How to: What Do Deer Eat During the Late Season?
This video dives straight into finding out the answer to the question: What do deer eat during the late season? While this is a very basic question, the more advanced tactic of looking at a deer’s stomach answers the question. This process offers very valuable intel when it comes to hunting. Figuring out what a deer’s diet consists of regarding the late season food sources on your property, can help you determine where bucks might be patterned. Looking into a deer’s stomach contents can show you not only where to find deer at, but where to hunt, where to hang your trail cameras, and where to concentrate your late season efforts on.
What Do Deer Eat in the Late Season? | Trail Cameras Weekly “Week 10”
By opening up the stomach of a deer that is killed on your property, or by a neighbor nearby, you can quickly determine what late season food sources your deer are concentrating on your property. This video shows you two stomachs, one from a doe in Indiana, and another of a buck Steve Smolenski killed in Pennsylvania. It is important to remember, the property’s habitat and available food sources greatly diversify the results from analyzing the stomach contents. Every property is different, this is why it is a very successful tactic!
A Deer’s Stomach
There is more to this than simply slicing the stomach to find the answer to, “what do deer eat”. Deer are ruminants and have a four-chambered stomach.
The Rumen where deer store their food as they eat serves as a mechanism to allow deer to quickly eat large quantities of food without much chewing. This is a trait that helps limit the time they are exposed to predators. When they get back to a safe bedding area they proceed to re-chew this food or chew their fermented slightly digested “cud” going into the second chamber of the stomach the Reticulum, where the majority of microorganisms of a deer stomach really start to work. From there it moves to the Omasum the third chamber where water is absorbed, then proceeds to the final chamber the Abomasum where the food is further digested…Now why is this important? For the most part you will be able to easily identify what food sources they ate in the first chamber the rumen, and for the most part the second chamber. After you move on towards the final chamber it gets obviously harder.
By opening up stomach we can actually identify what the deer has eaten. Now you may be wondering how big of a timeline does it give us?
The answer assures us that this process is very high quality and accurate intel. From the time a deer eats to the time it passes through and comes out the other end, most of the material (about 80 %) takes only 48 hours to go through. This means during anytime regardless of harvest the gut pile and stomach contents will actually at least the last day or so of feeding. There is much to take into consideration after this as some food sources digest much faster than others.
While you can certainly see what the deer has eaten in the past 12 hours, you cannot determine when they ate food sources due to the vast range of different digestibility. AKA winter rye and species like clover digest easily compared to woody browse and mast such as white oak acorns. This is why It is important to understand what you are looking at before making any assumptions or conclusions.
So What are They Eating?
After the point when you identify the rumen and least digested contents of the stomach, you can pick apart the contents and try and apply percentages, or a conclusion to where the deer on this property are spending their time feeding.
The buck’s stomach contents revealed most visibly corn, but you have to realize this is probably only 20-30% of the contents. It just happens to be the most visible and easily identified. 60-70% or the majority of the stomach contents were grasses and forbs, with about half being winter wheat in the surrounding cover cropped ag fields. They also witnessed a basic estimate of 10% woody browse. There were no food plot species or acorns in the stomach. This directly reflected what food sources were available and not available on the property this year as Steve’s property does not hold food plots or a vast amount of oaks.
Now this doe is a different story. The property has popcorn (which shatters more easily once eaten and is far less desirable than regular corn) many oaks and acorns, several areas of early successional growth ( woody browse) and of course the large winter rye cover cropped AG fields that were discussed last week on Trail Cameras Weekly. The percentages come out to be roughly 20-30% corn and acorns, 60-70% Winter rye/grasses and forbs, and an estimated 10 % of woody browse.
It is important to remember these are roughly estimated numbers but they do closely resemble what a deer’s diet and nutritional needs are this time of year. The graph below is taken from Nutritional Requirements of White-tailed Deer in Missouri produced by the Extension Department of the University of Missouri.
As you can see the average percentages between fall and winter roughly fall in line with the percentages the hunters witnessed in the stomach contents of the two deer killed in December.
Over the course of the next week or so, if the hunting is slow, take a doe for the freezer or for management purposes, or just try and examine the stomach contents of a deer killed on or near your property. Do not waste the gut pile! Often times this is a far more accurate representation of what your late season food sources are, how much time your deer are spending in the food sources, and where you might want to think about hunting as the temperature starts to fall! If you are asking “what do deer eat in the late season” take it into your own hand to find the answer!