Feeding Deer

See the Latest News and Research Below.  Also see food plots


Supplemental feeding of wild deer can improve survival and increase the population, but careless feeding can kill deer, transmit disease, or create management problems.  Do not use corn or other fermentable carbohydrates as a primary emergency deer food.  Deer are routinely killed this way by people trying to help.  Examples below.  Deer are browsers and have adapted to eating a wide variety of food sources, but their efficient stomachs require time to adapt to a new food source.  Two to four weeks for some new foods.  A hungry deer that has not eaten corn recently can die within a day if it comes across a large pile of corn that it devours [bloat and acidosis].   


There are over 10,000 deer farms in the U.S. where deer are fed products formulated for deer such as Purina AntlerMax, with a protein content of about 16 to 20 percent, which are suitable as an emergency feed.  Other similar pelletized products that can be used are available for rabbits, goats, or horses with main ingredients of alfalfa hay, soybean meal, distillers dried grains,  rice bran, and corn (less than 25 percent) with protein of at least 12 percent.  Goat (chow) feed is widely available.  Oats are a preferred supplement.  The state of Maine has previously used a mix of oats and barley, but has recently increased the use of alfalfa hay.   Some deer may take time to adapt to these unfamiliar foods.


Deer enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables such as apples, grapes, small plums, cherries, pears, pumpkin, carrots, snap peas, tomatoes, squash, almonds, watermelon, figs, turnips, honey locust, watermelon, persimmons, and sunflower seeds.  As with people, individual tastes vary.   Acorns and other mast are an important food source.


Good trees include pears, apples, crab apples, persimmons, olive, aspen, white oaks and red oaks, ash, aspen, maple, popular, willow, white cedar, yellow birch, red mulberry, and chestnut.  Also consider soybeans, dogwood, pokeweed, aster, ragweed, goldenrod,  sumac, and honeysuckle.  


Feeding deer may increase the transmission of chronic wasting disease and other diseases.  Check the map to see if you are in a chronic wasting disease area.  Reducing food pile density can reduce transmission probability.  The Mississippi DWFP recommends using an above ground covered feeder.  An example.  Leaving food on the ground significantly increases risk of toxins and other harmful agents.  Poop should be removed.  Food should be distributed, otherwise dominate deer may prevent younger and smaller deer from eating.  Feeding deer is illegal in some jurisdictions.  Planting food plots is an effective, safe, and legal way to support local deer populations.  


News

Whitetails are moving into our yards. Could a change in state policy help keep them away? March 29, 2024 New York, Hornell Evening Tribune

... New York needs to amend its current ban on feeding deer supplements and allow conservationists to put food and minerals back in the woods so the deer stay there and not in the streets and backyards.  Deer go where they can shop for the best groceries...


Could statewide ban on supplemental deer feeding happen? MS wildlife commission mulls plan March 22, 2024 Mississippi, The Clarion-Ledger on MSN

... to slow the spread of CWD, an always-fatal disease in deer... "It is not the feed itself. We want to focus on the feeding mechanism itself and that is placing feeders on the landscape and unnaturally concentrating those animals at the same location day in and day out for long periods of time." ...


The Humble Acorns: A Feast for Wildlife  March 10, 2024 New York Almanack

... White-tailed deer are among the top acorn consumers, with acorns comprising up to 75 percent of their late fall and early winter diet. One deer may eat 300 acorns per day. In a big mast year (every two to five years), deer weigh more and are more likely to produce twin fawns...


Video Below:  In the tenth episode of Fish and Game’s ‘State of Deer and Elk’ series, Fish and Game Regional Wildlife Biologist, Miranda Reinson, discusses how and why the Department steps in to feed wintering deer and elk. March 8, 2024

Will supplemental feeding of deer be banned in Mississippi? Here's what we know February 22, 2024 Mississippi, Yahoo! Sport

... Supplemental feeding of deer was legalized over a decade ago ... At the time, CWD was not known to be in the state ..After the disease was found in Mississippi in 2018, feeding was banned in positive counties. Now the commission has tasked the wildlife division of the department to research if a statewide ban would slow the spread of the disease ...


Fish and Game begins to feed elk at the Bullwhacker feed site west of Ketchum January 21, 2024 Idaho Fish and Game

...Elk are fed a specially formulate alfalfa pellet  ..The site was established with the intention of keeping elk away from the communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley. While many think that feed sites supplement food on winter range, the Bullwhacker feed site purpose is to lure elk away from local communities where conflicts can occur...


Looking Ahead: Hunters should start now to help deer for next season January 11, 2024 Texas, Tyler Morning Telegraph

... “Corn is simply used as an attractant and provides little nutritional value for deer...the addition of supplemental feed or cottonseed is still recommended,”  [Blaise Korzekwa, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s white-tailed deer program leader.]  By supplemental feed he is referring to protein pellets ... 


The Classic Fruit Trees That Attract Deer To Your Property December 30, 2023 House Digest  

... Apple trees are perhaps the most effective ... pears offer a sweet, nutritious snack for deer ... Persimmons are a lesser-known but highly effective ... Crabapples ... Plum trees, with their sweet and juicy fruits ...


Video Below:  A handsome buck ate apples for a short time at Brownsville’s Food Pantry For Deer’s while other deer waited for him to leave.  December 17, 2023 

Fish and Game ready to feed big game if needed; when and why would that happen? December 17, 2023 Idaho, East Idaho News

... When extreme weather threatens massive die-offs, Fish and Game has feed stockpiled so department staff can react. But even during normal winters, some wildlife mortality is expected ... Fish and Game will sometimes use alternative food sources to lure deer and elk away from feeding on a landowner’s stored agricultural crops, such as hay ...


Dysart hears deer feeding bylaw may hinder hunters December 3, 2023 Arizona, Yahoo News Canada

... When is laying deer feed a means of prepping for hunting season and when is it violating a bylaw against feeding deer inside municipal boundaries? ... “The bylaw is very clear that it exempts any hunting activity,” ...  a hunter could say in June that she’s putting out feed in preparation for the lawful fall hunt...


Historic die-off at Wyoming elk feedground prompts management changes November 13, 2023 Wyoming, WyoFile

 ...1,733 elk being fed every morning on top of feces-filled ground in the feedground’s flat valley floor... “in early February I could tell we were going to see a hoof rot outbreak here.” ...  Nearly half of the calves counted on the Horse Creek Feedground last winter died... 


Can you feed deer in Pennsylvania? November 12, 2023 WHTM Harrisburg 

... The White-tailed Deer is the Pennsylvania state animal and around 1.5 million of them live in Pennsylvania... According to Pennsylvania Code § 137.33, “It is unlawful  ... feeding bear or elk ... The Pennsylvania Game Commission also asks residents to not feed deer (or any wildlife) due to the fact that it risks the spread of disease..,


What Do Deer Eat? Top 20 Favorite Foods October 10, 2023 Yahoo

...  acorns, alfalfa, apples, beechnuts, brassicas, cereal grains, clover, corn, cowpeas, fall leaves, fir needles, forbs, milo, northern white cedar, persimmons, pears, saplings and shrubs, soybeans, and treetops (felled or fallen)...


McCall ordinance will impose fines for anyone caught feeding deer inside city limits October 3, 2023 Idaho, KIVI-TV

... The McCall City Council has unanimously passed an ordinance making it illegal for anyone to feed deer within the city limits... A first-time violation of the ordinance would cost the recipient $100...


Ellicott Must Be Ready To Enforce A Wildlife Feeding Ban Before Passing A Ban September 20, 2023 New York, Post Journal

... Feeding deer in New York state is illegal ... Except in cases of blatant wildlife feeding we can’t imagine a way the ordinance is actually enforceable without neighbors documenting wildlife feeding with photos and video. People do have a right of privacy on their properties ...


Feed the wildlife September 17, 2023, Casper Star-Tribune

... Many deer in towns around Wyoming survived because people were feeding them ... weather forecasters say the upcoming winter will be just as bad as last year’s winter...


Farmington residents voice concerns over high deer population  August 24, 2023 Maine, Daily Bulldog

... MDIFW informed the group that feeding of deer is illegal from June 1 to the end of muzzle-loading season ... Keel Kemper, Regional Biologist for MDIFW, said that he is unaware of any towns in Maine that have an ordinance against feeding deer...


Ontario council gives residents the right to feed deer July 16, 2023 Ohio, Yahoo

... voted 5 to 1 ... Rehfeldt said this was not an issue of people's safety.  "This is an issue of a resident who is mad at people feeding the deer," ...


Wyoming Should Have Fed Starving Deer, Says Retired Wildlife Official June 29, 2023 Cowboy State Daily

... The man who supervised supervised the Game and Fish’s elk feeding program for 33 years told Cowboy State Daily that tens of thousands of mule deer could have been spared from starving to death this past winter if they’d been artificially fed..,


Wildlife across Western US starve to death amid unprecedented winter April 14, 2023 Colorado, Denver7

... Utah has left out pellets for deer and Colorado has left out hay for elk, trying to prevent wild animals from taking food from livestock..,


Elk feeding continues to 'the bitter end'  April 7, 2023 Oregon, Baker City Herald

... elk, which eat with aplomb the alfalfa that the wildlife area workers set out, prefer the tender green grass of spring ... once the snow begins to recede they’ll eschew the handouts in favor of what nature provides. But this isn’t most years...


Gran Making It Her Mission To Feed Deer Dubbed 'Retired Disney Princess' April 4, 2023 Newsweek

... A grandmother feeding deer outside her home has been labeled a "retired Disney princess" by users on TikTok... The video has been viewed over 7 million times and the majority of viewers expressed their joy at the scene in the comments...


Winter feeding update for the Southeast Region March 31, 2023 Idaho Fish and Game

... Approximately, 30 tons of deer feed is currently being distributed to 23 authorized feed sites per week.  In addition, several authorized feed sites for elk are currently on-going.  Between 1 and 2 tons of hay is being distributed at each elk feed site each day.  Winter conditions persist throughout much of the region, especially in the southeast corner of the state..,


Why Are Tens of Thousands Tuning in to Watch Maine Deer Feeding on YouTube? 2023, Down East Magazine

... Brownville’s Food Pantry for Deer ...The retired contractor performs this labor of love about 100 days a year, from December 16 through early April, during the nearly six-month window when it’s legal to feed wild deer in Maine. This season, he expects to distribute 37 tons of oats and hundreds of bushels of apples...

Corn is often used as a food supplement, but is low in protein and nutritional value.  It may result in acidosis if introduced too quickly, killing the deer, so should be used sparingly as an energy supplement such as for does trying to feed new fawns.  Corn is also high in starch so should not be used as a primary food source.  Arkansas Game and Fish warns that in addition to poor nutritional content, "commercially sold 'deer corn' does not meet the requirements of corn sold for livestock."   Use fresh grains from a reputable source to avoid poisoning deer with alfatoxins.


C.O.B. (corn, oats, and barley) is readily available, but has protein of only about 8 percent and is high in corn content so must be introduced slowly.  Goat chow usually has properties similar to deer chow, about 16 percent protein, alfalfa is a primary ingredient.  Second cut or later alfalfa is commonly used, but deer also need time to adapt to this food source.  Deer can starve with a stomach full of alfalfa they cannot digest.  


The Michigan DNR permitted supplemental feeding during the severe winter of 2013-14 and provided these guidelines: "Feed can consist only of grains, second cut alfalfa and clover, and pelletized food materials containing no animal protein. The feed must be scattered on the ground at a depth not to exceed three inches.   If individuals choose to feed corn, the DNR recommends it be mixed as a minor component, 25 percent or less of the recipe, which should help protect deer from dying by acidosis..." 


For the supplemental feeding of 2017 the DNR added this advice: "Although deer make use of apples, potatoes, sugar beets, carrots, and many other foods during summer and fall, these provide little benefit for deer during winter conditions..." The Wisconsin DNR advises that for winter feeding, if formulated deer products are not available then "rabbit, goat or horse pellets which contain at least 12% protein can be used... After the formulated deer food mixtures, oats are preferred over all other supplemental foods... do not feed [alfalfa] hay when deer have encountered low food sources... in winter ... " Cutting twigs and branches down so deer can reach them is effective in winter.


Deer have been routinely fed over thousands of years.  Ancient peoples managed deer and their habitat as an important natural resource.   Government agencies have opened feed sites to entice deer away from farm fields and other locations.


Distribute food to reduce disease transmission and conflict.

Risk of Inappropriate Feeding 

Deer die-off in Darby likely caused by illegal feeding February 9, 2023 Billings Gazette

... multiple deer where found dead or dying in the town of Darby after ingesting what appears to be whole-kernel corn... three reports in two days within a two-block area on the west side of town, although other deer have reportedly been found on the east side of town as well. All the animals found alive had to be euthanized due to their condition...


Moose collaring study shows evidence of widespread wildlife feeding February 16, 2022 Wyoming, Jackson Hole News & Guide

... Moose are evolved to eat wood — willows, mostly — over the winter.  “Their digestive system is built for that,” Courtemanch said.  Introducing something new like grain or alfalfa can be hazardous. “If they eat enough of it fast enough, it could kill them right away,” ...

The Buck Stops Here: Don't Feed Deer Deadly Corn February 20, 2020 Rhode Island, ecoRI news

... a natural-resource scientist at the University of Rhode Island... His inspection revealed that this wasn’t a hunting fatality or natural death; the deer’s stomach looked as if it had exploded. The animal’s stomach was enlarged and bursting open with partially digested corn grains...


CPW says someone feeding a doe corn caused her to die February 14, 2020 Colorado, KUSA

... doe died from having a full stomach of corn that led to acute rumen acidosis... a necropsy ... discovered the animal's stomach was full of corn ... many animals die quickly from the acid's immediate effects, while others may live longer, but die from liver or brain damage...


Elk found dead from eating corn in northern Wisconsin January 10, 2020 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

... An elk was found dead Jan. 2 in northern Wisconsin after it ate corn put out by a landowner in a misguided attempt to help wildlife, according to the Department of Natural Resources.  The animal died from rumen acidosis ...


Discovery of dead deer shows danger of feeding wildlife March 21, 2019 Colorado, OutThere Colorado

... A dead deer was recently found in the San Luis Valley with stomach contents containing corn and grain... 


Wildlife Watch February 5, 2019, Vermont, WCAX

...  finding a dozen dead deer. They say someone fed the animals corn to help them during the cold, winter months. But deer don't have the proper bacteria in their gut to digest corn in the middle of winter, so they bloated and died...


Fish and Game on Deer Feeding April 25, 2015 New Hampshire, SeaCoastOnine, Glenn Normandeau, Executive Director, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department

... these deer died from eating food they were not prepared to digest at this time of year, a condition known as enterotoxemia ... most likely the corn ... They [the families who feed the deer] just didn't know any better ... It will not happen when deer are fed from late fall, as their digestive system will remain conditioned to handle the feed... 


Feeding winter wildlife can have deadly consequences February 2, 2014 Pennsylvania, Altoona Mirror

... Test results revealed the trophy 6-by-7- point bull died of rumen acidosis, a condition caused by the sudden introduction of carbohydrates into the animal's system... Game Commission sources aren't sure how the bull elk ingested the corn that killed it, but it is probable the grain was put out by a person or persons as supplemental winter food ...


South-county wildlife feeding is going well February 15, 2017 Idaho, Idaho Mountain Express

... feeding of deer and elk at 17 sites in southern Blaine County ... some deer have been dying by eating alfalfa hay at elk-feeding sites. “Their stomachs are stuffed with alfalfa—they just can’t digest it,” ... [need time to adjust to this new food source so not good when deer have had little and different food as in winter]


To feed or not to feed? October 15, 2018 Louisiana, The Daily Iberian

... State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries game biologists recommend that deer hunters refrain from using supplemental feed to attract deer to the areas they hunt. The use of supplemental feed increases the chance of spreading diseases, including chronic wasting disease, among deer and other wildlife using bait stations ...


New DNR rules nix baiting and feeding deer November 9, 2018 Michigan, Petoskey News-Review 

... In response to diseases that are spreading throughout the state and impacting deer [bovine tuberculosis, chronic wasting disease] ... baiting and feeding deer will be prohibited in the Lower Peninsula in 2019...


'Dr. Deer' Addresses Sportsmen on CWD and Herd Culling July 18, 2019 Pennsylvania, Morrisons Cove Herald 

 ...One surprising statement he [Dr. James Kroll] made is that supplemental feeding, which is now discouraged in Pennsylvania, could possibly be helpful in the battle against CWD since it could spread deer out...


Research


 "A review of the population dynamics of mule deer and black‐tailed deer Odocoileus hemionus in North America." Forrester, Tavis D., and Heiko U. Wittmer, Mammal Review 43.4 (2013): 292-308.

... "Supplemental feeding during winter over large areas resulted in decreased mortality due to all causes, including predation, even though there was no evidence that predators were preying on mule deer in poor conditions in control areas" p. 302


Effect of Enhanced Nutrition on Mule Deer Population Rate of Change. Wildlife Monographs, 2009.  Chad J. Bishop, Gary C. White, David J. Freddy, Bruce E. Watkins, Thomas R. Stephenson

... We measured annual survival and fecundity of adult females and survival of fawns, then estimated population rate of change as a function of enhanced nutrition. Pregnancy and fetal rates of adult females were high and did not vary in response to treatment. Fetal and neonatal survival rates increased in response to treatment, although the treatment effect on neonatal survival was marginal. Overwinter rates of fawn survival increased for treatment deer by 0.16–0.31 depending on year and fawn sex, and none of the 95% confidence intervals associated with the effects overlapped zero....