How much water do white-tailed deer drink? How much do they need on a daily basis? The high temperatures experienced during the “dog days” of summer are cause for many hunters to ponder the water requirements of whitetail deer. Can deer find enough water on your property to survive? It’s a simple question, but an important one to consider from when it comes to deer management and deer hunting. Water requirements generally vary with available food sources, climactic conditions and a whitetail’s physiological state. Deer that are lactating or growing, for example, need more water than deer that are not.
Whitetail are not picky when it comes to water sources. They will readily use troughs, ponds, creeks, rivers springs, dew, snow and even mud puddles. In fact, secluded depressions that hold water for any period of time will be used heavily by deer. These tucked-away surface sites allow does with fawns and weary bucks to go about their business while decreasing their chances of being detected by predators and hunters. Next time you stumble across one of these mud holes take a look at the number of deer tracks around them. Deer have no problem using water from where they can get it. And they can get it in many ways.
White-tailed deer require water but can go for relatively long periods of time without it. Deer use water daily. They can ingest it directly or they can extract it from their diet, as long as succulent plants are available to them. In areas where water-rich foods are lacking, the rule of thumb is that at least one source of permanent water per square mile is needed to ensure use of the available area, assuming the area is deer habitat. The home range size of a whitetail deer generally ranges from 400 to 800 acres, so it’s a good idea to have at least one water source per square mile. Lack of free water on dry ridges may deter deer from using these areas.
With many factors affecting how much water a whitetail deer drinks daily it’s difficult to say that “Rancho Perfecto” needs exactly 5 ponds or exactly 6 troughs scattered across it. I would, however, recommend developing watering sites no less than one mile apart, this way no deer would be more than a half mile from water at any point in time. This also falls in line with the “at least one water source per square mile” philosophy mentioned earlier. It ensures the whitetail deer in your area have access to surface water even if they do not necessarily need it.
Deer use water in several forms. In addition to the liquid found on the earth’s surface, whitetail deer can use preformed water and metabolic water. Preformed water is the stuff that is found in the foods that they eat. Metabolic water is produced internally as a result of hydrogen oxidation during an animal’s metabolic processes. Much of the water that whitetail deer need can be found in the food that they eat, most of which is between 50 and 90 percent water. Not much need to go hunting for water. In essence, deer only drink water to supplement the water they extract from their diet.
One study in the Southeastern U.S. suggested that whitetail do not require surface water on a daily basis because of high rainfall, humidity, and the availability of succulent plants — at least most of the year. The study also mentioned that surface water may be important during the summer when rainfall is scarce and the water needs of lactating does are high.
From what I have found, the consensus seems to be that a whitetail deer requires approximately 1 1/2 quarts for every 100 pounds of body weight per day during the winter. This requirement doubles during the summer, with deer needing about 3 quarts for every 100 pounds of body weight. How much do the deer on your property weigh? The volume of water is even greater for does that are supporting fawns or deer found in more arid regions, such as West or South Texas. Again, this does not mean that a deer will necessarily drink this amount of water, but that they will supplement the preformed and metabolic water taken from their diet with surface water.
It’s thought that during times of drought or pregnancy that surface water is a definite necessity, with whitetail actually ingesting between two to three times as much water as food. Is this the case always? Don’t know. The supplemental feeding of deer with protein pellets is also believed to elevate whitetail deer water requirements. Deer that do not have access to adequate amounts of water will not forage. This would put a damper on any deer management efforts in a hurry, not to mention the deer hunting, or lack thereof, on a property. Deer that fail to eat do not raise fawns, grow large antlers or live.
As mentioned previously, habitat conditions do come into play. Moisture-rich plants can provide much of the water that deer may need, but not in areas where drought is underway or for whitetail deer living in semi-desert conditions. Although surface water is not as important to whitetails as food or habitat with suitable cover, a lack of available water can prevent animals from using an area in drier climates.
Whitetail are like all living things in that they require water in order to survive. Deer water requirements will vary based on whether they are growing body mass or simply in maintenance mode. The amount required daily varies seasonally although deer will require much more water during the summer, especially does which need more liquid for lactation.
If you even think water may be a limiting factor on your property, take a closer look. The deer and other wildlife found in the area will appreciate it. The installation of addition tanks or water troughs will more than likely help your population management efforts, potentially leading to improved deer hunting in the area. A study that took place in Texas reported that watering sites are frequently the centers of whitetail home ranges. Makes sense.