5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Feed the Deer This Winter

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on January 2, 2016.

This time of year, leaving out a trough of grain for the deer may feel like the best way to help local wildlife. After all, a lot of plants that herbivores and omnivores rely on is buried under the snow, and you hate to be a bystander to creatures in need. However, as with any wild animals, you should think twice before feeding deer.

Here are five reasons to refrain from putting out food for deer this winter:

1. Corn can kill

“I see too many deer on my necropsy table with bellies full of corn,” says Jim Crum, a West Virginia biologist.

Folks often feed their neighborhood ruminants with high-carb corn, which they can’t always digest after months of eating lichens, bark and other woody matter. The shock to their systems can lead to a lung disease called acute acidosis, notes Farm and Dairy — which in worst cases brings death in 72 hours.

“It takes deer two to four weeks of feeding on a new food source to establish populations of microbes necessary to digest the new food,” explains nature writer Scott Shalaway. “It can’t happen in just a few days during a snowstorm.”

2. New food sources lure deer into populated areas

Even if your feed of choice isn’t corn, your trough invites deer to move from where they usually winter —  sometimes miles away. There, they risk being struck by cars, chased by dogs and hunted by humans, notes Donald Wharton in the New York State Conservationist.

While some say that expanding cities destroy the habitat where deer used to live, forcing them to relocate and find new food sources, others argue that winter feeding is not the solution.

3. Feeding deer is illegal in some places

Live in Montana, Illinois, New York, Vermont, Virginia or Colorado? Those are just a few states that prohibit intentionally feeding deer. Getting caught in Montana, for instance, can stick you with a fine up to $1,000 or six months in jail.

To legislating bodies, this isn’t about punishing good intentions.

“Even though it may feel good when you feed them, not only is it bad for them….physiologically, but it’s illegal,” explains John Fraley of Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks to news station KPAX. “So we’d really like to see people start realizing that the animal has to forage on it’s own; if it loses that natural foraging, it’s not going to survive anyway.”

4. Disease spreads easier in groups

Feeding brings deer together — and not necessarily in a good way. Animals flocking to feed, when they would otherwise be miles apart, risk getting sick.

The discovery of the rare but fatal chronic wasting disease, spread by saliva and waste, scared New York state enough to ban feeding whitetails back in 2002.

5. Deer can endure winter without our help

“Idaho’s huge wilderness areas, where almost no one goes in winter, sustain some of the largest and healthiest herds of elk and deer in the country,” notes the state Fish and Game on its website.

While indeed some of the weakest individuals don’t survive the cold months, most deer rely on fat stored from fall grazing to live on a sparse diet. Their metabolism slows as well, letting deer go weeks without food.

In short, feeding may not be the answer to helping deer get through the winter months. If you still want to be of service — and have the property to do so — do as Outdoor Life’s Craig Dougherty recommends: Drop an acre of pole timber, so the deer can chow down on the tender tips and buds on the tree tops. Let’s keep the wildlife wild.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

213 comments

Frances G
Frances G3 days ago

Thanks

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Sophie A
Sophie A6 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D7 days ago

We do have deer here in Philly but they stay mainly in a local golf course and feed at dawn and dusk. If I happen to be on my way home from work and see them I just admire them from a distance and let them be. Since humans have stolen their habitat, they are forced to feed wherever they can, even in the city.

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Latoya Brookins
Latoya B8 days ago

I'm a city girl, I've only seen deer on tv.

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HEIKKI R
HEIKKI R8 days ago

thank you

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Julia S
Julia S8 days ago

Thank you!

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Donna T
Donna T8 days ago

thank you

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Leo C
Leo C8 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Elisabeth T
Elisabeth T8 days ago

Thank you for the good information

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Barbara B
Barbara B9 days ago

The poor deer and other wildlife are constantly losing their habitat to development so of course there will be less food and more instances of them coming in contact with humans. So instead of saying they can "endure winter without our help" it should say "maybe they can endure winter in spite of us"!

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