Deer Hunting 101 – What Do Deer Eat?

Deer, in their natural habitat, do not eat “deer feed” that can be purchased at the feed store. So, left to their own devices, what do deer eat?

Deer are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. While there are plenty of plants in the forest, not all plants provide adequate nutrition for deer.

Much like humans, deer have preferences for certain foods and will eat them whenever and wherever they find them. When these foods are not available they will move on to acceptable foods (less nutrition and less tasty, but still acceptable.) If there is a lot of competition from other deer in the area, even these food sources may become depleted and deer will be forced to eat “foods of last resort;” these are foods that are very low in nutrients, but are better than nothing. Seasonal changes also affect the availability of foods.

Types of Foods That Deer Eat

Wild Grasses

Wild grasses are only eaten when the shoots are you and tender. They are a food of last resort, and help deer survive when deer cannot find other foods.

Woody Plants and Shrubs

Deer can feed on trees and shrubs. The eat the leaves, twigs and buds of these types of plants all year around. Examples:

  • honeysuckle
  • blackberry
  • sassafras
  • rose
  • dewberry
  • grape
  • willow
  • sumac
  • black gum
  • greenbrier

Forbs

Forbs are herbaceous plants (perennial, non woody plants that die every winter but produce new growth every spring). Forbs include weeds and other flowering plants. This is a proffered food source. Examples:

  • wild clover
  • mushrooms
  • dandelion
  • ragweed
  • wild lettuce
  • sunflower
  • beans
  • ragweed
  • bellflower
  • sedges

Nuts

Very nutritious for deer, but crops of nuts are often small, so this food source is not as reliable as forbs and grasses. Examples:

  • red acorns
  • white acorns
  • beechnuts
  • hickory nuts

Cultivated Crops

These are crops that humans plant. These can be an important part of deer diet in areas where other food sources are limited. Examples:

  • wheat
  • clover
  • soybeans
  • rye grass
  • vegetables
  • alfalfa
  • oats

Fruits

Very high in energy, deer prefer these foods, but they are usually only available during summer and early fall.

  • persimmons
  • grapes
  • coralberry
  • dogwood
  • huckleberry
  • blackberry
  • dewberry
  • sumac seed heads

Source by Nick Moran

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