chances of seeing deer. Remember, look for browsed vegetation from ground level to about five feet in height. Rabbits also browse low twigs, but use by the two species can be distinguished easily When scouting for deer a good way to find plants that the deer have been eating is to look out for torn vegetation. Deer do not have incisors (front teeth) therefore the vegetation that they graze on often looks ripped when they bite into it. Deer have very selective food habits and eat only a small percentage of the plants present.

In the Spring, summer and fall deer eat deer will eat leaves of hardwood trees and shrubs like maple, ash, alder, willow, sumac, hazel and more. Deer also eat new growth on evergreens and are especially fond of the tops of trees that have fallen over recently.

In the summer deer will eat grasses, leaves and agricultural crops. Grasses comprise only a very small part of the overall diet of the white-tailed deer, usually less than 10%.. White-tailed deer rely primarily on forbs and browse (leaves and twigs of wood plants), which are usually higher in crude protein and digestibility than grasses.

In the fall many of the summer foods lose chlorophyll making them less tasty to the deer and sending the deer into the forest to browse for dropping acorns,. Acorns are a preferred food source for deer. There are two main types of oak trees that drop acorns white oak trees and red oak trees. When given a choice deer prefer to eat the sweeter tasting acorns dropped by white oaks. White oaks drop acorns yearly where white oaks drop their acorns biannually. Scouting the forest before the start of deer season, and knowing where the oak trees are is very important. When the season starts look for acorns that have just dropped as opposed to the acorns that have been on the ground for a while and the insects have gotten into and you are likely to find deer. Acorns are low in protein but high in carbohydrates and the deer eat them to put on the extra weight that is need to survive the winter . In addition to acorns deer also eat beechnuts and hickory nuts

When scouting for deer a good way to find plants that the deer have been eating is to look out for torn vegetation. Deer do not have incisors (front teeth) therefore the vegetation that they graze on often looks ripped when they bite into it. Deer have very selective food habits and eat only a small percentage of the plants present.

Types Of Deer Food Plants

Woody Plants include trees, shrubs and vines. Deer feed on the leaves, twigs and buds of these plants during all seasons. With few exceptions, woody twigs and stems are low in nutrients, and in some of our mountain zones, the winter woods contain little food other than a “match-stick” type diet for deer.
 
Forbs refer to herbaceous plants other than grasses. These include wildflowers or other broadleaved “weedy” plants. This group, along with the woody plants, provides deer with their most important food sources. Forbs are very nutritious, and with the low food value of woody plants, there is no substitute for ground vegetation such as forbs and grasses. Several forbs provide food outside their growing season.
 
Nut Crops greatly benefit deer, bettering general herd health and the winter carry-over of animals. However, nut-growing trees don’t always produce a bumper crop, so acorns and other nuts aren’t always reliable food sources in our deer range.
 
Fruits are important seasonal foods with high energy value. They are available primarily during summer and autumn.
 
Crops include plantings of various cultivated plant species. In areas where natural habitat or quality browse is limited, they are an important

 

Spring Food Sources For Whitetail Deer

Spring Deer Food Sources- During the spring new tender plants begin to grow and deer are often found around open areas such as clear cuts burn sites and meadows where new growth first begins

Spring Woody Plants
Spring Forbs
Spring Crops
Spring Fruits
Spring Nuts
Red maple
Blackberry

Dandelion

Trefoil
Clover
 
 
 
 
 
Elm
Trumpet
Fleabane
Wild clover
Winter wheat
 
 
 
 
 
Willow
Strawberry bush
Spring beauty
Lespedeza
 
 
 
 
 
 

Azalea

New Jersey tea
Fungi
Violet
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sassafras
Grape
Wild Strawberry
Wild pea
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dogwood
Black gum
Aster
Trout lily
 
 
 
 
 
 
Red Cedar
Greenbrier
Spiderwort
Jewelweed
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hydrangea
Poison Ivy
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Honeysuckle
Blueberry
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Deerberry
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Summer Food Sources For Whitetail Deer

Summer Deer Foods - Summer is the “season of plenty,” but there can be problems. In dry years, on crowded deer ranges, deer food plants suffer the same as the farmers’ crops often do. August, in particular, is a stress month due to typical heat/drought conditions which affect deer and their preferred vegetation.

Summer Woody Plants
Summer Forbs
Summer Crops
Summer Fruits
Summer Nuts
Red maple
Dewberry
Wild lettuce
Pokeweed

Vegetable crops

Soybeans
Huckleberry
Blackberry
 
 
Honeysuckle
Sassafras
Jewelweed
Legumes
 
 
Dewberry
 
 
 
Sumac
Hawthorn
Asters
Violet
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rose
Blackberry
Ragweed
Wild strawberry
 
 
 
 
 
 
Elm
Greenbrier
 
Skullcap
Spurge
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hydrangea
 
Dogwood
 
Petunia
Sunflower
 
 
 
 
 
 
Cinquefoil
Grape
 
Fungi
Lespedeza
 
 
 
 
 
 
Trumpet
Horse mint
 
Goldenrod
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
creeper
French mulberry
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Fall Food Sources For Whitetail Deer

Fall Deer Foods- Autumn is a critical time for deer. They must add body fat that will sustain them through the winter, and there are also high energy demands because of mating activity.

Fall Woody Plants
Fall Forbs

Fall Crops

Fall Fruits
Fall Nuts
Oaks
Black gum

Composites

Pussy’s toes

Wheat

Soybean

Persimmon

Muscadine

Acorns

Hickory nuts
Hawthorn
Greenbrier
Wild lettuce
Beggar’s lice
Rye grass
Clover
Grape
Pokeweed berries
beechnuts
 
Jessamine
 
French mulberry
 
Bellflower
Pokeweed
Sorghum
 
Apples
Black gum
 
 
Blackberry
 
Rose
 
 
 
 
 
Dogwood
 
 
 
Honeysuckle
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Winter Food Sources For Whitetail Deer

Winter Deer Foods - As winter progresses, an insufficient food supply sometimes becomes a limiting factor on the deer herd. The true quality of a deer range can be determined during these times of shortage. Prolonged periods of extremely cold weather can quickly reduce the food supply, because deer require more food during cold weather to maintain body temperature.

Winter Woody Plants
Winter Forbs

Winter Crops

Winter Fruits
Winter Nuts
Dogwood
Blueberry

Sedges

Pussy’s toes

Wheat

Clover

Coralberry

Sumac seedheads
 
 
Strawberry bush
Honeysuckle
 
 
Rye grass
 
 
 
 
 
Black gum
Privet
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Jessamine
Sassafras
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Willow
 
Sumac
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Red cedar
Oaks
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Plants can be classed as “preferred,” “common,” or “emergency” food sources for deer. Preferred plants are the most nutritious and are heavily eaten or “browsed” when available. Common food species are browsed during shortages of more nutritious food plants, and heavy browsing of emergency food plants indicates that deer are possibly too plentiful in an area for the amount of food available.

See More Deer On Your Land

The key to seeing more deer on your property is habitat.  If you want to start seeing more deer on your land consider reclaiming old fields and open spaces. Abandoned fields and clearings produce all kinds of wildlife food and cover. Abandon fields when left alone will turn back into wood lots.  To improve the deer habitat consider cutting back the heavy wooded brush that will start to grow op in the openings over time.  This will help stimulate the growth of wildlife friendly weeds, forbs and shrubs that deer like to eat.  Invasive grasses such as fescue can limit growth of beneficial species. If you see thes types of grass in your abandon fields you may need to pull them out or spray them so they don't choke out the good foage that deer like to eat.

Setting Up A Deer Lick