Spring Means Antler-growing Green Protein for Deer

Greenbriar is an excellent food source for deer; it can hold as much as 30 percent crude protein in the spring. (Jeff Phillips photo)

As temperatures rise, deer start looking for a high protein food source after the scarce winter

With warmer temperatures comes the slight green hue through the deer woods. Although as hunters we relate sources of protein mainly to meats like venison, chicken, beef, or fish, to deer this new green appearance means protein.


After a long winter of scarce food, and likely just enough protein for daily metabolic practices, deer will be in dire need of high quality protein. As tempting as it is to supplement food for deer, much of their diet this time of the year will be native foods. And that is a really good thing. For this time of year yields some of the highest protein values in some of the most desirable deer foods.

It’s hard to picture that plants can contain large amounts of protein, but let’s for discuss what large amounts are needed for deer. For simply “maintaining” daily metabolic activities like breathing and digestion, deer need about 6 percent crude protein average from the food they consume. As they begin to recover from winter, they will double that need to nearly 12 to 15 percent. As antlers begin to grow on bucks and fawns inside of does, that rate rises to near 20 percent crude protein average. So with that said, what can nature offer?

A lot. In fact many plants that are highly desired by deer, including greenbriar and blackberry, can hold as much as 30 percent crude protein in the spring. That’s as much as the lush soybeans of summer, and nearly 5-times as much as standard field corn! Sure the production of a soybean field can be greater in terms of biomass, but an acre of well-managed timber can produce nearly as much as many food plots. You just have to continue to manage for a deer’s number one food source…the native habitat.


As plants begin to grow, to the deer. During the spring, more than 3/4 of a deer’s diet will compose of native forbs (what many of us deer hunters call weeds) and the new growth of woody browse, like the plants mentioned above. What do these have in common? Early successional species – meaning they are most abundant in young new growth forests, not closed-canopy areas. By opening up the canopy by cutting trees or burning back thick overgrown cover, you open the opportunity for high-quality plant species to thrive. These not only improve forest structure for all types of wildlife, but also can grow bigger bucks for this fall.

As you walk through the woods this fall, think about the amount of deer food you are seeing. Is it enough to support and grow your herd this spring?

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