As a bow hunter, understanding the diet of whitetail deer is crucial for success, and the diet of deer varies by region in the United States. Knowing what deer will be feeding on during different parts of the year can help you identify key areas to focus your fall hunting efforts and give you insight into what food sources to look for when scouting.
In this post, we’ll explore the different types of food sources for deer and how to identify them in various regions of the United States. We’ll also discuss the best hunting strategies to use for each food source and how to adapt as the season progresses. Whether you’re a seasoned bow hunter or just starting, this guide will provide valuable insights into scouting for and hunting deer during the fall. So, let’s dive into the world of food sources for deer and increase your chances of a successful hunt this season!
Deer Feeding Habits
In the Southeast, including states like Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, deer feed on a range of foods throughout the year. In the spring, they’ll feed on new growth in wooded areas, as well as forbs and grasses in fields and meadows. In the summer, they’ll start to feed on fruits and berries that are ripening, such as blackberries and blueberries, and also on crops like soybeans and corn.
In the Midwest, including states like Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, deer also have a diverse diet throughout the year. In the spring, they’ll feed on new growth in wooded areas and fields, as well as agricultural crops like soybeans and alfalfa. In the summer, they’ll start to feed on fruits and berries like blackberries and raspberries, as well as corn and soybeans.
In the West, including states like Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, deer feed on a range of foods as well. In the spring, they’ll feed on new growth in wooded areas and meadows, as well as forbs and grasses. In the summer, they’ll start to feed on fruits and berries like serviceberries and chokecherries, as well as agricultural crops like alfalfa.
In the Northeast, including states like Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, deer feed on a variety of different food sources throughout the year. In the spring, they’ll feed on new growth in wooded areas, as well as forbs and grasses in fields and meadows. In the summer, they’ll start to feed on fruits and berries that are ripening, such as blackberries, raspberries, and cherries. They’ll also consume crops like soybeans, corn, and alfalfa that are growing in agricultural fields. In addition, they’ll feed on acorns, an important food source during the fall, which are found mostly in the oak trees in the region.
Fall Food Sources for Deer
As fall approaches, deer begin to shift their focus from summer feeding patterns to prepare for the winter. This change in behavior makes fall an excellent time for bow hunters to capitalize on deer’s feeding habits. Understanding the fall food sources for deer and how to find them can increase your chances of a successful hunt.
Here are common food sources deer use throughout the fall:
- Hard Mast: Hard mast, such as nuts and acorns, is an essential food source for deer during the fall in most regions of the United States.
- Oak trees (acorns): White oak acorns are generally preferred by deer due to their lower tannin content and sweeter taste. However, deer will also consume red oak acorns when white oak acorns are scarce as the season progresses. Oak trees are prevalent in the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest.
- Hickory trees (hickory nuts): Hickory nuts provide valuable nutrition for deer and are readily consumed when available, especially in the Northeast and Southeast.
- Beechnuts: These nuts are an important hard mast source for deer in the Northeast, particularly in areas with a high beech tree population.
- Soft Mast: Soft mast, including fruits and berries, is another vital part of a deer’s fall diet in various regions of the United States.
- Persimmons: When ripe, persimmons are a highly sought-after food source for deer in the Southeast.
- Apples: Abandoned or active apple orchards can be a significant attractant for deer in the Northeast, providing a sweet and easily accessible food source.
- Grapes: Wild grapes, such as muscadine grapes in the Southeast and other grape varieties in the Northeast, provide a sweet and nutritious food source for deer during the fall.
- Blackberries and raspberries: These fruits are consumed by deer when available, particularly in the Southeast and Midwest.
- Agricultural Crops: Deer often take advantage of agricultural crops, which can be a primary food source during the fall in several regions.
- Corn: Deer utilize both standing and harvested cornfields in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast, as they offer high-energy food and excellent cover.
- Soybeans: Deer consume soybean leaves, pods, and beans in the Midwest and parts of the Northeast and Southeast, especially after the first frost when the plants become more palatable.
- Peanuts: In areas where peanuts are grown, such as the Southeast, they can become a significant attractant for deer.
- Food Plots and Browse: Food plots and browse play a crucial role in a deer’s fall diet across the United States.
- Food plots: Planted with crops such as clover, turnips, brassicas, and cereal grains, food plots provide a high-quality, protein-rich food source for deer in various regions.
- Browse: Deer rely on the leaves, stems, and twigs of woody plants throughout the year. Preferred browse species may include greenbrier, honeysuckle, blackberry brambles, and multiflora rose, depending on the region.
Understanding Whitetail Deer & Deer Behavior
- Outsmart a Whitetail Deer’s Extraordinary Sense of Smell
- Deer Vision 101: How Deer See Color, Light, and Movement
- Deer Scrapes and Scrape Lines: Scouting Tips for Success
- Cracking the Code: Buck Rubs, Rub Lines, & Signpost Rubs
- Deer Droppings: What All Hunters Need to Know
- Unlocking the Secrets of Deer Communication: A Bow Hunter’s Guide
- Fall Food Sources for Deer: A Bow Hunter’s Guide
- Unlocking the Secrets of Edge and Transition Areas for Deer
- Deer Movement Times: Learn the Best Times to Hunt
- Understanding Deer Movement Patterns for Bow Hunting Success
- Why Do Deer Shed Their Antlers? (The Antler Growth Cycle)
- Jumping the String: Understanding the Challenge for Bowhunters
How Food Sources Change Through the Fall Hunting Season
As the fall hunting season progresses, the food sources for whitetail deer undergo significant changes, which can impact the behavior and movement patterns of the deer. Understanding these changes is important for the average bow hunter in order to increase their chances of success. Here’s a breakdown of how food sources change throughout the fall hunting season:
- Early Season (September – Early October): During the early season, the weather is still warm, and deer are focusing on high-energy, easy-to-find food sources. These include agricultural fields such as soybeans, corn, and alfalfa, as well as early-fall fruit trees like apples and pears. At this time, deer are often found feeding in the mornings and evenings. To capitalize on this, set up your stand or ground blind near these food sources, and monitor wind direction to stay undetected.
- Mid-Season (Mid-October – Early November): As temperatures drop and leaves begin to change colors, deer transition to hard mast food sources like acorns from oak trees and beechnuts from beech trees. Hard mast sources provide the essential nutrients and energy they need to prepare for the winter months. Focus your hunting efforts near stands of oaks or beeches with abundant mast, as these will be deer hotspots. Scouting for signs like droppings, tracks, and rubs can also help you identify productive areas.
- Pre-Rut (Late October – Early November): As the pre-rut phase begins, bucks start searching for does more actively. While they still feed, their priorities shift toward finding a mate. Deer will still rely on hard mast sources, but will also utilize soft mast food sources like persimmons and crabapples. Set up near travel corridors connecting bedding areas to food sources, and use scents or calls to attract bucks.
- Rut (Mid-November): During the rut, deer behavior is primarily driven by mating, and food becomes a secondary priority. Bucks will be chasing does, and both will often be on the move. While they may still feed opportunistically, focus your efforts on funnels, pinch points, or near doe bedding areas to catch bucks in pursuit.
- Late Season (December – End of Season): As winter approaches, deer will return to focusing on food in order to replenish their energy reserves. Late-season food sources include remaining hard mast, as well as browse from trees, shrubs, and any leftover agricultural crops. Set up near these food sources or travel routes, and pay attention to the wind and scent control. Deer will be more cautious during this time, so be patient and persistent.
By understanding how food sources change throughout the fall hunting season, you can adapt your hunting strategy to be more effective and increase your chances of success.
The fall bow hunting season offers a variety of food sources for deer across the United States, from hard and soft mast to agricultural crops and browse. By understanding these food sources and how they change throughout the season in your specific region, you can improve your scouting, stand placement, and overall hunting strategy to increase your chances of success. Stay informed about regional food sources and be prepared to adapt as conditions change to make the most of your fall bow hunting experience.
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