Attracting Whitetail Deer with Mast-Producing Trees and Shrubs
Hard and soft mast is a major food source for whitetail deer throughout the year. You can create a low maintenance permanent food plot for deer by planting a diverse mix of mast-producing trees and shrubs.
The most important single type of mast for deer is acorns, which can make up as much as 70% of their diet in autumn.
In autumn, deer feast on the acorns of white oaks (Quercus alba) and similar species, which help them put on weight for the winter.
In the winter, red oaks (Quercus rubra) and their relatives become more important. Red oak acorns are more bitter than the acorns of white oaks and less preferred by deer and other wildlife, but their high fat content helps deer survive the cold winter in good condition for the spring breeding season.
Because acorns produce in cycles, the best way to ensure a steady supply of acorn mast for your deer every fall and winter is to plant several different species each of white and red oak. You can also improve the consistency of autumn and winter food supplies by planting other hard mast producing trees. Other hard mast species favored by deer include beech (Fagus sp.), chestnut (Castanea sp.), and hickory (Carya sp.) nuts. Hickories tend to be particularly consistent producers in many regions of North America.
Soft mast is also an important food source for deer, especially in summer. Some of their favorite soft mast sources include:
- American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
- Wild grapes (Vitus riparia)
- Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
- Crabapples (Malus sp.)
- Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
- Sumac (Rhus sp.)
- Osage orange (Maclura pomifera)
- Blackberry (Rubus sp.)
- American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
- Elderberry (Sambucus sp.)
Some Eurasian species, such as domestic apples and pears, are also excellent sources of soft mast in many regions of North America.
Some mast-producing trees and shrubs also provide good sources of browse for deer. A few favored browse species include hackberry, plum, grape, hawthorn, and some species of viburnum, buckthorn, and oak.
By planting a diverse mix of oaks and other mast-producing trees and shrubs, you can ensure a consistent and year round source of food for deer. Permanent food plots of this sort also require less maintenance once established than food crops of annual grains and attract a wider variety of other game, including wild turkey, squirrels, and black bears.