Whitetail deer are a popular game animal, but there are many minsconceptions about what deer eat. In addition to food habits, hunters and non-hunters really do not know as much as they think when it comes to the nation’s favorite big game animal. Every hunter needs to learn all that they can about the food the deer eat and their feeding habits even though the feeding habits and the food the deer eats vary from region to region.
In North America, deer are know to eat over 600 species of plants! What they eat is based on what is available to them on their home range and the nutrients they require. Whitetail need to select a balanced diet from plants within their home range. They consume on average, about 5 to 8 pounds of food for every 100 pounds of body weight, per day. During the spring and summer seasons deer have a vast assortment of leaves, twigs and low growing plants available to them. They feed heavily at this time. During the fall many whitetail deer switch their diet to fallen mast crops such as acorns.
Winter brings about a more complex change to the world of the whitetail deer. In addition to pressure from whitetial hunting, deer feel pressure from the lower availability of food. On good range does may continue to gain weight through December while the bucks are just trying to maintain their weight. During January and February the quality and the quantity of food decreases but the deer adapt to these conditions by turning down their metabolism to conserve energy. Should Winter or be unusually harsh the white tail deer can be in serious trouble. Deer feed the heaviest in the early morning or just before dark and if left undisturbed will feed at midday. There can be many exceptions to this feeding pattern.
When hunting pressure is heavy, whitetail deer will stay hidden during the day and only feed at night. On bright, moonlit nights deer may feed all night and move very little during the day. This is what people refer to when deer go nocturnal. When bad weather is on the way a deer can sense this and they will feed more heavily 12 to 24 hours before the system reaches them. When a storm hits they bed down and wait it out. When the weather breaks, deer rapidly begin feeding to make up for any lost time and replinish depleted calorie reserves. When there is light rain and wind a deer will follow it’s normal feeding pattern. This is not enough of an impact to bother deer. Hopefully, all of this information has helped you learn more about deer and maybe even improve your whitetail hunting.