Deer Eat a Lot of Groceries. This Video Reveals How Much.

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deer forage tubs lead

Whitetails require an estimated 6 to 8 percent of their body weight in green foliage and browse daily to thrive. For a 150-lb. deer, that’s 9 to 12 pounds. That’s a lot of groceries, but getting a good visual grasp of this statistic is tough, unless you want me to dip both hands into a dead deer’s rumen, hold forth the contents for a video camera, and really put the graphic in “infographic.” Rest easy, because Dr. Steve Demarais, professor of wildlife management at Mississippi State University (MSU), came up with his own demonstration that’s a lot easier to clean up afterward.

Steve uses it in his college classes, and the MSU Deer Lab recently posted a video of Steve sharing it. He bought enough silk greenery from a craft store to represent the daily food clippings of a 150-lb. deer (Well, my money says he sent one of his graduate students to buy it). In the video he pulls it all out of a tub and onto a table. It’s a simple but striking visual when you imagine one deer trying to find all this in one day where you hunt – to say nothing of multiple deer.

The video is a powerful lesson of its own, and we’ve included it below. First, I want to highlight five lessons you can take from this demonstration and use to increase your Quality Deer Management and hunting success. Think of these as you watch Steve’s video.

Tubs Of Attraction

Deer are extremely loyal to their adult home ranges and do not abandon them because forage is poor or scarce. They don’t “know” there might be better forage a few miles away. This is why deer density problems persist in an area until someone kills some does. However, deer will definitely shift their focal points within their home ranges to areas with better food.

Take-home: For those deer whose home ranges overlap your hunting area to any extent, you can ensure they spend more time where you hunt if there are ample tubs of quality forage to be found in all seasons.

Not All Acres Fill Tubs Equally

As Steve mentions briefly, it takes a whole lot more acres of a shady hardwood stand to meet a deer’s daily forage needs than a fallow field, your food plots, recently thinned timber, a new clearcut, road edges, or other areas producing ground-level plants. You might love an open white-oak ridge come hunting season, but it would take you a long day’s work to fill Steve’s tub with foliage from the understory there.

Take-home: Diversity of forest ages across your hunting area equals more tubs filled.

Not all green plants are good deer forage. They may just be the best of what's left. Ferns, for example, are very poor forage and if they dominate a forest, that's a bad sign.
Not all green plants are good deer forage. They may just be the best of what’s left. Ferns, for example, are very poor forage and if they dominate a forest, that’s a bad sign.

The Whitetail Foraging Strategy

Don’t just think of your food plots as filling the tubs where you hunt. Yes, they help. But remember the whitetail foraging strategy: Deer stay on the move, selecting the choicest parts of plants as they pass by, and even selecting from a wide range of plant types. They don’t stop where forage is abundant and fill up just because they could. This is a good survival strategy for deer, because deer that stand in the open in one place and gorge themselves are less alert and more susceptible to predators. It’s also a good nutrition strategy, because a mix of different plants with different digestibility levels is good for a deer’s rumen. This is why you often see deer browse natural plants on the edge as they come and go from your food plot filled with high-quality forage.

Take-home: Encourage production of the naturally occurring edge plants as much as, or more than, you encourage food plot crops.

Don’t Delay Doe Day

Managing deer density in a QDM program means managing the balance between the number of tubs available and the number of deer eating them. When there are too many deer and not enough tubs, get busy making more tubs and shooting does. But some hunters say they prefer to shoot those does after the rut is over and they’ve had a chance to hunt bucks first. Just keep in mind that every day that goes by, every doe you will eventually shoot is cropping a tub full of foliage from your supply. It’s not always a finite supply, because some plants respond to being browsed by producing more foliage over time. But it is more limited at certain times when plants aren’t growing, like in fall and winter or in droughts. If you pass a shot at a doe in the early season, there’s no guarantee you’ll get that shot again as the season goes on and hunting pressure builds. And that doe is steadily filling tubs.

Take-home: When forage is in short supply and you need to harvest does to reduce deer density, do it as early as you can to conserve forage for the remaining deer.

Tubs of Junk Food

Deer will continue to try to fill their tubs daily even when the best forage is unavailable or now gone. They just fill it with coarser and coarser foods. As Kip Adams explained to me once, deer don’t “starve” to death in extreme conditions, because starvation is caused by an empty stomach. They die of malnutrition. Their guts are actually packed full, but the contents are the coarsest, least digestible materials they can find. If local deer are eating the worst food out there, if there are visible browse lines in the woods or on forest edges, then you may have a severe imbalance between deer numbers and quality forage. Time to take some does.

Take-home: Just because there is green stuff in the understory doesn’t mean it’s the good stuff. Learn to identify high-quality natural forages in your area, and if they disappear, take action.

Now, we join Steve and his tub.

How much deer eat every dayHave you ever wondered how much a deer eats every day? Is your deer habitat providing enough quality food to maximize antler size, body size, and reproduction? Check out this video to learn more.

Also, the MSU Deer Lab is excited to announce the launch of their new podcast Deer University next Thursday (May 11th). We will provide more details about how you can subscribe to the podcast next week.

Posted by MSU Deer Lab on Thursday, May 4, 2017


About Lindsay Thomas Jr.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the editor of Quality Whitetails magazine, the journal of QDMA, and he is QDMA's Director of Communications. He has been a member of the QDMA staff since 2003. Prior to joining the staff of QDMA, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.