Proper deer nutrition is a key component of sound deer management. The high quality food plants that produced big-bodied and big-antlered deer in much of the United States years ago are greatly reduced or have been even eliminated in some cases from decades of abusive browsing by white-tailed deer. Most native forages, although often quite plentiful in southern habitats, furnish less than half the protein and energy reportedly needed for maximum body and antler growth by white-tailed deer on a year-round basis.
Deer population reduction cannot remove this major impediment to quality white-tailed deer management. One can only speculate how many years would be required for these habitats to recover to their former quality even if deer were totally removed from the area. Native grasslands that were overgrazed by cattle in the 1800’s have not recovered from this abuse in over 100 years and it appears that millions of acres never will. The native high-quality plants have been replaced by exotic plants and low quality native plants. So how can you improve deer diets?
There are numerous ways to improve the overall nutritional plane of free-ranging whitetail including the use of year-round food plots containing high energy forages, fertilization of natural forages, and providing free-choice protein pellets or access to high energy seeds or grains. However, all of these options can become too expensive, impractical, or both, depending upon whether we truly are trying to improve the overall nutritional plane of a deer herd or simply trying to attract them to a particular spot for harvest.
It is important to understand that deer baiting and deer feeding are two entirely different endeavors. My idea of supplemental feeding is a real effort to improve the overall nutritional plane of deer on a seasonal or year-round basis, preferably year-round. By doing this a landowner can really supplement whitetail deer nutrition. There hardly is a time in the annual life cycle of deer when one or another age or sex-class in the population is not in need of high-energy, high-protein food.
Gestating females, lactating females, weanlings, yearlings and post-rut mates all have special and different needs. As such, I believe anyone wishing to overcome nutritional deficiencies in many southern deer herds should supplement year-round.