As hunters and land managers we spend much of our time on habitat and herd management. We monitor our deer herds and keep tabs on particular bucks. We even know the whitetail’s behavioral patterns from season to season, but many hunters don’t fully understand what deer eat and why they eat what they do. In order for your deer herd to be as healthy as possible it is important that we understand what types of forage is available to them and what is necessary for them to be healthy.
We know that whitetails will seek out acorns, primarily white oaks during the fall. This is because white oaks have less tannic acids than acorns in the red oak family, resulting in a less bitter tasting meal. In some cases acorns comprise 60-70 percent of a deer’s diet. While acorns are a great source of energy, they lack protein. A mature deer requires roughly 5-10 percent protein, a yearling needs roughly 10 percent, and post-nursing fawns may require anywhere from 15-20 percent protein. Of course this varies throughout the year. The amount of crude protein available to your deer herd is directly related to the herd’s overall health. Likewise, corn is approximately 6-8 percent protein, therefore having supplemental feeding stations stocked with shelled corn on your property may not be as nutritionally beneficial as you once thought. On the other hand, soybeans are about 30 percent protein and provide forage from germination in the spring to when they are harvested in the mid to late winter. There are also many other alternatives you can chose from to provide your deer with more protein such as Mossy Oak BioLogic’s Maximum food plot seed. This provides about 38 percent protein and 80 percent digestibility. Food plots also produce more tonnage per acre than many agricultural crops. Also, the presence of food plots provides forage long after many agricultural crops have been harvested.
Digestibility is another critical aspect of deer forage. Whitetails can digest plants with a higher palatability such as forbs and berries much easier than plants that contain lignin, such as woody stems and twigs. Supposedly, a deer can starve with a full stomach of twigs and stems if no other forage is available. The breakdown process is slow and it most likely won’t result in the absorption of many essential nutrients. Habitats consisting of early successional vegetation which is composed of primarily forbs and grasses is an ideal habitat for whitetails due to the amount of palatable nutritional plants as their disposal. Forbs and other herbaceous vegetation (non-woody stemmed plants) are forms of natural vegetation that are common after a prescribed burn or a disturbance in the soil, many times this is in a forested area. The fruit production of certain plants such as American pokeberry increases in a post-burn environment. Not only do prescribed burns provide more palatable forage, they also produce more of it.
So while you are scouting this year keep in mind what is available to your deer on your property and capitalize on it when the season rolls around. Now is also a great time to plan out the incorporation of other protein-producing forages for next year that will benefit your deer herd.
~ Andrew Walters. Mossy Oak Properties