Food for thought: a whitetail's autumn diet

At nights I write and work on chasing the goal of being an outdoor writer like so many I looked up to as a youngster. During the day I sit behind the sales and business development desk for an ingredient company. As a part of my day job selling ingredients, reading product nutritional sheets are a daily routine as I press them for their secrets in order to make a more convincing sales presentation. But in working to understand ingredients better every day, I thought about how as hunters we might take certain food sources at face value. We know deer love apples, corn, beans, clover, etc. But do we really know why? I believe in an attempt to become better hunters we should head afield with at least some rough knowledge of the details of the food sources we are hunting and not just because “the deer love them.”

Apples: Say the word apple around hunters and there is a trust level associated between red and green colored fruit and deer sightings. The fruit attracts deer; heck, I killed my first deer over an old crabapple tree when I was 15 and sat with my father many times as he took deer from the same stand. So why apples? What makes them desirable? Unlike corn, acorns, and beans, the majority of the vitamin and mineral nutrition is in the skin and is low in carbs, which for a fall food seems  counterproductive. According to nutritiondata.com, crabapples, which generally one may find to hunt over, contain on average 22 grams of carbohydrates. Obviously the carb count shifts slightly due to the size of the apple so just keep in mind, low to mid 20s for grams of carbs in an apple What makes apples of any variety desirable are the sugars. The meat and juice of apples, which make up more than 85 percent of the entire apple, are a sweet treat to deer. 

Acorns: Acorns are another word synonymous with deer attraction gold. The majority of the acorns we will see in New York are the white and red oak acorns. The white acorn is known as the preferred favorite of the two, although the red acorn shouldn’t be discounted. Early in the season don’t bother hunting red acorns; the high tannin levels make them bitter. However, if you don’t have corn or beans to hunt late in the year when the weather has leeched the tannins from the nut, these alternative source of carbs can be productive for you. Acorns contain a great range of carbohydrates. The white acorn in particular is known to be made up of 50 percent carbs and produces 387 calories per serving, as compared to the 84 calories per serving of apples. Granted, serving sizes don’t mean much to a deer, but it helps give us a better idea of what we are dealing with.

Corn: Yellow magic. I owe a snow-covered corn field a big thanks for helping me kill my first deer completely on my own, and I suspect so do many others every season. Yes, corn is cause for debate among hunters and land managers. One of the bucks I killed as a kid, a large nine-point, was suffering from a hoof disease – called Foundering – caused by eating too much corn. It looked like he had elf shoes for toes.  Right, wrong or indifferent, the deer don’t seem care and will continue to hammer the corn as long as it’s available. The nutritional breakdowns I reviewed pointed to a low protein level – between 6 and 9 percent – which isn't shocking. Yet for every 100 grams of corn, there are 74 grams of carbohydrates and 365 calories.

Beans: Soy is a popular protein source for deer as they grow during the spring and summer.  Soybean meal is also a popular base for many of the attractants and supplements sold on retail shelves, and for good reason. Just one cup green contains 376 calories and 33 grams of protein.  When mature, the beans reportedly increase to over 800 calories and over 50 grams of carbohydrates per cup. If this is just one cup, imagine how much a deer eats in one feeding. No wonder deer will feed in beans over other sources until the beans are gone. 

As you plan your hunts, it always helps to keep in mind the small details of the food sources you use to help kill your deer. Give or take a few numbers on each of the tallies mentioned above and you should be able to use this information to plan for each hunt as the calendar continues to turn.  

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