Supplemental winter feeding of deer
Three mule deer, huddled together in a field, staring at the camera Three mule deer, huddled together in a field, staring at the camera
Winter feeding

Supplemental winter feeding of deer

What seems like a good idea, can often do more harm than good.

Winter feeding

EACH WINTER, people contact the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) expressing concern for deer. Often these people ask about supplemental winter feeding to help carry the animals through extended periods of heavy snowfall. Many people and organizations volunteer to help with winter feeding efforts.

While the DWR welcomes all the help it can get, supplemental deer feeding is usually not a good idea. Although it sounds like an act of kindness and may even help some animals get through the cold months, it can create major problems. Each link below provides additional information.

  • Disease can spread when deer congregate
  • The wrong food at the wrong time can kill deer
  • Concentrated numbers of deer can damage rangelands
  • Easy food can cause long-term effects on behavior
  • Concentrated deer attract predators
  • Landowner issues and disagreements
  • It's expensive to feed enough deer to make a difference
  • Public safety is important
  • Social issues always play a part

Is supplemental winter feeding ever warranted?

Winter feeding
A DWR conservation officer pours food into a trough as part of an emergency feeding situation in northern Utah.

Yes, there are sometimes specific emergency situations when supplemental feeding is beneficial. For example, deer herds in critical wintering areas that are caught in unusually deep and long-lasting snow might benefit from winter feeding.

When the DWR considers supplemental feeding, biologists carefully analyze whether the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages. If a decision is made by the agency to proceed, resources are allocated, special food mixtures are determined and the feeding takes place in an organized, targeted and strategic way that maximizes the benefits to the deer while minimizing the possible adverse consequences.

While private supplemental feeding of wildlife is not illegal — except in certain cities that have enacted no feeding ordinances — DWR biologists strongly advise against private individuals and organizations feeding deer. Well-intentioned private feeding endeavors almost always create more problems than they solve. Instead of helping, this kind of feeding can result in higher deer mortality rates and long-term adverse consequences for the herd.

It can be tough on a caring public to avoid the quick fix that deer feeding can offer. People must understand that deer are wild animals and not livestock. Despite the best intentions, winter feeding is usually a last resort and not in the best interest of deer.

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