Winter Whitetail Survival: Late-Season Grub Big Bucks Love

Winter Whitetail Survival: Late-Season Grub Big Bucks Love

Winter survival isn’t easy for deer. Start helping them out more.

Cold, bitter winds sweep the landscape. Wet, sticky snow plasters every tree, bush and living being with a blanket of white. Deer forage for whatever late-winter foods they can find, but it isn’t easy. Some even die from starvation.

Brutal Survival Conditions

The late season can be a bear — for both deer and deer hunters. Temperatures are plummeting. Snow is piling up. Food sources are depleting. It’s not easy on deer. Sure, most of them find ways to survive each year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help them out.

 To be honest, helping them helps you, too. Providing more food increases late-season encounters. It’s hard to find deer during the latter parts of the season. It doesn’t matter if you’re chasing giant bucks or fawns with milk-staches on their fuzzy lips. It’s tough, especially if you don’t have a dynamite spot with low pressure, decent bedding and great food.

All said, you can maximize your hunting efforts and improve overall herd health by focusing on quality food sources. The following seven options are some of the best-known options.


This is likely the best agriculture-related food available to deer. It’s very high in carbs — something deer need to survive in cold weather. Sadly, most modern harvesting equipment drops very little waste grain. It isn’t like it used to be 15 or 20 years ago where a deer herd could pick over a cut cornfield all winter long. That said, some waste does hit the ground. And even where it doesn’t, some grain farmers don’t harvest until late in the winter. Standing corn is an excellent late-season food source.


As with corn and other grains, beans are high in carbs, which makes them a great late-season food source. But most harvesters don’t drop much waste, especially when it comes to soybeans. Very few beans actually hit the ground. So standing beans are really your only option here. Luckily, many soybean farms won’t harvest until late in the year. So, this potentially leaves deer with a grain food source for an extended period of time.


Many farmers plant wheat as a cover crop. If you hunted over cornfields earlier in the year, chances are they’re green by now. But don’t expect many soybean fields to be planted in wheat, as beans don’t deplete the soil like corn does. Wheat also is a high-carb plant. Like oats, it is preferred in its early-growth stages. In mid-latitude states such as Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, wheat becomes very attractive from late fall on into the winter.

The author poses with a big late-season buck he killed in Ohio. It walked down off of a bedding ridge and into a small green field. (John Kirby photo)


Oats are a great choice for cereal grain lovers. It has been a popular go-to option by deer hunters for a long time. They are high in carbohydrates and draw deer when other plants won’t. Grains get tough as they get bigger. Most grains are early-growth hotspots because of that. Oats stay smaller longer, giving them a larger window for optimal consumption.

Turnips and Other Brassicas

Most turnips (and other brassicas) are attractive because of one thing: glucose. The first hard frost causes a chemical reaction in the plant that encourages significant increases in sugar. This once-bitter plant suddenly becomes sweet. Deer hit it hard once that happens. This is better suited for northern states and is usually pulling the deer by late October. Brassicas are not as attractive to deer in southern states because temperatures are not usually cold enough to activate glucose levels until very late in the season.

Hard Mast

There’s no food sources like those provided by Mother Nature. Most deer will walk right by a fresh-cut cornfield if there are acorns over the horizon. Hickory nuts are another great option. That’s what makes remaining pockets of mast crops so attractive to deer during the late season. Deer love them, especially during the late season when few nutrient-rich food sources are available.


Deer live off of mostly woody browse during the colder months. Saplings, buds, branches and other similar foods comprise more than half of their winter diet. These are very low in nutritional value, and can sometimes provide less energy than it takes to digest the foods if deer consume the wrong plants or parts of the plants (which they usually don’t). These food sources are most common along field edges and in forested areas that don’t have dense, overshadowing canopies.

Regardless of what you provide deer with, just doing something will improve the habitat. Do what you your budget allows, and be proud to play a part in wildlife conservation and management.

Article by Josh Honeycutt

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