18 Trees Whitetails Need and How to Identify Them

Learn How to Spot These Trees to Become a Better Deer Steward

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Hickory TreeHickory TreeHickory TreeHickory TreeHickory Tree

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1 | Hickory Tree

This tree is often overlooked in the world of deer hunting. It certainly has its place, though. Deer like them. And hickory nuts can provide a food source for deer herds in areas with poor habitat — especially in the northern half of the country. That said, deer enjoy this tree more often for its browse than its mast.

Leaf Shape: Slender with a pointed tip

Bark Texture: Jagged and rough

Attractiveness: 4/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Iofoto

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Apple TreeApple TreeApple TreeApple TreeApple Tree

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2 | Apple Tree

This is a prime food source that really draws deer during the months of September and October. The many varieties of domesticated apples are enjoyed by deer and other wildlife. If you have access to an apple tree, let alone an entire orchard, you can bet the deer will be there during the early season. Incorporate it into your hunt plans.

Leaf Shape: Broad with a rounded tip

Bark Texture: Cracked and scaly

Attractiveness: 9/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Valentyn Volkov

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Black Gum TreeBlack Gum TreeBlack Gum TreeBlack Gum TreeBlack Gum Tree

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3 | Black Gum Tree

This is a tree that receives very little press. Studies have shown deer actually prefer this over many tree and plant species that receive more attention. It’s found all over the eastern half of the United States and its range even extends up into southern Canada. It grows in a wide variety of soil types and does fairly well in an array of climate types also. The small fruit it produces is a delicacy for deer and other wildlife.

Leaf Shape: Slender with a pointed tip

Bark Texture: Cracked, thick and blocky

Attractiveness: 7/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Peter Turner Photography

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Crabapple TreeCrabapple TreeCrabapple TreeCrabapple TreeCrabapple Tree

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4 | Crabapple Tree

Like most soft mast trees, this species requires a certain number of chilling hours each winter. If planting this, make sure you consider the specific variety and that it’s adapted to the climate you’ll introduce it to. There are also different varieties that bloom and produce at different times. If you plan to hunt over these trees, make sure it coincides with the timing of your hunt plans. Also, some varieties produce annually, while other do not. All said, it’s a fantastic deer food that really attracts wildlife.

Leaf Shape: Broad with a pointed tip

Bark Texture: Cracked and scaly

Attractiveness: 8/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / V Voe

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Dunstan Chestnut TreeDunstan Chestnut TreeDunstan Chestnut TreeDunstan Chestnut TreeDunstan Chestnut Tree

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5 | Dunstan Chestnut Tree

The chestnut — it was the king of deer foods up until the last century. Between 1900 and 1950, a blight killed nearly all of them. Prior to that, the sweet chestnut was the primary mast crop for deer. Interestingly, a recent study conducted with the hybrid Dunstan chestnut showed that deer preferred chestnuts over acorns 99:1 — and it hadn’t been a food source in many generations of whitetails. That’s astonishing and shows just how big a part of their diet this tree once was.

Leaf Shape: Very slender with a pointed tip

Bark Texture: Vertical, thick, blocky cracks

Attractiveness: 10/10

Photo credit: Realtree

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Honey Locusts TreeHoney Locusts TreeHoney Locusts TreeHoney Locusts TreeHoney Locusts Tree

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6 | Honey Locusts Tree

This is one of those dual-purpose trees we mentioned earlier. Deer love to eat the young leaves it produces early in the year. But they also tend to target the seed pods late in the year as well. This tree isn’t as important to whitetails as some, but it certainly has its purpose. And as we noted earlier, a healthy variety of trees is necessary for a balanced diet.

Leaf Shape: Clusters of small, slender leaves

Bark Texture: Fairly smooth, inconsistent crack patterns and protruding spikes

Attractiveness: 7/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Red T Bird

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Pecan TreePecan TreePecan TreePecan TreePecan Tree

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7 | Pecan Tree

A staple food source in the South, these trees produce a highly attractive nut that deer gravitate to. Oftentimes found in large groves, they feed a lot of deer during peak drop times. Since deer do not have as many hard mast tree options in the South as in the North, this is a welcomed food source for southern deer and deer hunters.

Leaf Shape: Clusters of small, slender leaves

Bark Texture: Rough, blocky bark patterns

Attractiveness: 7/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Oleg Sumarokov

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Plum TreePlum TreePlum TreePlum TreePlum Tree

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8 | Plum Tree

I love this plant for two reasons. First, it’s a great summer and early fall food source. Second, it provides great cover near to the ground where deer need it. It’s very hardy and grows in a wide range of soils, too. It has moderate levels of protein, offers needed vitamins and is very palatable for deer.

Leaf Shape: Small, broad leaves

Bark Texture: Somewhat smooth with horizontal line patterns

Attractiveness: 7/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Simic Vojislav

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Hackberry TreeHackberry TreeHackberry TreeHackberry TreeHackberry Tree

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9 | Hackberry Tree

A common tree species in river drainages, the hackberry tree is a preferred browse food source for whitetails. It also produces a small fruit wildlife enjoys as well. It isn’t as important for its mast, though, as deer hit it the hardest in spring when the young leaves have their highest protein levels for the year.

Leaf Shape: Somewhat broad with a blunted tip

Bark Texture: Rough, marbling-like patterns

Attractiveness: 6/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Tatyanami

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Sumac TreeSumac TreeSumac TreeSumac TreeSumac Tree

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10 | Sumac Tree

While sumac is not a primary food choice for deer, it is a good supplemental source at key times. It’s certainly a key plant species in the mid-south and northeastern states. Another benefit of this plant is that it’s low-lying and produces quality cover as well.

Leaf Shape: Small clusters of slender leaves with pointed tips

Bark Texture: Fairly smooth with pin-prick cracking 

Attractiveness: 6/10

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Avid Rori

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Redbud TreeRedbud TreeRedbud TreeRedbud TreeRedbud Tree

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11 | Redbud Tree

While I wouldn’t plant these for deer, they do provide decent browse in eastern states. That said, if looking to improve the quality of your timber for deer and other wildlife — hinge-cut redbud trees instead of removing them. Bringing that forage down to eye level will create an abundance of food in late winter and early spring.

Leaf Shape: Broad, heart-shaped leaves

Bark Texture: Thick, blocky bark patterns with vertical cracking

Attractiveness: 3/10

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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Red MapleRed MapleRed MapleRed MapleRed Maple

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12 | Red Maple

Here we read the same story as with the redbud tree. This is a very good tree species to hinge-cut. It doesn’t produce a mast crop deer rely on. But it does give deer a good source of food to browse on from January to April and on into late spring.

Leaf Shape: Broad leaves with jagged, pointed edges

Bark Texture: Fairly smooth with vertical crack patterns

Attractiveness: 3/10

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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Red Oak TreeRed Oak TreeRed Oak TreeRed Oak TreeRed Oak Tree

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13 | Red Oak Tree

Coming in second to the white oak, these acorns are generally found later in the year. Not necessarily because of the drop, but because deer target the white oaks first and the red oaks second. This makes it a great late-season food source. Red oak mast has higher levels of tannin — an acidic component that leaves behind a bitter taste.

Leaf Shape: Slender leaves with branching sections and pointed tips

Bark Texture: Moderately rough with vertical line patterns

Attractiveness: 7/10

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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White Oak TreeWhite Oak TreeWhite Oak TreeWhite Oak TreeWhite Oak Tree

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14 | White Oak Tree

With the chestnut tree out of the picture (for now), this is the new crowned king of the hard mast world. Deer generally choose the white oak acorn over red and other species due to its lower levels of tannin. This results in a sweeter acorn that isn’t as bitter as the other acorns found in the forest. The good news is most white oak trees will drop acorns every year — those in the red oak family do not.

Leaf Shape: Slender leaves with branching sections and both rounded and pointed tips

Bark Texture: Fairly rough with both vertical and horizontal cracks

Attractiveness: 9/10

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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Pin Oak TreePin Oak TreePin Oak TreePin Oak TreePin Oak Tree

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15 | Pin Oak Tree

As part of the red oak family, the pin oak is a solid tree that deer and other wildlife benefit from. It can be found from the mid-Atlantic all the way westward to the Great Plains. Often referred to as the swamp oak, it’s commonly found in wet areas. It also prefers fairly acidic soils. Keep that in mind when planting. This species is also susceptible to numerous regional downfalls, so get seeds from a local source for the best results.

Leaf Shape: Slender leaves with branching sections and both rounded and pointed tips

Bark Texture: Moderately rough with vertical line patterns

Attractiveness: 7/10

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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Beech TreeBeech TreeBeech TreeBeech TreeBeech Tree

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16 | Beech Tree

This tree provides a solid food source for wildlife. That said, it isn’t a reliable one. The nut is very high in protein, too. They take a long time to mature and mast crops can be very inconsistent from year to year. Good crops of beech nuts are typically produced every four to five years in the South and every two to three years in the North.

Leaf Shape: Broad, short leaves with pointed tips

Bark Texture: Very smooth with splotchy patterns

Attractiveness: 7/10

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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Persimmon TreePersimmon TreePersimmon TreePersimmon TreePersimmon Tree

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17 | Persimmon Tree

This is a very important part of an early season deer diet. This very attractive fruit draws all of the local deer once it begins hitting the ground, oftentimes in September. But it’s important to note there are male and female trees — and only the female ones produce mast.

Leaf Shape: Broad, short leaves with pointed tips

Bark Texture: Very blocky with both vertical and horizontal patterns

Attractiveness: 8/10

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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Pear TreePear TreePear TreePear TreePear Tree

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18 | Pear Tree

Pear trees crank out more pounds of soft mast for their size than any other fruit tree. Plus, deer love them. That makes it an immediate favorite in my book. In the U.S., you can purchase and plant either the Asian, European or Eurasian hybrids. If you live in an area with at least 125-150 frost-free days and you receive 38 to 40 inches of annual rainfall (or more), growing pears shouldn’t be a problem. When choosing a pear tree variety, pay attention to the number of chilling hours (in winter) that it requires to begin growth. Match the variety up to the climate you’ll be planting in.

Leaf Shape: Broad, short leaves with pointed tips

Bark Texture: Fairly rough with both vertical and horizontal cracks

Attractiveness: 8/10

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

Don’t Miss: 8 Trees Not to Plant for Deer

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When it comes to forage, deer need a variety. There’s not one tree that can provide full-year or even full-season food. That’s why you need an abundance of tree species in a given area to provide adequate food for whitetails. Some trees deer love for their mast crop. While other trees deer target for the leafy forage they provide. Others supply both. Regardless of which category they fall in, there are many trees that are important to the daily diet of a white-tailed deer. Here are 18 of the most important ones.

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