The white-tailed deer is one of the more adaptable large mammal species in the world. Given adequate protection, deer thrive over a wide array of land-use types and, often, close to humans.
Deer habitats are composed of different quantities and qualities of food, cover, and water. The number of deer that can be supported in good physical condition on any given land area is called the carrying capacity of that habitat.
Food. Deer require an abundance and variety of nutritious foods for growth, reproduction, and maintenance. The amount and nutritional content of available food will affect deer productivity, health, size, and antler growth. On the average, a deer eats 4 to 6 or more pounds of food daily for each 100 pounds of body weight. During a year, one deer may eat more than a ton of food.
Deer have been known to feed on thousands of different food items. Generally, food is selected according to its availability, nutritional value, and taste. The preferred food of deer may vary from area to area and may change seasonally. Table 1 lists some of the foods deer eat. Besides foods listed in this table, legumes are also extremely good deer foods.
During spring through early fall, deer eat succulent grasses, legumes, weeds, fleshy fruits, assorted agricultural crops, and the tender growth of shrubs, trees, and vines. During fall and winter, their diet shifts to acorns, evergreen leaves, succulent green growth of small grains, and stems of many woody plants.
Food items must be from ground level to 4-1/2 feet high to be available to deer. Tender, palatable stems of vines and trees are useless, regardless of their abundance, if they are out of reach for deer.
Cover. Deer can inhabit a variety of sites, but the areas providing the best cover include an even mixture of mature hardwoods, croplands, brushlands, and pasturelands.
An uneven aged woodland with scattered openings is best since it produces an abundance of succulent vegetation within easy reach of browsing deer. Such an area also provides plenty of resting and bedding room.
Water. Although deer get some water by eating succulent foods, they require free water for drinking almost daily. Streams, ponds, and other wet areas are used regularly for drinking. Access to water does not limit deer abundance in Alabama. But, during periods of drought, water may influence the habitat they use.