Tips on Whitetail Deer Nutrition

Tips on Whitetail Deer Nutrition

Key Tips for Whitetail Deer Nutrition

The whitetail deer is considered a browsing animal. In broad terms, this means whitetail deer forage on various seasonal plants to survive. Many hunters understand that deer will key in on high-energy, calorie-dense foods whenever available. Examples of these seasonal superfoods may be acorns, apples, or corn after the harvest. Deer require a varied diet rich in organic compounds and minerals. While certain blends are designed to promote the growth of specific features such as antler growth, nutrition at its core is vital for a healthy deer herd. Landowners can promote growth as well as herd resiliency by focusing on a food management plan that consists of four categories: protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins,


The whitetail's Protein requirements change throughout the year, and needs also vary based on the age and gender of the deer. The highest protein requirements for deer are found in fawns, pregnant or lactating does, and bucks during the stages of antler growth.

Many publications will separate proteins into degradable protein (DP) and undegradable protein (UP). Degradable protein is digested in the rumen of the deer's digestive system and helps with the overall health and reproduction of healthy bacteria. Undegradable protein passes through the rumen and is used for tissue growth, including antler growth.

The hardened antlers of a whitetail buck are comprised of 45 percent protein. Studies have found that the more protein in a bucks diet during the antler growth phase, the better. While a buck's antler growth can be fulfilled with as little as 12 percent protein, optimal growth happens closer to 20 percent.

For female deer or does, protein is required for gestation and lactation to grow and feed fawns. Does that produce twins need even more protein to produce enough nutritious milk for their offspring. Fawns that receive higher protein milk grow into larger, healthier deer.

Fawns that have been weaned still require substantial protein for their growth. On average, a weaned fawn will require a protein composition between 17 and 20 percent for proper growth.

Considering all these factors of herd needs, peak dietary needs for protein sit around 20 percent.


Energy itself isn't an item in a whitetail's diet. However, it is important to understand high-energy foods to understand the animal's dietary requirements better. The most base form of energy in food is carbohydrates. Forage foods like acorns and grains are high in carbohydrates and serve to give the deer the needed calories to exist. Excess carbohydrates are stored as fat. These fat stores are crucial for deer when they begin the rut as energy outputs will be increased. During the winter, when bucks have lost as much as 30 percent of their body weight, stored fat is critical for survival. Having a food supplement high in carbs will not only allow bucks to survive the winter but will allow pregnant does to carry fawns to term without depleting themselves. Continuing with a high-energy feed into the summer will allow the now lactating does to recover and produce more milk for the new fawns.


Calcium and phosphorus are the two minerals most focused on in deer nutrition. Namely, because calcium makes up 22 percent of a buck's antler makeup and phosphorus makes up 11 percent. Both of these minerals are important for the skeletal health of a whitetail, and excess can be stored in the bones until needed. During antler growth, bucks undergo a form of osteoporosis to transfer the necessary minerals to antler growth, making additional supplementation during the spring and summer months required.

Sodium is another essential mineral for deer health, commonly seen as a salt lick. The high water content of spring vegetation can reduce the amount of sodium the deer retains, effectively diluting the animal. With the whitetail deer's varied forage habits, the levels and ratios of required minerals are difficult to estimate accurately. Beyond the above-listed minerals, minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, manganese, and copper are all essential because they are required for multiple enzymes and the overall immune health of the animal.


Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins required by deer. Deer can generally synthesize sufficient vitamin D through UV light exposure. Microbes synthesize vitamin K in the digestive tract to meet deer requirements. Vitamins A and E can be obtained in sufficient amounts in green forage. Deficiencies from A and E are only concerns during low plant seasons like late fall and winter. However, deer can store both of these vitamins in their liver, which reduces the likelihood of deficiencies. Vitamin A and its derivatives play essential roles in embryonic skeletal development. Significant amounts of vitamin A are present in antler tissue at all stages of development. Retinoic acid, a derivative of vitamin A, is linked to accelerated early antler growth and likely plays a role in growing antlers.

Vitamin E promotes the stability of cell membranes and can protect animals from white muscle disease.

 whitetail buck and does

Seasonal Needs

As mentioned earlier, the dietary needs of a whitetail vary depending on age and time of year. Understanding the herd's nutritional needs throughout the seasons will allow property owners to adjust for peak growth while compensating for potential shortcomings in natural forage.


Before the rut, it would seem logical to ease back on supplemental food when vegetation is at a surplus. The truth is the opposite. Bucks are in peak antler growth requiring extra protein and calcium, both of which are in decline as forage plants begin to end their lifecycle. Does also come under stress due to the increased lactation needed to feed fawns. Depending on climate and location in late summer, bucks may focus primarily on protein-rich, high-energy foods to bulk up for the upcoming rut.


The season has arrived, and bucks have switched their thoughts and eating habits. The herd, in general, will have a limited need for minerals as antlers have already hardened and lactation has stopped. Both bucks and does will focus on high-yield foods packed with energy and protein. Bucks will become infrequent eaters as they spend more time chasing, making high-energy foods even more important.


Winter is the most challenging time of year for deer. Post Rut, the herd is in dire need of replenishment. Bucks are worn down from fighting and chasing, and does are now gestating. A balanced feed supplement that provides the needed calories is ideal for deer to survive the scarce food situation during the winter. While antler growth isn't a primary concern during the winter, the truth is that the sooner a buck's fat stores and body are replenished, the sooner and more efficiently he will grow his new set. High protein, high energy feed is nonexistent naturally during the winter, so adding a food source will pay big dividends next season. 


Early spring is the time to focus on replacing vitamins and minerals in a deer’s nutrition. The herd, having survived the harshness of winter, is rewarded with greenery everywhere. This forage often lacks calcium and other minerals needed for antler growth in bucks and lactation for does as they are now caring for fawns. Protein, as discussed earlier, is critical for antler growth, too. Supplementing with high protein feed early in the season can mean higher rack scores in the fall.

bow hunter pouring antler edge golden blend deer feed attractant 

Antler Edge Deer Feed Attractant

Taking all of the information covered here, several needs for whitetail nutrition stand out. Firstly, energy is needed. Whether deer are pre-rut and gathering fat stores, or post-rut attempting to recover, deer need carbohydrates. Second, deer need protein. At the bare minimum, a feed supplement should have 16% protein. A protein feeding program's two primary measures of success are increased fawn survival and increased antler sizes. I can tell you from experience that protein feeding increases BOTH fawn survival AND antler size.

Various feed programs are available for property owners looking to aid their deer herd. Some are piecemeal, leaving decisions about blend and timing to the individual. Others are gimmicky and short on details. Antler Edge is neither of those. We offer a complete spectrum of supplements and attractants to give deer the right food all year. Check out our Golden Blend Whitetail Deer Attractant for your deer feed and deer attractant program. Our unique blend of vitamins and minerals is specifically formulated to work n harmony and keep deer in peak health all season.

Antler Edge blended whitetail feed and attractant includes high-carb ingredients like roasted soybeans and peanuts to pack as many calories into a mouthful. The weather-resistant formula will shrug off inclement weather giving deer a food source regardless of the season. The combination of aroma and taste doubles the efficacy of the product. Drawing deer to a high-value food source will aid the herd's health and allow owners to better understand the deer's size and routine. Antler Edge is the answer for those looking to keep deer healthy and around all season.