Valuable Winter Feeding Tips for Deer
Tremendous attention, energy, and resources have been dedicated up until this point towards your deer hunting season success. There will still be some late-season deer hunting opportunities across the country, however, the work really begins now for next season.
Winter months can be difficult for white-tailed deer. Food resources are dwindling at the same time your herd is trying to recover important energy reserves from the rut. These beneficial winter feeding tips for deer will help maximize survival and ensure a healthy herd for next season.
What Do Deer Eat in the Winter?
White-tailed deer are extremely adaptable. They are found across the country ranging from urban escapes to southern marshes all the way up to northern barrens. To survive, particularly in their northern reaches, they have to be able to withstand unforgiving winters.
Not unlike other mammals, deer change both physically and behaviorally as winter sets in. Winter coats replace their summer coats while their metabolism and activity levels decrease. Both of which minimizes energy loss as nature’s way of maximizing survival.
Deer will scavenge for acorns that are left and dig through accumulated snow to feed on grasses and forbs. In addition, browse accounts for a large percentage of winter deer food. According to research from the Mississippi State University Deer Ecology and Management Lab (https://www.msudeer.msstate.edu/deer-diet.php), browse accounts for over 60% of a deer’s diet during winter months. However, where natural forage is lacking, supplemental deer feeding can be necessary to get a herd through until spring.
Benefits of Feeding Deer in Winter
Bucks, does, and yearling deer all get benefits from supplemental deer feeding. Unlike deer feeding strategies for the rut, winter feeding tips for deer focus more around getting your herd to next season.
First and foremost, bucks are depleted from the rut. A complete winter feeding program helps bucks regain lost weight and be better prepared for winter. Not only does adequate winter deer food help bucks survive winter, it also sets the stage for antler growth. Nutritious forage combined with additional supplemental deer feed in winter allows bucks to maximize their antler potential for next season.
In addition, does will also lose weight during the rut. Similar to bucks, proper nutrition during winter to regain lost weight helps to support productivity for next season. Priming does now is beneficial to reproductive success and fawn growth in spring.
Finally, winter feed for deer is advantageous for yearling deer as well. Depending on when a fawn was born, the benefits of winter feeding can vary. Early born fawns benefit from winter feeding by jump–starting growth for the next season. Later born fawns have probably the greatest need for proper winter deer food. Without achieving optimal body weight, later–born fawns will not make it through winter.
Best Deer Feed for Cold Months
Feeding deer in winter is a much-debated topic. In the traditional sense, deer feeding by dumping corn out after the season or using other formulated deer food mixes exclusively provides little benefit and in some cases can be harmful to a herd. The alternative is a comprehensive deer feeding program that utilizes a combination of natural forages, planted food plots and supplemental feeds throughout the year and at the right times in the right amounts.
Nutritional feed supplements like the Boss Buck Boss Builder feed attractant is easily distributed through stationary feeders. These supplements provide required proteins and fats deer need during winter. If you have not been using supplemental feed as a comprehensive deer feeding program, be cautious about implementing them now. Overconsumption and a sudden diet change by instituting a deer feed mix in winter can have deadly consequences. Supplemental feeding works best if it is already part of your feeding program.
You certainly can’t plant food plots in December and January, but you can use them as a winter food source for deer if you plan ahead. Food plots consisting of brassica blends that include radishes and turnips as well as mixed clovers offer the most beneficial food sources. A full season deer forage can sustain a herd until spring while also providing the proper nutrition deer need.
Creating Natural Forage
The best deer feed option for the winter months is natural forages. They are time and resource–intensive to create and manage, however, they benefit the herd the most. As mentioned, over 60% of a deer’s winter diet is browse. Another one of the winter feeding tips for deer is to increase the amount of available browse on a property. Hinge cutting is one way to do this. Also, proper timber management can create continuous early successional habitat (i.e. browse) through timber improvement harvests. These are both great ways to feed deer in winter but require the land and resources to do it effectively.
Several Strategies for Feeding Deer in Winter
Generally, a deer’s home range will shrink during winter in order to conserve energy while meeting their daily needs. This change relates directly to several winter feeding tips for deer. Below are six strategies to keep in mind with a winter deer feeding program.
- Combine multiple food sources – Add supplemental deer feeders next to other food sources like a food plot or recent timber cut. Doing so allows deer to regulate in-take through forage variety within close proximity of one another.
- Water is still important – Deer will still require water during winter months so consider the nearest available winter water source when planning feeding areas.
- The closeness of bedding locations – Deer will expend as few calories as possible. As such, the more valuable and more frequently used food sources will be the ones close to bedding areas.
- Provide enough winter deer food – Aggregating deer through winter feeding can have unintended consequences such as disease transmission. Instead, be sure to have enough winter forage available in multiple areas to support the herd size you are managing.
- Monitor feeding sites and herd health – Trail camera placement around winter food sources is a must. This accomplishes two things. First, you get to see how deer are utilizing a particular food source and second you can inventory the herd for planning next season.
- Time your deer feed – Using feeders with a timer to release food at different times of the day helps to reduce overconsumption and the unintended consequences that can come with feeding in winter.
Hunting Late Season Winter Feeding Areas
Winter feeding tips for deer are not only important for the health and the success of your deer herd but also offer late-season deer hunting opportunities. As winter sets in and the rut concludes, bucks will gravitate around food sources. Often they will feed during midday hours to take full advantage of the food that is available.
Focus your hunting attention around supplement feeding stations (where legal) and any agricultural fields that still have available food. In addition, food plots with maturing brassicas will attract bucks who are looking to replenish as much lost weight from the rut as possible.
Hunting winter deer food in the morning is impractical. You will either chase out deer already feeding or during extreme cold spells deer will not move to feed until late morning or late afternoon. Plan hunts for late morning or sit a few hours before dark over these food sources. As one of the winter feeding tips for deer, use trail cameras to identify the prime hours to hunt particular food sources to better manage your time on the ground.
Land managers, property owners, and hunters all play a role in next season’s deer herd. Incorporating winter feeding tips for deer like the one outlined here will not only provide some late-season opportunities but also, more importantly, guarantee more bucks make it to next year.