Food Deer Eat

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Some common misconceptions about the feeding habits of the Whitetail deer.

  1. Deer feed only during early morning and late afternoon.
  2. Deer do not move to where food is more abundant.
  3. The only eat nuts.
  4. They are not grazers.
  5. They will come from miles around to lick a salt block.
  6. They can easily be hunted at watering holes.
  7. They require very little food in comparison to their size.

While some of the above statements may hold true in some circumstances they should not be considered universal truths.  Every hunter needs to learn all that they can about the food the deer eat and their feeding habits.  The feeding habits and the food the deer eats vary from region to region.  Whitetail Deer are known to eat over 600 species of plants in North America.  What they eat is based on what is available to them on their home range and the nutrients they require.  Deer need to select a balanced diet from plants within their home range.  They consume on average, about 5 to 8 pounds of food for every 100 pounds of body weight, per day.  During the Spring and Summer months the deer have a vast assortment of leaves, twigs and low growing plants available to them.  They feed heavily at this time.  I the Fall many white tailed deer switch their diet to fallen mast crops such as acorns.  Winter brings about a more complex change to the world of the whitetail deer.  On good range does may continue to gain weight through December while the bucks are just trying to maintain their weight.   During January and February the quality and the quantity of food decreases but the deer adapt to these conditions by turning down their metabolism to conserve energy.   Should Winter or be unusually harsh the white tail deer can be in serious trouble.   Deer feed the heaviest in the early morning or just before dark and if left undisturbed will feed at midday.  There can be many exceptions to this feeding pattern.  When hunting pressure is heavy they will stay hidden during the day and only feed at night.  On bright, moonlit nights deer may feed all night and move very little during the day.  When bad weather is on the way a deer can sense this and they will feed more heavily 12 to 24 hours before the system reaches them.  When the storm hits they bed down and wait it out.  When the weather breaks they quickly begin feeding to make up for any lost time.  When there is light rain and wind a deer will follow it's normal feeding pattern.

Below is a listing of the staple foods for deer:


These include both red and white acorns, beechnuts and hickory nuts.   Acorns are low in protein but high in carbohydrates, the best source of energy.   If acorns are plentiful in your area you can bet the deer will be eating them to put on the extra weight that is need to survive the winter.  Whitetails prefer the white oak acorn most of all.  It has a sweeter taste that the red oak acorn. 


Non-woody plants are very important to the deer especially during the Fall months.  Deer graze on grasses, sedges, and ferns.  Plants usually appear after a fire.  These areas become very lush and attract large concentrations of deer.   Plants also thrive along roads, forest openings, powerlines, and at the edges of fields.

Woody Plants:

Deer turn to woody stems or twigs (called browse) after the leaf fall.   Because "browse" is poor in nutrition deer will eat it only if nothing else is available. An example of the woody plants that deer eat are: maples, dogwoods, aspen, blueberry, hemlock, poison ivy, honeysuckle, sumac, poplar and chokecherry.


Deer eat the highly nutritious mushroom as a supplement to their diet.   Many species that are deadly to man are consumed by deer. 

Farm Crops:

Clover, alfalfa, corn, winter wheat, oats, soybeans, peas, sweat potatoes, and apples are only a few of the crops consumed by the deer.  These crops are very important to the deer after all acorns are eaten.  These may be the only food available to them when winter sets in.


Deer like all living things require water in order to survive.  In the winter the deer requires about 1 1/2 quarts for every 100 pounds of body weight per day.   In the warmer months they require about twice that much water.  Although whitetails will seek out water much of the water that they need can be found in the food that they eat most of which is between 50 and 90 percent water.   In the winter the deer can meet their daily requirement by eating snow or by licking ice if open water cannot be found.

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