Your Regional Guide to Whitetail Food Sources
Whitetail deer are tethered to their stomachs, and if you want to make the most of your time in the woods, identifying food sources preferred by deer is critical. Food sources change by the season, and they vary a bit by region. Here’s a look at some seasonal favorites that deer hunters should know.
• Midwest: Clover greens up sooner than most plants, and it offers nutrients that whitetails crave. After a long winter, Midwestern whitetails are drawn to clover food plots in early spring, and they continue to browse on it throughout the season.
• West: Red osier dogwood is common in wet areas, such as in the river bottom habitat Western whitetails call home. When large agricultural fields that border river bottom areas are void of crops, Western whitetails are drawn to woody browse to nibble on budding leaves.
• East: Wild raspberry plants are a hot commodity for whitetails and are found in clear-cuts or areas under active timber management. Keep note of logged areas since the open canopy is conducive to this preferred whitetail snack.
• South: Wild blackberry is hardy, and its fruit is desirable to deer, turkeys, woodcock, and other species. Not only does blackberry provide tasty fruit, but the tender, thick shoots provide ample cover for a doe to hide her fawns or a secluded buck to enjoy a bite to eat.
• Midwest: It’s common to see soybean fields filled with deer on an evening summertime drive down a dirt road in the Midwest. Soybeans are high in protein but susceptible to heavy browse pressure. Without protection from an electric fence, small soybean food plots can be wiped out well before opening day. Deer browse heavily on the green leaves throughout the summer until they turn yellow in early fall.
• West: Alfalfa fields are magnets to Western whitetails and far more drought-resistant than clover, a vital consideration in the arid West. Deer frequent alfalfa fields on a seemingly nightly basis until they go dormant after the first hard frost. Like soybeans, alfalfa fields can be good places to hunt in early bow season.
• East: When persimmon trees begin to drop fruit in August, rest assured whitetails are nearby. Since these fruit trees aren’t as visible as a destination crop field you might find in other regions, place a trail camera overlooking a persimmon tree that’s bearing fruit. Doing so will help you take inventory of nearby bucks and develop a plan for hunting them in early fall, when the fruit is still dropping.
• South: Kudzu is a thick, protein-rich plant commonly found in the South, and deer love it. It grows so thick that deer can bed in a kudzu thicket and feel safe and secure while grabbing a bite to eat. Kudzu patches typically create a monoculture that’s easy to identify because it blankets trees and even entire hillsides, depriving other plants of sunlight.
• Midwest: Oak ridges typically begin raining acorns in early September across the Midwest. While soybean fields turn yellow and lose their luster, white oak acorns quickly become the main entrée for whitetails. Acorns of any type are always good. However, look for oaks with rounded leaf lobes and prominent white bark, which helps distinguish white oak from red oak species, which have pointy lobed leaves.
• West: Duck potato is a broad-leaved plant similar to the turnips and radishes you’d find in your favorite brassica food plot blend. Otherwise known as broadleaf arrowhead, this native plant grows in wetlands that receive lots of light (think dried-up river bottoms).
• East: If you’ve ever found yourself tangled in a greenbrier plant, you’re probably still finding thorns embedded in your favorite hunting jacket. While it’s a pain to walk through, deer love the green shoots on greenbrier that stay tender after most other plants have gone dormant.
• South: Fruit trees, especially pears and apples, are excellent deer attractants. Not only do deer love the taste, but the potent smell of smashed fruit beneath a bearing tree can draw deer in from a long way away.
• Midwest: Deer need carbohydrates to survive frigid winters in the Midwest, and corn is the food of choice when snow totals begin to climb. While other plants offer plenty of carbs, standing corn towers above the snow line and is accessible to hungry deer when other plants are buried in snow.
• West: It might sound unconventional, but don’t stray too far from the cattle yard when bowhunting the final days of the season out West. Deer flock to cattle yards in search of alfalfa bales, waste grain or any food they can find, especially when the temperature dips below zero.
• East: Woody browse is abundant in clear-cuts or any areas that receive active timber management. You can quickly identify these areas by the high stem count, thanks to ample sunlight conducive to new growth resulting from opening the canopy. When the big woods are covered under a blanket of snow and ice, clear-cuts are the place to be for deer and hunters alike.
• South: Honeylocust trees produce pods that look like a rotten banana peel but double as a tasty treat for hungry whitetails. Unlike late-season food plots that deer typically frequent under cover of darkness, honeylocust trees are found in thick cover conducive to deer activity during shooting hours. Home in on these areas when you’re trying to fill your final deer tag in buzzer-beater fashion.