White-Tailed Deer Foods: Native Choices

Once again, great information from Grayson County (Texas) Ag Extension agent Chuck Jones’ October/November newsletter.

And while this information will be most useful to H-365 enthusiasts after the current deer season has run its course, print it off now, bookmark it, or otherwise file it away for use later on because it is good stuff.

Not to mention that it could save you some bucks of the George Washington kind while helping you grow bucks of the Boone & Crockett kind!



Southern Red Oak acorns / Noble Foundation photo

White-Tailed Deer Foods: Native Choices


By Chuck Jones / Grayson County Ag Extension Agent

Before you go buy a pretty bag with a big buck picture on it containing high dollar food plot seeds, you should know that Mother Nature provides some great cheap options. The information that I’m going to share with you comes from a lot of hard work and research done by employees at the Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Their results are written in a publication called, Quality of Native Plant Forage Species Important to White- Tailed Deer and Goats in South Central Oklahoma.

What deer eat

Let us begin our discussion with what type of forage White-tailed deer utilize. The table below came from yet another Noble Foundation source titled, White-Tailed Deer: Their Foods and Management in the Cross Timbers.

Forage Class / Percent Use

Forbs (broad leaf weeds) / 44%

Browse (woody material) acorns / (41%) 8%

Grasses and Grasslikes / 3%

Other / 1%

Deer eat roughly 66% of everything in the woods. The table above shows you that deer eat a wide variety of foods. So a good deer habitat is a diverse habitat.

Nutrition value of native plants for deer

If you have livestock, then you are always thinking about their food source. You are asking – Is the grazing of good quality? Does the hay I purchased have a high crude protein (CP) and total digestible nutrients (TDN, estimate of forage energy)? You would love to see the CP in the 10-14% range and TDN 55% and above. Have you ever wondered about the CP and TDN of native plants already found on your property? Let us take a look at a few. I=ll list figures for plants tested in April. When you see these high, almost unbelievable numbers, just remember that they will decrease as the growing season progresses. This is especially true for crude protein. So consider these numbers on the high end, but at the same time, realize the potential of already present native forage for its nutritional value. These numbers are also variable according to environmental factors. However, with all that said. . .deer do have access to some good stuff that didn’t come from a bag.

Greenbrier smilax sp. = CP 37.9% /  TDN 71.4%

Smooth sumac Rhus glabra = CP 23% /  TDN 89.7%

Poison ivy Toxicodendron radicans =  CP 29.3% /  TDN 89.7%

Osage orange Maclura pomifera = CP 28.5% /  TDN 66.7%

Hackberry Celtis laevigata = CP 22.5% /  TDN 79.8%

Coralberry Symphoricarpus orbiculatus = CP 17.7% / TDN 76.4%

Roughleaf dogwood Cornus drummondii = CP 22.3% / TDN 87.7%

Post Oak Quercus marilandica = CP 20.6%  / TDN 81.9%

Partridge pea Chamaecrista fasciculate = CP 22.4% /  TDN 75.6%

Three-seeded Mercury Acalypha virginicus = CP 12.7% /  TDN 77.6%

Tick clover spp. Desmodium spp. = CP 20.2% /  TDN 59.9%

Mare’s tail Conyza Canadensis = CP 14.4% / TDN 73.9%

Giant ragweed Ambrosia trifida = CP 37.8% / TDN 88.8%

Western ragweed Ambrosia psilostachya = CP 17.3% / TDN 81.4%

Food plots. Do we really need them?

So – Do you really think you need to put all that money into buying that high dollar seed? In most cases, I would say no. If your land has a diversity of native plants, you will grow and hold White-tailed deer on your property. There are three reasons I might establish food plots. The first reason would be because the habitat is not diverse and the plants present aren’t deer preferred foods. My second reason is based on research from the Noble Foundation study showing that crude protein was limiting (fell below deer’s optimal needs) between the months of June through November. So this is where I would recommend some food plots — peas during the warm season and oats or wheat during the cool season. These seeds can be purchased inexpensively at a feed store so don’t buy a pretty bag. My final reason? To increase deer frequency to a site. In simple terms, increase the odds of seeing and harvesting does by luring them to fertilized “tasty” food.

Pea vine hay (sorry – don=t have #s on fresh pasture) = CP 10% / TDN 60%

Wheat = CP 20% / TDN 71%

Oat silage (sorry – don=t have #s on fresh pasture) = CP 12% / TDN 60%

Kernel corn = CP 9%  / TDN 88%


About hunting365

Lynn Burkhead is a blessed man who digs being alive to know, live for, and worship the Creator; being married to his babe, Charissa; and being "Dad" to Katie, Zach, and Will. Professionally, he is a nationally recognized outdoor writer who served as an associate editor, senior writer, and blog columnist for the ESPNOutdoors.com Web site for much of this decade. Burkhead has also been a deer hunting columnist and fishing fundamentals columnist for Texas Fish & Game magazine as well as serving as a hunting columnist for Southern Sporting Journal magazine. Finally, he has been a busy freelance writer and photographer for more than a decade with hundreds of byline credits appearing in such places as Bassmaster.com, Bowhunt America, Bowhunter, Buckmasters, Field & Stream, GrandViewOutdoors.com, Great Plains Game & Fish, Louisiana Game & Fish, Lone Star Outdoor News, North American Whitetail, Oklahoma Game & Fish, Outdoor Life, Realtree.com, Rocky Mountain Game & Fish, Texas Sporting Journal, and Texas Sportsman. When time permits, you'll typically find him outside with a bow, a shotgun, a fly rod, or a Nikon camera in his hand. View all posts by hunting365

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