Which autumn food attracts the most deer? Is it standing corn, which offers shelter while the deer feed? Or could it be acorns strewn across the forest floor? And when do deer shift their dietary preferences? Food dictates deer movement throughout much of autumn, so you need to know what they’re craving and when.
In Ontario, for example, late summer typically finds whitetails feasting in fields of clover and alfalfa, but by opening day of archery season, they’ll switch to soybeans, corn and apple orchards. Then by mid-autumn, the best big-buck magnet of all is nuts. Acorns are number one on a buck’s favourite food list from mid-October until they’re all eaten. Most years, that’s only two to three weeks, but during a bumper-crop year, acorns can last through to springtime. Bucks can quickly gain weight eating these high-protein nuts, which is critical both before and after the rut. And they can binge feed on them within the shelter of the forest, only wandering into the more exposed areas of their territory at night.
Until mid-October, bucks spend most of the day bedded down, only stirring to feed and drink. This is why they put on so much weight between summer and the start of the rut. Then by mid-autumn, testosterone levels ramp up and bucks of all ages become more active with each passing day. Even still, seasoned bucks will rarely be seen in the open, so look for preferred food sources when scouting.
Apples are also high on the whitetail’s favourite foods list, followed by soybeans. They’re usually stripped from the fields well before gun season, however, so they’re primarily a food draw that’s worth scouting out for archery season.
Corn is also popular, and it stands longer, with some fields not harvested until gun season is over. Even once the corn has been harvested, there’s usually enough spillage to attract deer for a few more weeks. With the stalks removed, however, the fields will rarely draw out mature bucks until after nightfall. Food plots of turnips are also a top draw for late-season hunts.