What Do Deer Love To Eat The Most?

As we venture into the hunting season, it's important to brush up on our knowledge of the white-tailed deer's favorite foods. These herbivorous creatures are known to have a varied diet, ranging from grasses to nuts and fruits. But with their acute sense of smell and voracious appetite, what do deer love to eat the most?

Deer love to eat food sources like Acorns, Corn, Soybeans, Apples, Persimmon,  Chestnuts, and more.  Most of these are highly palatable, typically high in nutrients, and easily digestible for deer.  A whitetail deer's primary food source will change depending on the region and season, but any of these are a great place to start.  

  • Nuts - Acorns, Chestnuts, Beechnuts
  • Fruit - Apples, Persimmons, 
  • Vegetables - Corn and Soybeans
  • Browse & Flowers - Aspen, Dogwood, Honeysuckle, Maple

In this article, we'll continue to dive deeper into the top choices of the white-tailed deer and how their preference for certain foods can impact our hunting plans. 

The Main Food Sources Deer Love To Eat

White-tailed deer have an varied and interesting diet.  Often, up to 85% of a deer's overall diet consists of browse, forbs, and mast. Theses supply deer with the majority of their nutritional needs throughout most of the year. They particularly enjoy grasses, leaves, and a variety of vegetables, but also love nuts, fruit, and fungi. 

Deer  are ruminants which means they can eat various grasses and other hard-to-digest foods, and their four stomachs will help them consume and process up to four pounds of food per day. Their appreciation for both hard and soft mast drives their seasonal forage selection.

Grasses and Forbs

Deer are known for their herbivorous nature, which means they solely rely on plants to fulfill their nutritional needs. They feed on a wide variety of plants, including grasses, sedges, leaves, shoots, fruits, nuts, and more.

With their acute sense of smell, they can easily recognize the most palatable and nutrient-rich plants for their consumption. Additionally, deer have adaptions like narrow snouts, long prehensile tongues, and enzyme-producing salivary glands, which help them select, break and digest plant parts that bring maximum intake of protein, energy, and minerals.

A Deer's Basic Diet

White-tailed deer are primarily herbivores, with their basic diet consisting of browse, forbs, fruits, nuts, and grasses. They need to consume around 6% to 8% of their body weight in green foliage and browse to stay healthy. They are highly selective when choosing food, preferring nutrient-rich and digestible plants that taste good.

As ruminants, they are able to consume as much biomass as possible when feeding followed by further chewing and digesting what they've eaten. Their diet changes with the seasons, with carbohydrate-rich foods like acorns, chestnuts, apples, and pears becoming a priority in the fall.

The Grasses and Forbs Deer Love The Most

When it comes to grasses and forbs, white-tailed deer tend to be quite selective. They prefer to consume the most palatable, easily digestible plants, which are usually high in protein and other essential nutrients. Typically, grasses make up a relatively small portion of whitetail's overall diet, often less than 10%.

Instead, they gravitate towards forbs and weeds, which are interspersed among the grasses, making them easier to consume and providing them with the most nutrition. This is why diverse plant communities, with a variety of forbs and browse plants available, are so crucial to a deer's diet and overall health.

Whitetail Deer's Favorite Fruits

Deer have a natural preference for fruits and nuts as they provide high-energy sources during times of thermal stress or rapid body and antler growth. Fruits like apples, persimmons, grapes, blackberries, mulberry, and plums are rich in carbohydrates, making them a favorite among deer for antler growth.  Hunters should take note of where these fruits can be found in order to better predict where deer will be feeding and traveling throughout the season.

The Favorite Nuts Of Whitetail Deer

Deer have quite the preference for certain types of nuts. While they'll eat various kinds, some of their favorites include acorns, especially white oak acorns, chestnuts, beechnuts, and more. They love white oak acorns because they're sweeter than red oak acorns. Nuts like acorns and chestnuts are high in protein and carbohydrates, and are preferred by deer over other food types.

Deer rely heavily on nuts in the fall to provide the energy and nutrients necessary for their survival through the harsh winter months. Although fruits and nuts may not make up the most significant part of a deer's diet, they're still some of their most favored treats.

Soft Foliage, Stems, and Flowers

Aside from forbs, fruits, and nuts, deer also have a love for soft and tender foliage, stems, and flowers. This is because these parts of plants are still very easy to digest, even the thorns of some plants are soft enough for them to consume.

By browsing on the buds, blooms, and leaves of various trees and plants, deer are able to supplement their diet with a variety of nutrients. They are also able to satisfy their desire for foods that are palatable and nutritious, contributing to their overall health and well-being.

Deer Rarely Eat

There are some other things that deer will occasionally eat if there is nothing else available.  On some occasions deer have been recorded eating a small bird or similar sized animal.  Its rare but has happened, and you can check out the proof that deer will sometimes eat meat, here.  

Seasonal Changes in a Deer's Diet

Deer's diet changes with the seasons, and their nutritional needs vary throughout the year. During the winter, deer rely primarily on woody browse, which is high in fiber and nutritious. In the fall and early winter, deer eat a lot and need foods with high-quality fats and energy content available to them, such as acorns, corn, and soybeans.

In spring and summer, deer require high-protein diets to support antler growth and fawn development. Providing supplemental feed, minerals, and high-quality food plots can help ensure deer have the nutrients they need to survive and thrive year-round.


This article was updated on June 24, 2023