Improve Native Food Sources for
COMPLETE NUTRITION By Neil Dougherty First off, let’s get one thing straight. Deer are eating machines. Each whitetail will consume between one and 1.5 tons of food annually. Let that sink in for a moment. The 10 deer you just saw on your food plot are consuming in the ballpark of 24,000 pounds of food annually. It’s no wonder
Logging is one of the most effective ways to dramatically increase the amount of food produced at the forest floor level.
that most deer landscapes suffer from overbrowsing. It’s important to understand that most of a deer’s food exists within six feet of the ground. Deer feed on forbs, leaves, grasses and browse stems. Hard masts like acorns are also a favorite, as are soft masts like apples, lichens and mushrooms. The first one to three inches of new growth on a branch or twig provides the best browse; the first inch provides the most digestible protein, and the farther down the stem the deer eats the poorer the food quality. Stemmy browse contains a high percentage of hard-to-digest lignin; that is of little benefit to deer. Although deer require browse, the average protein level is quite low for most forms of native food. For example, red maple is a highly preferred browse species. Based on plant analysis from our New York research facility, the average protein content of red maple browse is around five to six percent. That’s a far cry from the 16 to 18 percent protein deer require in their
s a professional wildlife consultant I am faced with the task of improving the quality of deer on land across the country. Looking back at hundreds of thousands of acres of properties, one universal problem can be found on most of them — too many deer for the amount of food produced within the property. One solution that most land-owners recognize is to plant food plots to increase the amount and quality of food. However, although food plots are one of the best management tools, they alone are not the answer when it comes to managing a property correctly. Most landowners fall short when it comes to producing or enhancing native food sources. Native foods represent half of a whitetail’s diet. One often overlooked key to successful property management is to dramatically increase the quality of native foods. Not only will it make your deer healthier it will also enhance your hunting.
WHITETAIL NEWS / Vol. 17, No. 1