White-tailed Deer Food Habits – What They Eat

What do Whitetail 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.

3 Replies to “White-tailed Deer Food Habits – What They Eat”

  1. Craig, radishes can provide good supplemental forage for white-tailed deer in areas where they are suitable for growth. Forage daikon radishes are a variety of radish that can can grow a leafy top as high as 2 feet out of the ground and also can grow a shoot (similar to a carrot but larger) under the ground as deep as 24 inches.

    Forage daikon radishes are in the brassica family and have as good or better protein and mineral content as other members of the brassica family including turnips and rape.

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