White-tailed deer are the most recognizable symbol of the Wisconsin outdoors. Whether you hunt or simply watch them, knowledge is your tool for better deer management.
All wildlife species need food, water and cover; white-tailed deer are no exception.
White-tailed deer eat a variety of different foods, depending on availability and time of year. Corn and soybeans are a great food source if you have agricultural fields nearby. However, farmed fields are no help during the spring and winter, when food is most scarce.
Making sure you provide a variety of food sources that are available throughout the year will not only help keep deer on your property but will attract a wider variety of other wildlife species.
Deer hunters know all about annual cool season food plots.
- Brassicas – this includes beets and turnips
- Austrian Winter Peas
- Winter Rye
A relatively small amount of corn and soybeans left standing provides high carbohydrate food through the late fall, ensuring deer are healthy as they head into the lean winter months. Annual food plots, however, are expensive to plant every year, have limited appeal for other species and require expensive farming equipment.
Native perennial mixes that are heavy on broadleaf species provide a wide variety of food that deer eat. Though they are not a nutritionally dense as annual food plots, native perennials support many other wildlife species, as well deer. They have the added advantage of producing food year after year. After they are established, these food sources are much easier and less expensive to maintain.
Winter can be a lean time for deer food. Woody browse can represent 80% of their winter diet. Favorite deer browse species include: sumac, yellow birch, white pine, white cedar and the buds of maple trees. Deer will also eat the buds of oak, wild grapes, hackberry, honeysuckle, and greenbrier. Other winter food sources include acorns, when bare ground can be found, winter apples and and berries. Acorns are especially prized as they are high in both carbohydrates and fats.
While deer can often get most of the water they need from the food they eat, providing a small pond or pool near shelter areas will attract not only deer but many species of wildlife. A small woodland pool as small as 15 feet across will act like a wildlife magnet, bringing in not only deer but turkey and songbirds by the score.
Especially for afternoon feedings, deer prefer food that is located 200-300 yards for bucks and 100-200 yards from shelter. Deer will use both tall grass and dense woodland cover.
Young forest regeneration is prime cover for deer. They love to bed down in places where horizontal views are limited. Stands of young aspen, pine and spruce make great cover for deer. Avoid invasive shrub species that may provide good deer cover but offer little else of value for wildlife. Think in terms of multi-use structure.
Switchgrass is a good choice for open bedding as it tends to stand up through the winter, providing cover when it is otherwise harder to find.
DNR Deer Hunting page
UWSP White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) page
Deer Management – Wisconsin DNR
Deer Management Assistance Program – Wisconsin DNR
The 10 keys to Successful Deer Management – Outdoor Life