Corn Is Not Deer’s First Food Choice

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November 1, 2019

Deer hunters like deer are creatures of habit and over the last 20 to 30 years, they seem to have gotten into a rut of putting our corn and doe-in-heat scents and leaving their hunting experience at that.

The truth is hunters can find success that is more consistent by focusing on natural food sources, but first that will require a little basic knowledge of how deer eat.

The Texas Agricultural Extension Service based out of Texas A&M University said it is important for hunters to know that white-tailed deer are ruminants like cows, but their diet selection is radically different.

“Cattle are grass-roughage eaters, have a relatively large rumen relative to body size, and depend heavily on grasses for their diet. Grasses are relatively low in crude protein and digestibility when compared with legumes or forbs (broadleaf weeds). Because of these nutritive parameters, grasses have a longer residence time in the cow rumen. Longer residence time increases rumen microflora (bacteria and protozoa) degradation of the forage. Thus for grass-roughage eaters like cattle and sheep, residence time is relatively long and rate of passage slow,” they said.

White-tailed deer are concentrate selectors, which means their diet must be higher in nutritive value and more rapidly degraded in the rumen.

“Therefore, white-tailed deer rely primarily on forbs and browse (leaves and twigs of woody plants), which are usually higher in crude protein and digestibility than grasses. Grasses comprise only a very small part of the overall diet of the white-tailed deer. Only grasses that are rapidly degraded in the rumen, such as the small grains and ryegrass, are used to any extent by deer.”

“Other useful introduced forages include both warm- and cool-season legumes. Native plants used by white-tailed deer include browse, forbs, soft and hard mast (fruits, acorns), and mushrooms. Forbs and mast, while providing good nutrition, may not be available each year or at all times of the year. Browse is usually the most important source of deer nutrition because of year-round availability.”

It is important to get that out of the way because even among deer hunters there is some confusion about what deer eat, particularly among younger hunters. I go to schools to talk about animals frequently and was surprised by some of the kids who think deer eat a lot of grass.

This is most likely due to the fact as we stated earlier that most hunting in the region is done over corn and the need for guesswork is taken out of the equation. If you all you have to do is pour some corn on the ground (which I do use as part of my hunting strategy) then you do not really need much of a knowledge of natural food.

TF&G Staff

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