As a hunter or a wildlife photographer, there’s nothing more important to know than the feeding habits of the animals you’re tracking.
Whether it is a predatory, carrion, grazer, or omnivorous animal – you should always know what it eats to follow its tracks and encounter one of the fastest and easiest way possible.
Among the hardest animals to spots, you can find the whitetail, and luckily for most trackers, the best way to encounter one is to follow its eating behaviors. If you want to hunt, photograph or just watch it in its entire natural splendor, you’ll have to know what it eats and how.
Here we explain all that so you can have an easier experience while tracking it.
White-Tailed Deer Eating Behaviors
White-tailed deer belongs to the herbivore category of animals. This means they prefer everything related to weeds and fruits. Things such as leaves, fruits, nuts, twigs, grass, mushrooms, alfalfa, lichens, and fungi are parts of the principal diet of a deer, especially the white-tailed species.
This animal prefers eating in the darkness, but it loves some light as well, so you are most likely find it at dawn or dusk. The food they eat also tends to be more visible or at least easier to spot at these times.
And of course, it gives the animal the ability to feed more calmly and without distractions, as its predators such as the bobcat, coyotes and mountain lions tend to be less active.
So, if you are looking to find one of these deer, this behavior will come very useful. Remember not all deer eat the same way, and the white-tailed is one of the few with specific quirks to follow.
What White-Tailed Deer Don’t Eat
So there’s a lot of talk about deer eating grass. And while it is somehow true, it is also a little misguided if you are familiar with the specifics.
As we said before, white-tailed deer are a bit different from other ruminants, especially other deer species, so they don’t like mature grass as similar animals.
Here we will explain why;
The teeth structure, jaws, and stomach of the white-tailed deer are strong and very useful for masticating & eating vegetation, but they don’t use them for thick grass. Instead, they prefer tender weeds and sprouting vegetation.
This happens because their incisor teeth are only on the lower jaw while in the upper one they just have cartilage. So they need to eat soft weeds. The molars on the lower and upper jaws are sharp enough so they can gnaw weed, but a little difficult to grab the hard shoots that are embedded on the floor firmly.
Another reason is that white-tailed deer have a different set of microbes in their stomach. So they don’t process mature weed as normally. Especially in different seasons of the year, these microbes tend to change exponentially, making them eat only fruits & another mast instead of grass.
They just prefer everything that has cellulose and fiber over anything else. That’s why weed is not among their favorite foods. Coming with a stomach that has four chambers, another type of food is what they can process more efficiently and what nourishes them the most.
What White-Tailed Deer Eat
So you are familiar with white-tailed deer don’t eat, now it’s time to go into specifics in what they do love. Here’s all you need to know;
Fruits & Nuts
Also known as mast, all the shrubs and fruits from forest trees and “hard mast” such as beechnuts, acorns and even hickory nuts are part of what deer love to eat. You may also add wild fruits, rose hip, drupes, berries, and even flower buds, known as “soft mast.”
All these foods are ideal for this type of deer because they give instant energy to their bodies that they can use for heating their bodies rapidly and improve growth on their wholes bodies, including their antlers.
This is what deer love in the mast (fruits and nuts) category;
- Apples, pears and similar for their massive energy levels. This helps them store energy for cold months.
- Blackberries, plums, mulberries, and grapes give vast amounts of carbs that they use for growing their antlers fast.
- Chestnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns are filled with protein, fats, carbs, and tannin (mostly acorn) – perfect for easy digestion and absorption.
Grains & Mushrooms
While it is not the easiest to find, white-tailed deer love rye, wheat, soybeans, pecans, and oats. This gives the deer particular protein, phosphorous and carbs that they won’t find anywhere else. So it is common to see antlers in high-weed places where most of the plants that give these grains grow.
Similarly to grains, deer love mushrooms. There’s probably not a favorite food that nourishes them the most than these, giving incredible amounts of phosphorous that they use for growing their antlers exponentially.
Woody browse refers to anything related to twigs, leaves, and buds, things that fall off trees when they are starting to dry out or all along the year because of winds or hard rains.
White-tailed deer eat this type of food because finding better food can often come very difficult so you may see them pasturing about places with dead leaves or fallen browse in the floor.
Among the types of leaves or browse they eat, you can find yellow birch, white pine, seek sumac, elm, oak, hackberry, white cedar, maple trees, honeysuckle, grape vines, and Greenbrier.
It is not their favorite food sources, but come very useful when there’s nothing more, or they need specific nutrients such as tannin or carbs they offer.
This is among their most sought-after type food, and still among the less known by many hunters and trackers. The brassica blend refers to the mustard family or forage. It tends to be fast-growing and emerges in different areas of the forest, but it also prefers cold weathers.
Here you can find all kinds of vegetables such as rape, kale, turnip, canola, cabbage, radish, and cauliflower. It is a high-quality food when other options are scarce and very tasty for white-tailed deer that won’t let it pass if the opportunity comes.
Even though the animal will go mostly to whatever they find in the specific habitat, this type of vegetation tends to be very useful.
Not only you will find previously mentioned food in this category, but you’ll also learn that white-tailed deer are far braver than you think they are when it comes to feeding. Other animals, including humans, wouldn’t eat any of the following foods for health or flavor, mainly because they can be highly poisonous.
Acorns, for example, tend to come with huge quantities of tannin. Along with oak and other forest tree leaves, the enormous amounts of tannin can be poisonous and cause mild or severe reactions in other species.
But white-tailed deer love them, maybe not because of the flavor but because this toxin helps them get the most fiber and antler-growing nutrients.
Poison ivy is also among their poisonous diet foods, giving them substantial phosphorous quantities that they use for their antlers and carbs for their energy. They are able to process these mushrooms thanks to some specific stomach microbes, most of all in particular seasons of the year.
It is important to know that this animal tends to eat all this food by balancing them with other less toxic food. Deer also tend to eat toxins when they are young, to prevent old-age toxins from being more powerful and possibly harming their metabolism.
What White-Tailed Deer Eat Per Season?
After you have a general idea of what deer love to eat, you may need to know what kind of food it will encounter depending on the season. This will undoubtedly help you even more when tracking it.
Here’s what you should know;
The animal won’t find many food choices in winter. Vegetation and trees grow almost nothing in this season, so it is pretty standard to see deer eating anything from hickory nuts and acorns, to woody plants if needed.
But if they can find things like soybeans, wheat, and the scarce apple & pear that could grow in the hottest wintery places – they would.
Whatever white-tails don’t find in the winter, they will eat in the spring. This is like the grow-up season for most vegetation that in winter ends up dry and dead. So you will probably find the deer eating everything that comes with lots of phosphorous and carbs, including all kinds of nuts, fruits, and mushrooms.
But here is where weed is the most active and grows the fastest, so you’ll see the animal masticating lots of newly-born grass whenever it grows. That’s why it is common to find white-tails in vast plains and open places, where grass grows like in no other area.
The same happens with those fruits that don’t grow before, such as berries. Add the leafy shrubs and flowers that are springing at this time, making the deer have a literal banquette of options. If you are someone looking for one, you’ll have the most chances in this season.
If there’s a season that deer will merely eat whatever they find but also everything grows, it is summer. Every type of food we mentioned before is a go-to option in this season, not only because almost everything keeps growing but also because this season is where white-tail deer start to ruminate in search of mates.
So while they’re not precisely concentrated on eating alone, you’ll see the animal trying to eat as much as possible to get rid of hunger. But most of the time they will focus on nuts, grains, and fruits. They will also grab as much vegetation as possible, including growing weed and tree leaves.
Remember that summer is also hotter than other seasons, so deer tend to stay close to waterways so it can hydrate. This will also make it easy to find for predators, so it is essential to be careful around this season.
Fall is when deer eat the most. There’s no other time in the year that deer eat as much as it can then fall, mainly because the animal will be looking to store as much fat as possible. As winter is coming, white-tails will eat everything from high-carb fruits like apples and pears, to the fattest nuts such as peanuts and pecans.
But they won’t leave other high-growing fungi and mushrooms in this season, especially for the enormous amounts of carbs and vitamins they can get, and the phosphorous they can store for growing their bodies. Vegetation is not on its best in this season, so it is not common to find them weed eating.
One of the weirdest findings could be whitetail eating dead animals. It is not common to see them acting like scavengers, but if they are desperate for food in the closest fall days to winter, they will try to eat as much fat and protein even from carcasses or insects.
But as long as there are enough fruits, nuts, and grains, deer will stay with them.
After reading about the eating habits of whitetail deer, so you should be aware of what they eat while also being familiar with how to find them.
Whether it is for hunting, photograph, or just because you want to see one being itself in the wildest way possible – then following these habits will give you the best results.
Remember you can use this info to set food traps as well, you can use it to build a map or guide for tracking, and you will also have lots of chances for waiting and creating ambushes.
Just make sure to study the animal according to its feeding habits, and it will not slip from your sight.