Do you ever wonder to yourself, what do deer eat in the winter? As winter approaches, food sources deplete. And so, the animals go out of their way to search for food in alternative sources. Sometimes, this means consuming foods that aren’t in their usual diet.
Today we are taking a look at the top 16 food sources that deer eat in the winter.
What Do Deer Eat in The Winter?
Whitetail deer often wander into agricultural fields during winter and eat corn lying on the ground. Some deer hunters put tree stands in food plots and use corn as bait.
Corn is a significant source of starch. In addition to providing energy, corn enhances digestion by increasing microbes in the rumen.
However, too much corn is deadly to these animals. For starters, excess starch can cause acidity in the rumen and kill the microorganisms responsible for digestion.
Other consequences include loss of appetite, bloating, diarrhea, hoof complications, seizures, blindness, and even death. Sometimes the deer also slows down and becomes more vulnerable to predators and accidents.
Hardwood trees are oftentimes cut down during winter to give room for new ones to grow. As such, it’s not uncommon to spot deer browsing on buds and twigs of recently logged sugar maples.
Because of their regulated body activities, maples are essential supplements to deer body fat reserves.
However, warm temperatures towards the end of winter stimulate their body activities and increase energy requirements. The maple leaves sprouting at this time come in handy to restore a deer’s weight.
Also, maple leaves contain proteins that repair body tissues and aid antler formation. These proteins also increase milk production in lactating deer.
Human beings are not the only creatures that enjoy this fruit. Tracks and droppings near the trees are a testament to how much deer love crabapples.
They begin to appear in summer and are ready to eat from autumn until winter. Depending on the breed, crabapples can either stay on the tree or fall to the ground when ripe.
Deer tend to prefer the fruits lying on the snow. They will abandon the ones on the tree until other food alternatives disappear. The sugar content in crabapples makes them a rich source of energy for deer.
In addition, they produce soft mast that is tender and easy to digest.
Although some varieties grow naturally, farmers plant them on their fields to attract deer.
Acorns are oval nuts that grow on the oak plant. Oaks come in different varieties. These include red oak, pin oak, bur oak, water oak, white oak, black oak, and live oak.
Most deer prefer acorns from white oaks. This is because they have low tannin levels and are sweeter than those from other species.
Acorns supply deer with a variety of nutrients. First off, they contain carbohydrates that increase their energy levels. What’s more, they are rich in fats that provide additional energy and keep the deer warm.
Acorns also contain niacin that quickens the conversion of lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins into energy.
5. Hickory Nuts
These nuts come from the hickory tree and have a solid outer shell that cracks open when ripe. They begin to drop from the trees during fall. Afterward, they are detached by frost or rain.
Although it’s not a favorite, hickory nuts are part of a deer’s winter diet. So to say, they will only eat hickory nuts when other alternatives aren’t available.
Deer prefer varieties with thin shells such as the bitter and pignut hickory. This is because thick-shelled nuts are tough to break and digest.
Their abundant proteins facilitate antler formation as well as body tissue repair and development.
Its availability throughout all seasons makes the dewberry a reliable source of food for deer. This plant is abundant in open areas as well as low-lying river and delta regions. Its green leaves stick to the stem all year round but might turn red when winter sets in.
Other distinguishing features include small green fruits that darken when ripe and a thin stem spreading across the ground.
The stem, which is covered by tiny thorns and red hairs, is the most preferred during springtime since it’s soft as opposed to winter when it has toughened.
In addition to having highly digestible shoots, dewberries contain proteins that conserve a deer’s body weight and aid antler development.
Honeysuckles are significant winter plants for whitetails. Their all-year-round leaves provide easily digestible forage and contain proteins required to improve milk production among lactating deer.
Honeysuckle thickets also serve as deer habitat. The sufficient food supply coupled with comfortable bedding and thermal protection makes this plant the ideal shelter for deer and their fawns.
One of the preferred varieties is Japanese honeysuckle. It’s succulent and mostly grows in transitions between woodlands and hayfields as well as clear-cut. However, not all honeysuckles are edible to deer.
The fragrant flowers in varieties like box leaf and privet honeysuckle repel these animals. Regardless of their benefits, don’t plant honeysuckles in areas they didn’t initially exist.
They rapidly spread to natural areas and outdo native species. Some states have even outlawed this plant.
8. Staghorn Sumac
Sumac berries stay put even after other plants have given in to winter. The fruits ripen during autumn and redden as winter progresses. However, berries are not the only edible part of the sumac; the bark and twigs are also quite the delicacies.
Deer boost plant reproduction by eating the berries and scattering seeds through their droppings. Sumac berries are loaded with vitamin A, which enhances the deer’s vision, boosts immunity, and maintains a healthy epithelial tissue.
They also contain malic acid, which increases milk quantities in nurturing deer.
Even so, some sumac varieties are poisonous and are identified by their drooping white berries.
Soybean farms are popular deer spots during winter. The beans comprise of energy-filled carbohydrates as well as proteins that facilitate antler development, reconstruction of body tissues, and general body growth.
Soybean consumption depends on the availability of alternative food sources and the deer population in your area. Deer are likely to go for natural options before they invade your field.
Ensure you plant at the right time so that the plants bear seeds exactly in winter. Otherwise, animals will wipe the plant away before snowfall and you won’t have deer food when snow falls.
To make matters worse, deer eat leaves, stems, seeds, and pods, therefore, hindering the possibility of regeneration.
10. Old Man’s Beard
This plant thrives in cold areas away from the drying sun. Being a lichen, old man’s beard combines characteristics of both algae and fungi. The algae cells facilitate food formation while the fungal cells are responsible for its shape.
It’s also a vigorous climber that can rise up to thirty meters high and spread as far as fifteen meters sideways. Old man’s beard can be either green or yellow and takes the form of thin strands growing on living and dead conifers.
The energy in this plant helps deer survive freezing conditions. In addition, it contains usnic acid that has vital antibiotic properties.
11. Apple Trees
Even after the fruit is depleted, deer still browse on apple tree barks, buds, and twigs. Apples contain moisture that protects deer from dehydration. Likewise, they have calories that keep them warm during the cold weather.
But apples alone cannot meet a deer’s nutritional needs. This is because they lack proteins, which increase overall mass and maintain the deer’s body.
Deer get their apples from different sources. Sometimes, farmers drop apples in the woods to feed starved animals. Other times, deer go to orchards and eat the fruits on the tree or the ones that have fallen to the ground.
Digesting apples is challenging for deer. This is because a deer’s stomach is adapted to breaking down tender foliage and it may take a while before the stomach adjusts.
Deer enjoy both the turnip roots and leafy tops. Generally, older plants are sweeter than young ones. This is because more starch transforms into sugar as the plant ages. Cold weather conditions also trigger the conversion of starch to glucose.
So to say, the plants will be sweeter in winter than in other seasons.
Turnips contain proteins which increase body mass. Therefore, they are the perfect option for your plot if you want fat deer. What’s more, turnips are easily digestible.
Therefore, they provide quick sources of energy and protect the deer from complications like bloating.
You will identify the Greenbrier by its thorns, rhizomes, and woody stems that remain succulent throughout winter. The female greenbrier produces fruits that turn blue, black, or red when ripe.
The evergreen nature of some of its species comes in handy to fight starvation when most food reserves are depleted.
Deer particularly enjoy the soft shoot and leaves but can eat tougher and more mature parts when winter strikes. That’s not all, greenbrier grows into thick bushes that provide shelter during the biting cold.
This saves the animals energy because they don’t have to travel long distances in search of food. In addition to containing loads of energy, greenbriers have calories that are useful in keeping them warm.
14. Oregon Grape
This shrub can be either evergreen or semi-evergreen. It’s commonly found below Douglas fir trees and can survive in both moist and dry soils. Its spiny green leaves, which turn purple during winter, are attractive foliage for deer.
In addition, it has yellow flowers that bloom into blueberries coated by powdery sheen. Apart from providing energy, the berries also boost the deer’s immune system.
Moreover, the shrubs offer shelter against the snow. Note that the Oregon Grape doesn’t rank high among deer favorites. However, the animals will readily graze on it when other plants aren’t available in order to escape starvation.
These are evergreen trees that thrive in moist soils. The value of cedar to deer cannot be emphasized enough. First off, they grow in dense canopies that provide deer with adequate thermal cover.
What’s more, deer get energy by eating their branches, cones, and leaves. The animals also eat branches that have fallen on the ground when the ones on the tree are out of reach.
Cedar is an essential cover crop for other plants. No matter the number of food sources, deer tend to avoid open areas.
Finally, the bucks use cedars as rubbing posts for their antlers in preparation for the mating season.
16. Douglas Fir
This is an evergreen plant from the pine family. The flat needles lining its twigs together with its deeply furrowed bark distinguish it from other conifers. Deer can either browse on the tree’s branches or access forage as blow down or litterfall.
Its cones produce palatable seeds that are a vital source of energy to deer. These animals aid germination by eating the seeds and scattering them through their droppings.
The Douglas fir also provides shelter for deer and other wildlife such as squirrels, owls, and woodpeckers. That’s not all, deer get water by licking the droplets on the needles. They also use the tree as rubbing post for their antlers.
The Bottom Line
To summarize, what do deer eat in the winter? Deer survival depends on the diet. Though they prefer certain foods, deer will eat whatever is available to escape starvation. If you love catching deer, now you know where to spot them in winter.
Q. How Do you Keep Deer Off Your Compound?
A. Sometimes deer can come to your property and damage your plants. Here are some methods you can use to keep deer at bay.
- Build a tall fence
- Plant a deer-resistant hedge
- Put a dog on your yard
- Remove deer attractions from your home
- Install wind chimes
- Spray your compound with deer repellants
- Cover deer favorites with plant nets
- Install lights on your property to keep deer away at night
- Chase them away with motion sensor sprinklers
Q. How Do You Hunt Deer?
A. Begin by identifying places with a high deer population and find out whether it’s legal to hunt in those areas.
Hunting techniques include spot and stalk, stand hunting, dog hunting, and deer drive. Lastly, acquire the necessary hunting gear and get down to work.
Q. Should You Feed Deer During Winter?
A. Supplements provide essential nutrients lacking in the deer’s natural diet. However, they expose the animals to digestive complications such as diarrhea, bloating, and acidosis.
Because of this, some authorities have made it illegal to feed deer. But if you must, ensure you consult a specialist to help you design a feeding program and to advise on the best supplements.
Huge fan of hiking with my dog, camping in the great outdoors, biking, and writing about all of it. Staff Writer at ATO.