Deer are one of the most recognized animals in North America. Most people have seen a whitetail deer, while hunters specifically will spend a lot of time with these animals. Still, how many people know what a deer eats? They probably know it’s fruit, plant stuff, or vegetables, but not exactly what they eat. For example, can a deer eat apples?
Yes, deer do eat apples. That’s the short answer, but not the whole story.
Deer Do Eat Apples But Not Exclusively
While deer do eat apples, it should in no way become their staple diet. Think of apple as a candy treat for deer. They find them delicious, but it is hardly good for them to eat exclusively. Deer enjoy apples but have difficulty digesting them. In fact, if deer exclusively eat apples there’s a good chance the animal will starve to death. Apples do not provide deer the full nutrients it needs to be healthy and often interfere with their seasonal diets during winter.
Similar trends happen every year with corn feeding. During winter people worry deer will starve in the wild, cold, and harsh conditions. Out of concern, they may leave out a bag of corn or apples for deer to eat, or may try other means of feeding deer.
Naturally, the deer will gobble this down without giving it much thought. A few weeks later that deer may still die of starvation.
Below you can read why this interesting contradiction (feed a deer which then dies of starvation) happens and under what circumstances you can feed white tails apple.
When Can Deer Eat Apples?
You may be wondering what all the fuss is about. After-all, you have observed wild deer eating apple on a hike or even in your garden. That’s true and apple is a part of a deer diet, but it is all about availability. Remember when we called apple like candy for deer?
Apple is not readily available to deer. It grows in trees and is usually out of reach, which means deer only access apple when the fruit falls to the ground or they are fed it by humans.
Whitetail stomachs can handle apple in small quantities. In fact a deer will likely gobble down this treat with glee. Apples contain ample calories for deer, and they will even eat an apple that is starting to rot after falling from a tree.
How Deer Digest Their Food
Deer stomachs contain millions of microorganisms that can break down just about anything within the animal’s specialist range of foods. For example, they can handle the messy wood stuffs and leaves deer eat during winter.
Deer can handle corn and apples but they have some trouble digesting these foods.
Whitetails struggle with radical changes to their diet. If they have been foraging during winter and suddenly munch down on a pile of corn until they are full, those microorganisms won’t like it.
The deer leaves full, but the digestive system will not be able to process all that corn and the deer may starve. Some may survive, but when their diet again switches back to woody materials, the stomach again goes into flux and puts the animal at risk.
Winter conditions across many deer ranges around the world can get harsh. Whitetails have many challenges during winter weather in North America. Forests and open spaces the deer use suddenly become covered in a thick layer of foot-high snow and plants die off. This leaves deer eating a diet of dead leaves, tree bark, woody browse, and lichens.
Sounds depressing, right? Well, the deer isn’t a fan of it either. It’s something that has been programmed in whitetails for hundreds of thousands of years, and probably longer.
Deer are foraging animals by nature, during the summer it is easy to find food and during the winter it is not. During the winter season, the digestive system of deer is fine-tuned for foraging and living off the bare sustenance it can get.
Almost all whitetails will lose over 20% of their body weight during winter. Winter is also nature’s way of removing weaker animals from the ecosystem. It is not nice to think about, but it’s the reality of nature.
Of course, many well-meaning people think they can help deer by feeding them, and corn or apples are a common choice.
Using Apples to Attract Deer
For hunters, there are some clear pros and cons to using apple to attract deer.
On the pro side, deer love apples and are likely to come to them when they’re used as a lure. If you happen to be in wait, apples take longer to eat than other foodstuffs and may keep the deer distracted for longer.
One major con to using apple to attract deer is other animals also love them. You are just as likely to attract raccoons (or worse, bears) than you are a deer.
If you live in a non-urban area that sits within deer territory, having an apple tree in your garden is a great way to attract deer. Again, there some problems because apples will also attract other animals so if you’re sole purpose is to observe deer up close, perhaps look for another way to attract them … or prepare to have foxes and raccoons also become frequent visitors to your garden.