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7 Best Late-Season Food Sources for Deer

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Focus on These Sources for More Success

Try these food sources to locate late-season deer. (John Hafner photo)

The late season can be a bear. It’s hard to find deer during the latter parts of the season. It doesn’t matter if you’re chasing giant bucks or fawns with milk-staches on their fuzzy lips (they taste pretty darn good). It’s tough, especially if you don’t have a dynamite spot. That aside, you can maximize your hunting efforts by focusing on quality food sources. The following seven options are some of the best known to modern deer and deer hunters.

Corn

This is likely the best agriculture-related food available to deer. It’s very high in carbs — something deer need to survive in cold weather. Sadly, most modern harvesting equipment drops very little waste grain. It isn’t like it used to be 15 or 20 years ago where a deer herd could pick over a cut cornfield all winter long. That said, some waste does hit the ground. And even where it doesn’t, some grain farmers don’t harvest until late in the winter. Standing corn is an excellent late-season food source.

Nutritional Value: Corn is low in protein, but high in carbs.

Soybeans

As with corn and other grains, beans are high in carbs, which makes them a great late-season food source. But most harvesters don’t drop much waste, especially when it comes to soybeans. Very few beans actually hit the ground. So standing beans are really your only option here. Luckily, many soybean farms won’t harvest until late in the year. So this potentially leaves deer with a grain food source for an extended period of time.

Nutritional Value: Soybeans are high in protein and high in carbs.

Video: Late Season Deer Hunt

Wheat

Many farmers plant wheat as a cover crop. If you hunted over corn fields earlier in the year, chances are they’re green by now. But don’t expect many soybean fields to be planted in wheat, as beans don’t deplete the soil like corn does (it does the opposite). Wheat also is a high-carb plant. Like oats, it is preferred in its early-growth stages. In mid-latitude states such as Missouri and Kentucky, wheat becomes very attractive from late fall on into the winter.

Nutritional Value: Wheat offers approximately 17 percent protein.

Oats

Oats are a great choice for cereal grain lovers. It has been a popular choice by deer hunters for a long time. They are high in carbohydrates and draw deer when other plants won’t. Grains get tough as they get bigger. Most grains are early-growth hotspots because of that. Oats stay smaller longer, giving them a larger window for optimal consumption.

Nutritional Value: Oats offer approximately 16 percent protein.

Turnips

Most turnips (brassicas) are attractive because of one thing: glucose. The first hard frost causes a chemical reaction in the plant that encourages significant increases in glucose. This once-bitter plant suddenly becomes sugar-rich. Deer hit it hard once that happens. This is better suited for northern states and is usually pulling the deer by late October. Brassicas are not as attractive to deer in southern states because temperatures are not usually cold enough to activate glucose levels until very late in the season.

Nutritional Value: Turnips boast approximately 15 to 28 percent protein (depending on the variety).

Hard Mast

There’s no food sources like those provided by Mother Nature. Most deer will walk right by a fresh-cut cornfield if there are acorns over the horizon. Hickory nuts are another great option. That’s what makes remaining pockets of mast crops so attractive to deer during the late season. Deer love them, especially during the late season when few nutrient-rich food sources are available.

Nutritional Value: Hard mast has high value (protein levels vary depending on the specific food source).

Browse

Deer live off of mostly woody browse during the colder months. Saplings, buds, branches and other similar foods comprise more than half of their winter diet. These are very low in nutritional value, and can sometimes provide less energy than it takes to digest the foods if deer consume the wrong plants or parts of the plants (which they usually don’t). These food sources are most common along field edges and in forested areas that don’t have dense, overshadowing canopies.

Nutritional Value: Browse offers very little value (protein levels vary from plant to plant).

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