Deer Ecology & Management Lab (2024)

Deer Diet

Understanding diet selection by white-tailed deer is best accomplished by first knowing what whitetails "should" eat. Their anatomy, behavior, and physiology are adapted to selection of specific types of forage that differ from other potential forage competitors like cattle, elk, and moose. A narrow snout and long tongue allow them to delicately seek out specific plant parts.

Their highly active salivary glands produce enzymes that help deactivate secondary plant compounds, such as tannins, that disrupt digestion. These enzymes allow them to eat a quantity of acorns that would kill a cow. Their relatively smaller and less complex gastro-intestinal tract requires they eat forages that are of relatively higher quality and more easily digestible than forages eaten by cattle, elk and moose.

Although low quality forages such as mature grasses provide adequate nutrition to animals such as elk and cattle, the quicker digestive process of whitetails requires more readily digestible forages to fulfill their energy and protein requirements. On severely overpopulated and depleted ranges, white-tailed deer have starved to death with their stomachs full of low quality forages.

A list of plants consumed by white-tailed deer would be quite long. For example, whitetails have been documented to eat over 400 species of plants in the Southeast alone. Regular sampling from a wide range of species allows deer to continually evaluate new sources of nutrients. However, the majority of their diet comes from a relatively small number of forages. Although deer consumed over 140 plant species in one study, about a third of those species accounted for 93 percent of the overall diet (Gee et al. 2011).

Diet selection changes in response to seasonal changes in forage abundance, quality, and metabolic needs of the animal. Deer eat a variety of food types, including browse (leafy parts of woody plants), forbs (herbaceous broad-leaved plants, including agricultural crops), hard and soft mast (seeds), grass and mushrooms/lichens.

Deer Ecology & Management Lab (1)

Deer Ecology & Management Lab (2)

Throughout the range of white-tailed deer, greater than 85 % of their overall diet consists of browse, forbs, and mast.

Browse and forbs are the most important forages supplying the nutritional needs of deer because they provide over 80% of the diet in all seasons except during autumn. Mast is highly preferred, so its presence drives the seasonal variation in forage selection. Mast consumption increases from 11% during summer (primarily soft mast, such as berries) up to 28% during autumn (primarily hard mast, such as acorns). Leaf buds and evergreen leaves are especially important during winter in northern areas. A wide variety of agricultural crops are used readily whenever available because they tend to be highly nutritious, palatable and readily digestible.

Deer Ecology & Management Lab (2024)


What were the results of the Mississippi State deer Study? ›

Results in the MSU Deer Lab study showed that external factors can affect the expression of genetic potential. A young buck fawn's development relies heavily on its mother's ability to produce enough quality milk. Her ability to find and select a quality habitat for her young buck also affects his future well-being.

Is the deer population increasing or decreasing? ›

Projections indicated that the white-tailed deer population will decline by an average of 4.0% annually under current conditions, and only scenarios that incorporated both antlerless harvest restrictions and improved fawn survival will lead to positive population growth.

What are the benefits of deer management? ›

Deer management is a customary tool for good stewardship of our natural areas, both in protecting the habitat of other species which call our preserves home and also protecting hikers to our lands by potentially reducing the number of ticks found on the property.

What are the different types of deer management? ›

  • 3.1 Lethal management. 3.1.1 Hunting.
  • 3.2 Nonlethal management. 3.2.1 Chemical repellents. 3.2.2 Fencing. 3.2.3 Wildlife birth control.

How many deer are killed in Mississippi? ›

For the 2019-2020 season, the bag limit for does was increased, but the statewide harvest of deer only increased to 221,000 — a far cry from the mid-1990s when annual harvest estimates were regularly over 300,000 deer. McKinley said those reduced harvests have led to an increase in the overall population.

What is the fine for shooting deer out of season in Mississippi? ›

Killing Deer Out of Season

If a person is convicted of killing any deer out of season, that person may be fined not less than $100 and his license may be revoked for a year by the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

Are there more deer now than 100 years ago? ›

But thanks to the birth and evolution of modern wildlife management, things changed dramatically for the white-tailed deer. Now there are about 100 times more deer, some 30 MILLION that now inhabit North America. Think about that for a moment… 100 times more deer than 100 years ago.

What are three causes of deer overpopulation? ›

Deer populations are no longer held in check by their natural predators, and humans are creating perfect deer habitat in yards, parks, and golf courses and along highways. And we are feeding them well with a huge variety of domestic and agricultural plants.

Why are so many deer out right now? ›

With hunting restrictions, their population has rebounded to where it was before Europeans arrived. Adaptable, deer evolved in forests and meadows but thrive in human-shaped habitats—the edges of roadways and forests, parks, suburban yards.

How do deer farmers make money? ›

Yes, landowners in many states raise fenced-in deer as domestic livestock. The reasons for raising deer in large pens are primarily financial. Farmers sell everything from antlers, velvet, urine, and venison to controlled hunts and breeding stock. Bucks with trophy antlers can fetch prices in six figures.

Do deer serve any purpose? ›

Deer serve several important functions in the ecosystem including keeping populations of producers in check, dispersing seeds, and serving as prey for secondary and tertiary consumers. Deer are grazers, primarily feeding on grasses and shrubs.

Is it okay to hunt female deer? ›

Harvesting female deer decreases the population, while satisfying hunters by increasing the nutritional value of the land and the age at which bucks are harvested, therefore increasing its trophy buck potential.

What is the ratio of buck to doe for deer management? ›

So, before you venture out into the woods, you might be wondering: does the buck to doe ratio really matter? You can have a successful season no matter what the ratio is, but an “ideal” ratio is as close to a 1:1 ratio as possible. The importance of the ratio of bucks to does can also depend on where you live.

What is the best field for deer? ›

Freshly Cut Alfalfa or Clover Fields

You need to have an area with light pressure for these spots to pan out, since older bucks are wary of entering large fields in daylight after hunting pressure starts to build. But if you have such a setup, fields of these legumes can be great spots for an early-season hunt.

How many mature bucks per acre? ›

In general, you can produce about three to four 3½-year-old and older bucks for every 500 acres of high-quality habitat. I have helped manage lands where this number of bucks was difficult to reach and others with twice that harvest rate.

What did the Rompola Buck score? ›

shot with bow and arrow in Grand Traverse County on Nov. 13, 1998 has been made public. At the time Rompola killed the buck with exceptionally wide, typical 12-point antlers they were the highest scoring on record for North America with a net score of 216 5⁄8 and gross score of 220 6⁄8.

What would have happened to the older doe population as a result of flooding Why? ›

The older doe population would likely be negatively affected by flooding. Flooding can lead to a decrease in food availability, as it may wash away plants that the deer depend on for their diet. Additionally, flooding can disrupt the habitat and shelter of the deer, making them more vulnerable to predation.

What is the state record deer in Mississippi? ›

Non-Typical Heads (Min. Score 195)
RankScoreTaken By
1295 6/8**Tony Fulton
2225 0/8Richard Herring
3221 2/8Milton Parrish
19 more rows

What changes did the deer in the park most likely experience since 1920? ›

What changes did the deer in the park most likely experience since 1920? The deer population likely reached its carrying capacity and ceased growth due to a lack of food.

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