by Steven Hill
Biologist: Mike Tonkovich, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
#1 – Wild crab apple
Why: High sugar content provides energy for deer, which target remaining fruit first, then eat leaves and twigs.
Where: Overgrown fields and openings in mature timber.
#2 – Japanese honeysuckle
Why: Though less succulent here than in the South, honeysuckle is one of the few plants that retain some moisture year-round–including winter. Where: Thrives in clear-cuts and transition areas between hayfields and woodlands.
#3 – Sumac
Why: The fruit of this shrub lasts well into winter. The leaves and stems also remain palatable to deer.
Where: Widespread along field edges, in overgrown fields and pastures, as well as in and along the edges of forest openings surrounded by mature timber.
Biologist: Tom O’Shea, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
#4 – Cedar buds
Why: Many conifer buds provide deer nutrition, but cedars are prone to dropping branches in high winds and heavy snows, precisely when deer need a boost.
Where: Swampy, low-lying areas near stands of dense, even-aged conifers that provide thermal cover.
#5 – Sugar maple saplings
Why: Deer browse on many hardwood species, but sugar maples are a favorite. Where: Recently logged areas throughout New England and at higher elevations in the Mid-Atlantic.
#6 – Apple trees
Why: Every whitetail hunter knows that deer love apples, but even after the fruit is gone, deer keep hitting orchards to browse on buds, twigs, and bark.
Where: Near abandoned farms, on woodland edges and forest openings, and anyplace you can find them.
Biologist: Jim Williams, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
#7 – Oregon grape
Why: This evergreen shrub produces clusters of purple berries and holly like leaves that serve as an important food source in winter.
Where: In the understory of Douglas fir forests.
#8 – Old-man’s beard
Why: These wispy arboreal lichens hang from tree branches and are a highly nutritious winter treat.
Where: This favorite winter food usually gets cropped above browsing height before winter, but trees that come down due to wind or timber management can quickly attract deer.
#9 – Douglas fir
Why: Fir needles are commonly the best available food to deer in places where western whitetails take shelter from cold wind and snow.
Where: Second-growth fir stands with closed canopies in foothill transition areas that offer adequate security cover.
Biologist: Chris Cook, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division
#10 – Japanese honeysuckle
Why: This nonnative plant forms dense thickets that offer deer shelter and succulent shoots all winter. A warm spell can even prompt palatable blooms. Where: Along woodland edges and forest openings where sunlight hits the ground–often near greenbrier.
#11 – Dewberry
Why: Deer favor the tender shoots of this vine in winter. It maintains edible leaves later than neighboring plants.
Where: Widespread in the South, it’s particularly abundant in low-lying delta and river regions.
#12 – Greenbrier
Why: Greenbrier vines stay succulent all winter, and the nutritional content tops deciduous twigs and buds, making it a favorite food of late-season whitetails.
Where: Along forest edges and openings, and in bottomlands where trees have been logged or blown down.