If you are lucky enough to live in an area of the country that allows for the feeding of deer for the purposes of game management, hunting, herd health and population control, then you’ll want to be in the know of the basics of using deer feed.

It is an interesting and rewarding addition to your hobby and done properly can add fun and excitement to your hunts. It can also give you more opportunities to hang some great trophies on your wall and put more meat on your table!

But first off lets cover the basics of deer feed. This is what we’ve learned by trial and error in our years of hunting and we hope it helps you.

In this article you’ll learn:

What is deer feed?

Deer feed, or supplemental feed, is anything humans put out for deer to eat that is not naturally occurring on their property for the purpose of supplementing the diet of and attracting deer to a particular area.  

For example, putting out corn in a controlled manner or planting a food plot for these purposes would be considered deer feed or feeding for deer.

There are many different types of deer feed and methods for making it available for deer such as grains, oats, licks, blocks, seeds, legumes and even specialty nutrient mixes.  

All of them have their benefits and purposes so it is important to know your end goal when feeding so as to use the proper feed product and get the most bang for your buck (pun intended).  

Some types of deer feed work no matter where you are located whereas others work better in one part of the country over another.

Where you can and can’t use deer feed

You may run across the term “baiting” in other articles or hunting regulations but for the purpose of this article we’ll simply call it feeding for deer or deer feed.

Baiting tends to have a negative connotation that implies the attempt to selfishly hoard deer only for harvesting them. That is not what we are discussing here.  

We are discussing a much more nuanced and purposeful reason for using deer feed in addition to hunting such as supplementing the deer’s diet in hopes of keeping them healthy.

Every state has it own hunting regulations and unique quirks that range from absolute hard bans on the use of any form of deer feed all the way to extremely lax regulations on its use.  

As an example Texas has always had the reputation of being the most laid back state when it comes to deer feeding and some states like Colorado and Montana totally ban it.

How well do you know the deer feeding regulations where you hunt?  If you’ve never taken the time to look them up it can be harder than you think to find and understand them.  

Luckily we’ve done all that for you in our comprehensive review of Where You Can and Can’t Feed for Deer. Take a quick moment to refresh yourself as it is important to get familiarized with your state’s regulations so you don’t run afoul of the law.  

Why to feed deer on your property

If you live in an area that allows the feeding of deer, why would you want to consider doing it in the first place?  

Feeding deer can be costly depending upon a lot of factors such as how frequently you feed, the number of locations you are feeding, what product your are feeding, and how you’ll distributing the feed.  

So it is important to know up front what end result you’d like to achieve by instituting a feed program. Generally speaking you’d institute a feeding program for overall game management purposes on your property.  

Your goal could be simply to have and see a more consistent number of deer on your property so feeding deer could be a way to attract and retain a larger herd.

Or your end goal could be to be able to harvest the best looking trophy bucks possible and to do so you may want to institute a consistent supplemental nutrition program that gives your deer the protein they need to grow trophy racks.

A supplemental feeding program has other ancillary benefits as well that go beyond just feeding deer to retain them or for growing nice racks.  

Feeding deer during a hard winter can help them get through when much of their natural winter nutrition is very sparse. Protein pellets can provide the necessary calories to keep the deer alive when there aren’t many calories available.

Also feeding deer through a deep and prolonged drought can be a smart and benevolent decision. During times like these when the abundance of natural forbs and browse that is typically available in average times just hasn’t grown out to where it should be can be an ideal time to feed deer.

Making corn, protein, seeds, peas, beans or some other food source available can also help your herd through these potentially devastating droughts and go a long way to maintaining your existing herd.

What deer are currently eating on your land

It is important to take stock of your land’s current inventory or food sources and then determine the level of supplemental feed you’ll want to use.  

For instance, pay attention to the browse available along the tree lines and near the favorite bedding areas of the deer if you know where those are.

Also, observe what the deer are eating when you see them and try to determine what it is and how much is available on your property.

You can also take stock of how many forbs may be available to deer by walking your open areas and prairies in and around known bedding areas and cover. 

Also note how much and what sort of fruit trees, oak trees for acorns, and natural vegetable patches may be available. From this you should be able to get a general idea as to the level of natural food sources in and around your property.  

If you determine that your property is lacking natural food sources you may want to consider a supplemental feeding program. Of course if you currently just don’t see many deer that could also be a sign that there isn’t much around for them to eat.

A lot of factors go into deciding what, how much, when and where to feed deer and a lot of it comes down to your gut instinct at first and trial and error later on.  

Bottom line, supplemental deer feeding can help the herd you care about survive easier when mother nature makes it very difficult.  

What deer like to eat

Deer are herbivores and like to eat a wide mix of foods with some being chock full of nutrition such as browse, forbs and protein while others tend to be a quick source of calories and ‘candy’ for deer such as deer corn.  

There is an ongoing and probably never ending debate as to what is the best thing to feed deer or the worst feed for a deer and we will examine that issue in a future post but for now we will just review the main categories of the food deer like to eat.

Primarily deer like to eat browse (stems and leaves of woody plants), forbs (plants with no woody stem above ground, weeds), fruits, nuts, vegetables and other wild grasses. Some of these options are easier than others to actively manage for deer.  

Examples of deer feeds that you can buy in bulk include:

Corn Protein Pellets
Cottonseed Alfalfa
Peas Beans

Examples of feeds you can plant or grow as food plots:

Acorns Grains Soybeans
Wheat Hay Fruits
Grass Oats Nuts

Attractants and other processed feeds that you can buy and set out for deer:

Molasses Mineral Blocks
Peanut Butter Salt Licks
Protein Mixed Feeds

Depending upon the climate of where you are some of the feed you can buy in bulk can be planted as a food plot and vice versa.  

How to feed deer

There are several ways to feed deer ranging from the expensive (protein out of a feeder year round) to the relatively inexpensive (planting longer term perennial food plots and plants) but once you have decided you are going to feed for deer it is now time to decide how you’re going to do it.  

A couple of the most popular ways are with a deer feeder and by planting a food plot. If renting a soil tilling machine, spreading seeds and irrigating a field or praying for rain is not your cup of tea then you can buy a deer feeder and fill it with a wide variety of deer feed.  

Deer feeders come in a wide range of sizes and types such as a little 50lb backyard spin feeder to a 1,000 lb free choice feeder and everything in between.

If you want to see deer at specific points during the day then a timed spin feeder is best. You can program at what time the feeder will distribute the feed as well as how much to distribute.  This has the benefit of predictability and can train deer to come in at specific times for observation or hunting purposes.

Deer corn is typically used with this type of feeder as it can go through more feed than other feeder types and deer corn is typically the least expensive feed.  Protein and any other peas, beans or seeds can be used in these feeders as well.

Another option is to use a free choice feeder or gravity feeder which allows game to come in at any time and eat. Typical feed used in a this type is protein due to its cost.

An interesting option is to use both feeders next to each other feeding deer corn out of a spin feeder and deer protein out of a free choice gravity feeder at the same time.  

This gives your deer the option which could act as an even better attractant and convince them there is no point to moving off property.

For a more in depth discussion about deer feeders, check out our article The Basics of Using Deer Feeders.

Another option is the food plot.  If you have the time, skill and equipment planting a food plot can be fun and very rewarding when you see the crop come up out of the ground and the deer eating it up.  

We find it takes more patience and requires more help from mother nature but it can be an even better and more “natural” way to supplementally feed your deer.

Depending upon what crop you are planting you’ll need to understand when the time is to plant for your area and how much seeds to use and spread out.  

If you are planting fruit trees or other perennial forbs pay attention to the feeding and caring required up front so your hard work doesn’t go to waste!

The last method we’ll discuss is browse management.  You can purposefully trim tree lines and prune cover areas to allow deer browse to grow and flourish.  

You can also plant browse shrubs strategically in areas where you’ve seen deer or know they bed down and you’d like to draw them out.  

A problem that typically arises when planting any plant, shrub or tree for deer is over premature feeding.  The deer can get to them first before they can fully take root and thrive and over eat on them and end up killing them.  

Be mindful of ways to protect the plants until they are strong enough to take the beating from deer such as planting them in a cattle fence or some sort of barrier to keep out the deer until they are ready to be eaten and still survive.

At Rancho Bandido we have spin feeders throwing deer corn next to free choice protein feeders all sitting on a food plot of winter wheat and cottonseed.  This seems to be an amazing combination for us down here in Texas.

You don’t have to use that many options as one out of those may be enough for your situation. Each property is unique so you’ll need to do an assessment on your property first as described above then put together a reasonable plan that fits your budget.

One final thing to remember: food is important but water is essential to all animals.  It is important to take stock of your water sources and determine if you might want to add some supplemental watering options such as rain catchment solutions to your land.  

Also, it might be a good strategy to place a feeder or food plot near a water source as you could have a natural draw for the deer making your life that much easier.

When and what to feed deer

This will depend upon where you are climate wise as well as the regulations of where you are.  Some areas only allow feeding during specific times of the year so be sure to understand what the laws are at your land.

If you are in a state that allows feeding year round for the most part then you can certainly do that.  It will be more expensive the more you feed so it is important to know your budget so that if you can’t feed year round you can maximize the benefit of feeding during the times when it will have the most effect on your deer.

We find that at least feeding deer corn throughout hunting season and the winter is the way to go if for nothing else but to help the deer get through the harsh part of the year by getting some necessary calories.  

But deer corn isn’t enough for deer as they’ll need other nutrient and carbohydrate rich food sources such as acorns, nuts and fruits.

Come the end of deer season and a little before the bucks start dropping their antlers if possible it is time to start feeding protein so they can start replenishing what weight they lost over the winter as well as feeding their antler growth.

They will also be feeding on the browse and forbs you have available on your property as they start to regrow in the spring.  

It is important to do an assessment of your property and understand what grows in your area of the country to truly understand what supplemental feeding program would give you the most benefit for your budget.

Where to find deer feed

Well you can always search for a supplier and sometimes have to spend a good amount of time looking for a phone number or website of one that is convenient or you can simply use Feed Bandit!  

Luckily for you we’ve taken all the inconvenience out of finding the hunting supplies you need, when and where you need them for you!  

If you haven’t used it already check out our supplier search.  Here you can search for suppliers of deer feed and other hunting products in the area of your choosing or along the route to your land.  

We are always adding supplier locations so if you don’t see your favorite supplier in our search results let us know and we’ll add them.  

For a more advanced discussion on specific feeding strategies, continue reading our article The Hunter’s Guide to Supplemental Feeding.

In the meantime, happy feeding!

Did we miss anything? Do you do things differently or have a good tip to share with the community?  We are always interested in learning other ways of doing things as we know there is no one size fits all. Please email us and we’ll talk about it or you can add a comment below. Thanks!

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