"What do deer eat?", is a common question posed by deer hunters.This page goes through some of the naturally occurring foods that are favorites of the whitetail deer.
Nuts are the most preferred foods for deer. They eat acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts and pecans. Acorns are the fruit that falls from oak trees. The deer prefer acorns that come from white oak trees to those that fall from red oaks. The white oak acorns appear to be sweeter than those from the red oak.
Fruits are another of whitetails favorite foods. Deer obtain quick energy from the sugars of the fruits. At the top of their list of favored fruits includes apples, persimmons and sumac heads. While they will eat other types of fruits, these are more naturally occurring in the rural wilderness than fruits that are cultivated commercially.
Fruit that has fallen to the ground at the edges of commercial orchards is also consumed by deer, provided they don’t sense danger. These items are only available in limited quantity, so while they may be preferred by deer, they do not make up a major part of the deer's diet.
Grasses and Plants
Deer also enjoy dining on grasses and plants, including flowering weeds and other non-woody type perennials. Fields that grow a large quantity of wild flowers are ideal places for the deer to forage. Dandelions, wild roses, and red clover are plentiful in most of the meadows and fields in the land near forests. Deer can also use the forest to provide cover and to travel along trails to reach water and other desired food sources.
Deer eat the highly nutritious mushroom as a supplement to their diet. Many species that are deadly to man are still consumed by deer. You can often catch deer eating the mushrooms that grow on decaying trees that have fallen in the woods.
Deer also are extremely fond of cultivated vegetables. Crops of beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, soybeans, wheat and rye are a few of the favored crops that they will take the opportunity to feed on. Any grain or grass grown for livestock is also good for them as well.
Unfortunately, this makes deer unwelcome visitors for farmers and gardeners, who may try to scare the deer away using various tactics. The edges of fields are the most likely places to observe deer who are scavenging, because from the edge they can slip into the woods if they sense danger.
When late fall and winter arrive, the deer don’t normally have such a large selection of foods to choose from. With no other choices, they select items that can provide some nutrition, even if the nutrition is limited. Deer will eat fallen leaves, twigs, and small buds from trees and bushes. These foods generally come from woody type plants. They provide less nutrition than the non-woody plants but they are better than staving.
Deer need to consume between five and eight pounds of food for each 100 pounds of body weight each day to maintain their bodies. They also have a need for one and a half quarts of water every day. Their water needs can be partially satisfied by the foods that they eat, because most plants have 50 to 90 percent water content. They also look for water sources along the paths that they follow in the forest to go from one food source to the next.
What do deer eat, other than naturally occurring foods?
Food plots and food plotting is a new way of feeding deer developed primarily in the Quality Deer Management (QDM) movement. Food plots generally differ from a similar planting called re-vegetation. Re-vegetation refers to planting naturally growing grasses, legumes, shrubs, and trees. Food plots generally consist of but are not limited to legumes (clovers, alfalfa, beans, etc.) or forage grasses. However, they provide higher nutritional value plants than what nature has supplied, therefore a higher density and diversity of animals will thrive near a food plot.
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The Ultimate Reference to soils, weed control, nutrition, seed mixtures, equipment, hunting tactics, and more! Features hundreds of photos, 14 chapters, and 324 pages of the most comprehensive food plot information ever compiled.