Deer Hunting Basics

What Do Deer Eat? Finding & Developing Food Sources

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What Deer Eat & Food Source Management - A Summary

Knowing what the deer in your area eat, and when they eat it, can greatly help you in locating your stand between that food source and the deer bedding area. In the spring, hungry deer will flock to the first new growth in preferred woody plants, broad leafed plants, and grasses. Often, clover in a field or food plot will be the first up. As summer arrives, deer will eat a lot of "forbs", which are broad-leaved plants like dandelions, wild-flowers, food plot plants like turnip tops, brassicas, and many common flowering weeds. In the fall deer will seek acorns and farmer's corn, if available. Also, apples are preferred over most every other food. But otherwise fall deer will eat forbs, grasses, and preferred browse woody plants. In late fall, deer will be attracted to winter rye if available. In winter, deer are restricted almost entirely to woody browse plants in northern areas. There are many different plants and your best bet is to observe what your local deer are eating. For example, in our area, deer will chew off the ends of new aspen poplar growth but will not touch the closely related greasy-leaved balsam poplar. Our red osier dogwood is also browsed heavily. Note also what grasses and broad-leaved plants are being browsed. In larger woods, the best way to find feeding areas (and bedding areas) is to find and follow heavily traveled and tracked-up trails (see scouting).

Management of property can greatly improve food sources. A mature forest provides very little food, yet a large area that is clear cut to the ground provides food but no cover. In the management article below the Michigan DNR recommends selectively clear-cutting stands of aspen to open up areas for new growth of browse and forbs yet leave enough surrounding trees to still provide cover. Planting apple trees can provide a future deer magnet - just make sure to protect them from browse damage. One may also plant food plots to provide an immediate source of food for deer.

Deer Hunting

Whitetail Foods - Describes the foods whitetail deer eat. Breaks down the different percentages eaten at different times of year. Food Sources of Whitetailed Deer - Compares food per acre of forests vs. new growth vs. open fields. Also discusses types of foods deer want and when. How to Find Food Sources in Big Woods - A bunch of hunters discuss how deer food sources may be found in big woods. Lots of good tips!
A Discussion of What Deer Eat - Some very detailed info on what deer eat, identifying different trees as being prefered or not prefered for browse. Pictures included. Deer Food Sources and Property Management - What deer eat is discussed. Also, methods of property management to provide natural food sources are discussed. Winter Rye - The Poor Man's Foodplot - Describes how you can cheaply plant a food plot of winter rye for your late fall hunting.

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