Signs Of Life

The first signs of the arrival of spring are exciting and changing every day as temperatures begin to rise and lush new growth begins to blanket the countryside. From May into June the availability of food and temperature swings begin to change mature bucks’ personalities. Bucks, especially mature bucks, are often solitary animals, slowly start to regroup with other bucks. Occasionally there may be as many as 8 to 12 bucks of mixed age classes in a bachelor group heading into summer.

High Octane Spring Foods

Whitetails seek the first available high-quality food in the spring to revamp their winter-ravaged bodies from Old Man Winter and the rigors of the rut. The first new sprouting native vegetation has more nutrition in it than it will have at any other time of the year. The protein content in this new spring growth soars with nutrition. Whitetails turn to fresh new grasses and forbs. The new browse shoots from these native plants are highly nutritious, bringing high octane nutrition from 17% to 28% to lactating does and boosting muscle and weight loss on bucks to begin antler development.

Annual and perennial forbs and woody browse are the main components of a deer’s diet during the spring and summer months.

Well-Rounded Nutrition

Whitetail deer require different nutritional requirements at different times of the year; just like people, whitetails need a well-rounded diet. Growing bucks, lactating does, and newborn fawns require these nutritional needs: calcium, phosphorus, fiber, sodium, carbohydrates, and fat, as well as the baseline of protein and water. By providing a good chunk of these requirements on your property, whitetails will gravitate to your ground, and more times than not, spend the majority of their life on your property.

Nutritional Calendar

Woody browse or deer browse is defined as the leaves, twigs, and buds of woody plants consumed by whitetails. Whitetail deer are primarily browsers. Eating browse is an important part of what deer consume especially during the late winter months and early spring months when food is hard to come by. In fact, browse may be the only food source available during much of the winter.

The calendar date for browse is all season and includes:

  • Blackberry
  • Blueberry
  • Dogwood
  • Elderberry
  • Elms
  • Grapes
  • Greenbrier
  • Partridge pea
  • Maples
  • Oaks
  • Persimmon
  • Poison ivy
  • Sassafras
  • Serviceberry
  • Sumacs
  • Viburnum
  • Virginia creeper

Whitetails also eat a variety of plant forbs such as ferns, vetches and herbaceous forages (forbs) from late March into the last days of summer when palatability drops off.

  • Asters
  • Brassicas
  • Clover
  • Coralberry
  • Chickweed
  • Crotons
  • Fleabanes
  • Goldenrods
  • Lespedezas
  • Pokeweed
  • Prickly lettuce
  • Ragweed
  • Smartweeds
  • Sunflowers
  • Sweet clovers
  • Tick trefoils
  • Verbena
  • Vetches
  • Violets
  • Wild strawberry

Hard and soft mast is consumed during the fall when antler development and lactation cease, allowing deer to build up their fat reserves for the rigors of the breeding season and winter. Acorns and corn are low in protein but have a high energy content, so they are staple foods in areas where they are available.

  • Beech nuts
  • Blackberry
  • Crabapple
  • Grapes
  • Hazelnut
  • Honey locust
  • Oak (acorns)
  • Persimmon
  • Corn
  • Beans

Grasses rarely are a preferred food item of whitetails, except during the early growth stages when the grass shoots are more digestible, from April through June. Cereal grains, such as oats, wheat, and rye, are highly preferred.

  • Bluegrass
  • Bromes
  • Oats
  • Panic grasses
  • Rye
  • Wheat

To ensure a healthy white-tailed deer population, landowners need to understand and provide whitetails for their nutritional needs throughout the year. Although deer nutritional requirements vary by season, age, physiological activity, and sex, management practices can be implemented to enhance habitats, providing a diversity of forages to keep whitetails on your hunting property.

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Jason Ashe
Jason Ashe is an avid whitetail deer enthusiast and avid hunter from the finger lakes region of New York. A full time social media specialist in the outdoor industry and habitat specialist with Mid-Lakes Whitetails, Jason has been featured in such publications as Quality Whitetails numorouse times and been paired with hunting greats in Outdoor Life for his knowledge and passion for hunting mature deer. Turkeys, Coyotes also top the list of game that Jason pursues in any down time he has from whitetails. He consideres himself lucky to have whitetails and hunting be a part of everyday life. His wife Laura also shares in his passions along with their 2 children.