Michigan Deer Foods

Important Whitetail Foods in Michigan

The white-tailed deer is a popular game animal throughout the U.S., and the most popular game animal in Michigan. Over 700,000 Michigan hunters and countless others are interested in photographing or simply viewing these animals. As a hunter trying to optimize the chance of success or a landowner wishing to improve habitat for deer, you should be observant of deer activity and learn to identify the whitetail foods on which deer depend.

Food sources available in the fall, winter, and early spring are most critical to deer because they affect body condition, winter survival, and reproduction. During these seasons, deer browse on the leaves, needles, buds, and twig ends of trees and shrubs. Studies by wildlife biologists indicate deer prefer particular plants and dislike or will not eat others, at least not until the preferred foods are no longer available. Like most animals, deer highly prefer some foods and avoid others.

This short guide is designed to help you identify some of the common woody plants of high, moderate, and low importance to white-tailed deer. By learning to key in on areas with preferred foods and with signs of browsing, you can enhance your chances of seeing and attracting deer. Remember, look for browsed vegetation from ground level to about five feet in height. Rabbits also browse low twigs, but use by the two species can be distinguished easily once you know what to look for.

Woodlands are dynamic and change from year to year, just as deer populations fluctuate. As trees grow, a maturing forest provides far less whitetail food than its previous young, brushy phase which occurred shortly after logging. What you remember as good deer habitat 15 years ago is probably poor habitat today. Use this photo guide to determine the feeding conditions at your favorite deer hunting or viewing area.