Food Preferences of White-tailed Deer

Seasonal food preferences of white-tailed deer in west-north Texas were developed based on identification of stomach contents in deer harvested throughout the year. Plant preference was determined by comparing availability of the forage in the habitat versus the percent it comprised of deer stomach contents. The importance value quantifies the volume of a particular plant species in the deer diet. Plants that had a high importance value made up a higher percentage of the seasonal or annual diet.

For those that are not familiar with white-tailed deer, a knowledge of deer use of food items by general forage class is as important as knowing the specific plants species eaten by deer. The forage classes identified during the study were defined as:

Food Preferences of White-tailed Deer

Browse: This classification refers to the growing soft portion (stems and leaves) of perennial woody plants, trees, shrubs, vines and plants typically referred to as “brush” fall into this category.

Forbs: These are plants that are often called “weeds” by farmers, ranchers, landowners, and those that love well-maintained urban lawns. These plants are herbaceous (non-woody, normally broad-leafed, flowering plants. Forbs include all flowering herbaceous plants that are not grasses.

Mast: Refers to the fruit of the plants defined as browse species. Mas includes things such as oak acorns, mesquite beans, prickly pear fruits, berries, and similar items. As a group, mast is seasonally important in deer diets and can vary greatly from year to year.

Grasses: This includes grass and herbaceous grass-like plants such as sedges and rushes.

Grain Crops: This food class includes forage items that are planted for farming, grazing, or specifically for wildlife in the form of food plots. Cool season crops typically include clover, vetch, wheat, oats, and ryegrass. Common warm season crops include peas and other legume varieties, mile, and millet.

Commercial Feeds: This includes sacked feeds such as true supplements or those simply considered deer hunting attractant. The most common sacked supplement is a deer pellet that is at least 16% protein and is distributed through free-choice feeders. The most common deer hunting attractant is whole corn distributed with timed deer feeders prior and during the white-tailed deer hunting season.

Data collected in west central Texas from over 230 deer in 6 counties indicated the average annual diet of whitetail deer consisted of 36% browse, 20% forbs, 20% mast, 12 grasses, 7% planted agricultural grain crops, and 5% commercial feed.

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