Whitetail deer are herbivores with a diverse diet, consuming a wide variety of plants, depending on the season, region, and availability of food sources. Here are some common food items that deer eat throughout the year:
- Forbs: Broad-leaved, herbaceous plants, such as clover, dandelion, and chicory, are high in protein and provide essential nutrients. Deer mainly feed on forbs during the spring and summer months when they are most abundant.
- Grasses: While not a major component of a deer's diet, grasses can still be consumed, particularly in the spring when they are tender and green.
- Browse: This refers to the leaves, twigs, and stems of woody plants, such as greenbriar, honeysuckle, and young saplings. Browse is an important food source, especially during the winter months when other options are limited.
- Hard Mast: These are the nuts and seeds of various trees, such as acorns from oak trees, beechnuts from beech trees, and hickory nuts. Hard mast is a high-energy food source that deer rely on during the fall and early winter.
- Soft Mast: Soft mast includes the fruits and berries of trees and shrubs, such as apples, pears, persimmons, blackberries, and raspberries. Soft mast is usually available from late summer to early fall and is a preferred food source for deer.
- Agricultural Crops: In areas where agriculture is prevalent, deer often feed on crops like corn, soybeans, and alfalfa, which provide high nutritional value.
- Fungi: Deer may also consume some types of fungi, such as mushrooms, particularly during the fall months.
Deer diets are adaptable and will change based on the availability of food sources in their habitat. Understanding their preferred food sources and how these change with the seasons can help hunters predict deer movement patterns and improve hunting success. Food sources change a lot during the fall hunting season and knowing how they change and when is critical to your success.