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Are You Feeding Your Deer To Death?

February 06, 2013
Are You Feeding Your Deer To Death? - 3

It’s that time of year again when well meaning do-gooders (including hunters and landowners) start killing winter stressed dear by feeding them. Concerned that whitetails are not getting enough to eat, they drive pickups full of corn or apples (or just about anything a deer will eat) into the woods and leaving it for the hungry deer to gobble down. And that’s when the deer to begin to starve.

In most parts of the North, winter weather conditions put serious stress on whitetails. With the ground covered by a foot or more of snow in some areas, deer are forced to eat woody browse, old dead leaves or even tree bark and lichens. It’s not the best food stuff in the world but whitetails have been doing it for thousands of years and somehow are able to manage fairly well on it (at least in winter). Their digestive system is tuned to winter forage and can make the most of these low-quality foods. They may lose 20-30% of their body weight over the winter but it is how they have learned to survive.

A deer’s rumen (stomach) contains millions of living microorganisms, which allows their digestive system to handle just about anything. The trouble is these microorganisms are specialists. Accustomed to digesting woody browse, they are unable to tolerate corn or apples. Whitetails do not do well on radical changes to their diets and a corn pile is a radical change from the diet of twigs and dead leaves they’ve been on for the past month or more.

Artificially fed deer wander off with a belly full of corn and slowly start starving to death as its digestive system struggles to digest the corn. Should the deer live through his sudden overload, it is then unable to handle woody browse. When the corn pile goes away the deer goes back on woody browse again and the slow starvation continues.

Sure winter stresses whitetails and some of the weaker ones will perish in a severe winter. But filling them up with indigestible foods is not the way to go. So grab a chainsaw and drop an acre or two of pole timber on the ground where the deer can reach the tops. The tender tips and buds have plenty of nutrition and as any logger will tell you, the deer will find them and gobble them up in no time. And since the deer have been working similar stuff all winter, branch tips and buds can be readily digested. Best of all, dropping a few acre of timber will let the sun reach the ground and all kinds of great deer food will start popping up where there was once only shade and leaves covering the ground.

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from 6phunter wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

4EVERAUTUMN,Way to GO . IT;S refreshing to see someone that thinks outside of the box,or believes everything our so called experts expect us to believe.I,ve never found a starved deer with a belly full of food in 50 years. I'll be sure to be on the lookout now.

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from schmakenzie wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

As many of you know I have battled several times on the topic of food plots. Craig hits a homerun on exlaining why certain food plots are horrible for deer. It's not just the corn and it's certainly not just the guy dumping corn from his bucket. The guy with the standing corn is doing the same damage. Keep in mind this is a winter issue, not a fall issue. Do you not think a turnip does the same damage corn does? Reasons food plots in the winter can and do kill deer: (1)Feeding deer in late fall/winter may disrupt deer migration to natural wintering areas. (2)Supplemental feeding may actually increase predation. (3)Deer require one or two weeks to adjust to new foods. (4)Some foods are not easily digested by deer during winter. (5)Deer compete aggressively for scarce, high-quality foods. (6)Supplementally-fed deer may die from eating too much feed at one time. (7)Deer concentrations at feeding sites may increase the vulnerability of deer to diseases. (8)Supplemental feeding may have long-term impacts on the behavior of deer. (9)Supplemental feeding within a deer wintering area can reduce the forest's ability to shelter deer. (10)Heavy browsing caused by deer concentrated near feeding stations can affect forest regeneration and growth. These are just some reasons to think about how food/kill plots alter your hunting grounds. If it was about the deer would we be planting food plots or just increasing natural habitat? If it was about killing would we be planting food plots or increasing natural habitat? If a fawn learns one year to travel to a food plot to survive,(instead of doing what the deer have been doing naturally to survive for years) and the next year the food plot is not there, what did you do to that deer or maybe that deer herd? Food plots are the same as baiting, whether it be in the winter or fall.

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from 4everAutumn wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

Here I thought all of the deer out in the fields this winter eating waste grain were feeding. Now I know they are starving themselves to death. Probably over 90% of the deer I have killed in the last 30 odd years have been full of corn and beans. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is an early fall bow deer, or a late season rifle deer. They are always full of grain. Someone should tell the deer around here that they can’t live on that stuff. My guess is, they would be very surprised.

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from 6phunter wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

4EVERAUTUMN,Way to GO . IT;S refreshing to see someone that thinks outside of the box,or believes everything our so called experts expect us to believe.I,ve never found a starved deer with a belly full of food in 50 years. I'll be sure to be on the lookout now.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from 4everAutumn wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

Here I thought all of the deer out in the fields this winter eating waste grain were feeding. Now I know they are starving themselves to death. Probably over 90% of the deer I have killed in the last 30 odd years have been full of corn and beans. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is an early fall bow deer, or a late season rifle deer. They are always full of grain. Someone should tell the deer around here that they can’t live on that stuff. My guess is, they would be very surprised.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

As many of you know I have battled several times on the topic of food plots. Craig hits a homerun on exlaining why certain food plots are horrible for deer. It's not just the corn and it's certainly not just the guy dumping corn from his bucket. The guy with the standing corn is doing the same damage. Keep in mind this is a winter issue, not a fall issue. Do you not think a turnip does the same damage corn does? Reasons food plots in the winter can and do kill deer: (1)Feeding deer in late fall/winter may disrupt deer migration to natural wintering areas. (2)Supplemental feeding may actually increase predation. (3)Deer require one or two weeks to adjust to new foods. (4)Some foods are not easily digested by deer during winter. (5)Deer compete aggressively for scarce, high-quality foods. (6)Supplementally-fed deer may die from eating too much feed at one time. (7)Deer concentrations at feeding sites may increase the vulnerability of deer to diseases. (8)Supplemental feeding may have long-term impacts on the behavior of deer. (9)Supplemental feeding within a deer wintering area can reduce the forest's ability to shelter deer. (10)Heavy browsing caused by deer concentrated near feeding stations can affect forest regeneration and growth. These are just some reasons to think about how food/kill plots alter your hunting grounds. If it was about the deer would we be planting food plots or just increasing natural habitat? If it was about killing would we be planting food plots or increasing natural habitat? If a fawn learns one year to travel to a food plot to survive,(instead of doing what the deer have been doing naturally to survive for years) and the next year the food plot is not there, what did you do to that deer or maybe that deer herd? Food plots are the same as baiting, whether it be in the winter or fall.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

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