Food instigates over 85% of whitetail deer movements. When hunting whitetail, therefore, it is crucial that you ask yourself, " What do white tailed deer eat?" The knowledge of feeding habits helps a hunter in three main ways.
- i. A hunter's food plot can be made to attract whitetail without fail.
- ii. A hunters quest to track deer in the open fields is greatly simplified.
- iii. A huntsman can maintain whitetail presence on leased hunting land.
So, what do whitetail deer eat? READ ON. The answer is a little technical. Whitetails have a complicated feeding timetable. We cannot peg them with the "Lions eat meat, Cows eat grass" ease.
What Does A Whitetail Deer Eat? Understanding Whitetail
Whitetails are very selective feeders. Their preferred foods are;
Whitetail deer do eat oats all through the year.
Pecans are not as loved as acorns and fruits. Whitetails, however, do eat pecans in the combination of forbs and other plants. A pecan only food plot will not be as appealing as a plot with mixed goodies.
There is hardly a time that deer will overlook soybeans. They love them. They will walk past a cornfield to reach soybeans. Never leave them out of a food plot.You should not assume that a green food plot is an attractive food plot. Deer look past the green. Deer will rank potential food as either :
- First choice: "Oh I found it! This is my lucky day! Dreams do come true!"
- Second choice: "Where is the first choice when you need it? This will have to do."
- Third choice: "I have no other option. If I do not eat this, I will die. Third choice or Death? This is a tricky one."
Do you get the picture?
There is food that deer adores, and there is food that deer eats as a last resort. If your food plot host first choice delicacies, whitetail will walk past other plots and head over to you. I have witnessed two big bucks fight over my plot. The memory still brings tears to my eyes.
What then makes the first choice? What do whitetail deer love to eat?
Like I said earlier, when it comes to deer, food preference is complex. The only constant thing is their hate for grasses. Grasses are too fibrous for a deer's digestive system. If you were thinking of using hay on your plot, think again.
Deer will only eat hay if there is, absolutely, no other option. I mean when the only other choice is rocks and pebbles. Only then will whitetail deer eat hay.
Grasses and other third choice plants remain so throughout a deer's life. The second and first choices, however, are interchangeable depending on three things.
- The location of the deer.
- The age and physiology of the deer
- The season.
The Location Of The Deer
Whitetails in different localities have different food preferences. The first choice shrub in my state may be a low-level second choice food in your region. Even though forbs ( weedy plants) are first choice material, locality informs the type of forb. The three top ways an area affects what plants white-tailed deer eat.
- i. Availability of water
Where water is scarce, deer go for succulent plants. If the water is plentiful, the drier forbs are preferred.
- ii. Most prominent minerals in the region.
If a mineral like phosphorous is plentiful in water and most of the available plants, plants offering different minerals will have first choice priority.
- iii. Temperature/ Climate.
Hot and dry climates encourage the consumption of succulent plants. Colder climates increase the love for carbohydrates. Carbohydrates when digested help the deer keep warm. High-fat nuts and acorns also help deer in cold regions keep warm.
That is how region affects what whitetail deer like to eat most.
The Age And Physiology Of The Deer
When the whitetail is lactating, high calcium and high phosphorous food are preferred. The calcium is necessary for milk production. Mushrooms are perfect sources of calcium and phosphorous.
The deer will also prefer the mushrooms during antler growth. Increasing the mushroom presence increases antler quality.
Young deer, therefore, love mushrooms. Forbs nuts and fruits like pears are preferred across all ages. The combination of the three, therefore, is what baby white tailed deer eat.
Whitetail also varies food with the season. Let us look at what they eat across three seasons.
What Do Whitetail Deer Eat In Winter
Winter takes away most of the deer's food sources. It is, therefore, a time when deer are least selective. They will eat acorns, hickory nuts and buds of available woody plants.
When hunting during the winter, try protein foods like soybeans and fruits like pears. In short, what the deer cannot source elsewhere. The temptation is usually too much. Usually, whitetails do not eat hops. In the winter, however, everything goes.
Do whitetail deer eat winter wheat? Yes, that and anything else they can find. They will, however, still prefer food plots with fruits and soybeans.
What Do Whitetail Deer Eat In The Spring
For spring food, look back on "what do whitetail deer eat in the winter." That is what the deer will want to avoid in the spring. Deer seek out nuts and phosphorous rich mushrooms to replenish all the winter exhausted.
The return of weedy plants is also met with a lot of excitement. Deer will munch away for extended periods of time on the growing weeds. Even the hated grasses are not spared as they bud.
Remember also that the sight of a garden of tomatoes will not escape their eyes in the spring. Whitetails do love to eat leafy shrubs at the onset of spring. Keep the tomato field fenced wherever deer frequent.
What Do Whitetail Deer Eat In The Summer
Succulent forbs are well loved in the summer. The high water content helps the deer keep its water levels up without visiting the watering hole. Predators and some hunters usually lay in wait for whitetail at the watering holes.
What predators am I talking about? What eats white-tailed deer?
All the big predators have a love for venison. Bears, mountain lions, wolves, and coyotes will hunt deer. Smaller predators go for the fawns. This combination is what eats a white-tailed deer.
What Do Whitetail Deer Eat In The Fall?
During the fall the deer builds up fat reserves for the winter. High carbohydrate foods like pears, apples, and other fleshy fruits are preferred. Nuts that have high-fat contents are also sought out by whitetails.
At this time, deer will also eat pumpkins for their vitamins and carbohydrates. Mushrooms are also very important at present. They replenish the phosphorous used for growth from spring through summer.
Finally, I live you with a shocker! Whitetail deer do eat meat. They will eat hatchlings and dead animals occasionally. They do this when they are desperate for calcium. You cannot, however, use meat as bait. They do not like it that much.
Now, armed with the knowledge of "What do whitetail deer eat" map your hunting grounds. Look for areas with the highest concentration of the preferred food. That is where to set up an ambush. Food plots should also reflect the deer's preference.
You should also know how often do whitetail deer eat. They change depending on whether and hunting stress. Set out at times they are out feeding. Find out from other hunters whether the deer still feed during the day or they have gone nocturnal.