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Food Habits – What Whitetail Deer Eat

What exactly do deer eat?

What do deer eat? Deer eat mostly browse (leaves, twigs, shoots of woody plants and vines) and forbs (weeds and other broadleaf flowering plants). They do eat some grass, but only when it is young, green, and succulent. Sheep, goats, and exotic game species compete directly with the whitetail for preferred deer foods. Deer food shortages usually occur during late summer and winter months.

Adequate forage is usually available during the spring and fall seasons because of mild temperatures and increased rainfall. A variety of foods and habitat types is essential to good deer production and survival.

Deer eat a variety of plants, and different plant species become more important at different times of the year and importance can even vary year-to-year depending upon environmental conditions. The following plants are examples of some good deer foods which are readily eaten by deer when and where they are available.

Browse:oak leaves and acorns, yaupon, greenbriar, hackberry, mulberry, sumac, hawthorns, poison oak, American beautyberry, wild cherry and plum, wild grape, honeysuckle, dogwood, elm, blackberry and dewberry, acacias, walnut, and chinaberry.The will utilize additional plants species depending upon the area you are located.

Forbs: Illinois bundle flower, euphorbias, bayflower, tickclovers, clover, verbena, wild lettuce, wild onions, old man’s beard, wildbean, snoutbean, lespedezas, spiderwort, vetches, lamb’s quarters, plantain, groundcherry, pigweed, carelessweed, and partridge pea.

Grasses: rescue grass, wintergrass, witchgrass, panic grasses, sedges, and rushes, as well as wild and cultivated rye, oats, and wheat.



14 Comment(s)

  1. great website! love it. good info!

    lj | Sep 14, 2008 | Reply

  2. Hey, awesome info on deer diet and food habits

    Miki | Apr 29, 2009 | Reply

  3. I think this is a good website because it gives you a lot of information.

    Michelle | Dec 10, 2009 | Reply

  4. I know that deer also love Bigtooth Maple. If you plant them, you have to fence the tree off until it matures a little.

    Chad Zeringue | Jan 12, 2011 | Reply

  5. What can I use on my pine trees and shrubs to keep the deer from eating them?

    Steve | Jan 14, 2011 | Reply

  6. I have goats and use animal fat (if it goes rancid, even better). We keep a coffee can to put grease into. I warm it up and paint the trees and bushes. My grandmother would add hot peppers, juice or powder to keep her dogs from licking the trees. You can buy red pepper powder in bulk really cheap at asian and hispanic grocery stores. Good luck.

    TGF | May 21, 2011 | Reply

  7. We are trying to find out what is tearing our turf up. It looks like something is foraging for grubs or snails. The sod is turned up and there are long tubular holes on the cleared dirt area. We put the turned up sod back down in place, but they were back. Could this be deer antlers digging up the ground to get to these bugs? Thanks for your help!

    Rita | Oct 6, 2011 | Reply

  8. Rita, you have armadillos feeding in your yard. You probably have a sprinkler system that maintains your yard, but also maintains the grub population, which armadillos will feed on.

    Buck Manager | Oct 6, 2011 | Reply

  9. I have a big 6 point coming in to eat everyday for the last 20 days in a row. It shows on my trail cam 11:30 PM and again 2:45 AM. Nothing during the daylight hours. How can I change the times they come in?

    Bill Zimmerman | Oct 24, 2011 | Reply

  10. All of my deer have gone nocturnal. What can I do to get them back into the daylight again? Thanks for the help.

    Scott Smith | Oct 24, 2011 | Reply

  11. Scott, deer will go nocturnal from time to time, but usually for some reason. Everyone just went through a full moon phase, so an abundance of natural foods may allow deer to feed at night. In Texas, the few acorns that were produced this year are now falling and available to deer. Also, hunting pressure can change deer behavior. Any of this sound possible?

    Buck Manager | Oct 25, 2011 | Reply

  12. Bill, is your camera located at a timed feeder, free-choice feeder or at a foot plot?

    Buck Manager | Oct 25, 2011 | Reply

  13. Deer don’t eat bugs and wouldn’t use their horns to dig.. its a mole or armadillo!!!

    Jesse A | Dec 16, 2012 | Reply

  14. Sounds like armadillos or skunks

    John | Apr 15, 2013 | Reply

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