Do Bears Eat Deer? [Answer Explained]

Bears are foragers, predators, and opportunistic feeders. These intelligent mammals come in different sizes and colors, seeking a variety of sources for nourishment.

Deer exist in the same habitats as bears, and therefore can be a source of food for the latter. Several species of bears primarily consume insects, vegetation, and small mammals. They tend to eat carrion, such as that of deer, instead of actively hunting them. However, black (Asiatic and American), brown, and polar bears are predators that will hunt and kill species of the deer family.

Evidence of deer consumption has been found in bear scat. Read on to learn more about the different species of bears, their habitats, and what they eat.

Deer And Bear Coexistence In Habitats

Photo: Paul Wordingham / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Deer can be found all over the world, except for Antarctica. Deer are Cervids, which include moose, elk, reindeer, caribou, white-tailed deer, and more.

Even though bears have heavy builds, stocky frames, and an awkward gait, they can adeptly run, swim, and climb as they search for food. 

Deer tend to avoid areas with bears, although they do live in the same kinds of habitats. They will graze where bears have been but stay away when active bears are around.

The black (Asiatic and American), brown, and polar bears will actively hunt and prey on deer. The other species tend to eat insects or a large vegetation diet and are opportunistic feeders eating deer carrion, instead of hunting them.

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Analysis of bear scat shows evidence of deer consumption. 

How Bears Kill And Consume Deer

Bears, such as the American and Asiatic Black, brown, and polar will actively hunt deer.

Bears will commonly prey on vulnerable or younger deer calves and other hoofed wildlife since they are smaller and easier to capture.  

Predator bears will bite the neck of prey to kill it or use a forepaw to strike an animal breaking its spine. Visible claw marks can be seen on the body and mauled marks on the hind. A bear may also grab the snout with its powerful jaws.

The bear will feast on the meaty chest and guts first, working down to the hips of the carcass.

For larger deer species, such as moose, or if there are leftovers, a bear will guard the carcass. It may also bury it with leaves, moss, or snow, or conserve it in running water for upcoming meals.

Dietary Habits Of Various Bear Species

There are eight species of bears belonging to the Ursidae family. Bears are found in the wild in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. 

Bears are technically carnivores, but tend to have omnivore diets. They seek out food sources in their habitats, which will vary globally. 

While deer are not the main source of meat for all bear species, they can eat deer as prey or carrion.

The table below gives further detail about all eight species of bear with specifics on what they eat, and where they live.

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SpeciesType Of ConsumerFood SourcesLocation
Asiatic Black Bear (also called Asia, Himilayan, Tibetan, or Moon bear): Ursus thibetanusOmnivorous Fruits, insects, bees’ nests, invertebrates, carrion, domestic livestock, and other vertebrates (such as deer)Mountains; high altitudes; heavily forested areas:

Southern Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, northeastern China, southeastern Russia, Taiwan, Honshu, Shikoku
Brown Bear (Grizzly Bear): Ursus arctosOmnivorousPlants, berries, seeds, insects, small mammals (musk deer, elk, bison, beavers, caribou), fish, carrion, food sources left out by people

Diet is impacted by food availability and seasons in habitat. 
“Grizzly” refers to living inland, away from coasts

Found in the western United States (including Alaska) south to Mexico (plateau area), western Canada
Giant Panda: Ailuropoda melanoleucaCarnivorous physiologically, however, eats primarily as a folivore (leaf-eating herbivore)Have digestive tracts of carnivores, but 99% of their diet is bamboo stems and leaves

Will also eat other grasses, tubers, honey, yams, fruits, eggs, and meat (birds, rodents, carrion, fish).

In theory, they can eat deer meat, but only if it is carrion (they are unskilled predators).
Mountain ranges (montane and mixed forests) in central China
American Black Bear: Ursus americanusOmnivorousBerries, sedges (triangular plant stems), fruit, fish, honeycomb, garbage waste from people, young hooved mammals (elk, deer), carrion Pacific Northwest (forests and mountains)/North America: Canada, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, upper Midwest, southern United States, Mexico
Polar Bears: Ursus maritimusCarnivorousPrimarily eat seals (ringed, bearded, harp, hooded, and harbor). 

Also prey on walrus, narwhal, beluga, and marine mammal carcasses. 

Researchers have found polar bears are adapting to climate change, increasingly eating caribou (reindeer) and snow geese. 

Food sources depend upon availability and may eat smaller food sources such as rodents, seabirds, waterfowl, fish, human garbage, vegetation, or kelp in times of poor sustenance. 
The Arctic on ice-covered water; Canada
Sloth Bears: Melursus ursinusOmnivorous and Myrmecophagous (consumption of termites and ants)Primarily termites and ants

Also eat beetles, grubs, crickets, mealworms, nuts, coconut, fruits, flowers, honey, farm crops, and carrion (where there are food shortages)

While rare, there is evidence of sloth bears consuming deer.
Dry and moist forests, grasslands with boulders or shrubs and trees; found in southern Nepal and Sri Lanka
Andean Bears (Spectacled Bears): Tremarctos ornatusOmnivorousPrimarily vegetation: bromeliads, palm trees, flowers, cacti, and fruit

About 5% of their diet is meat (small mammals).

They do not prey on deer but will eat carrion if it is available.
South America, tropical regions; arboreal (tree-dwelling)
Malayan Sun Bear: Helarctos malayanuOmnivorousFruit, insects, termites, mealworms, tree sap, honey, palm trees, coconuts, commercial crops, vegetables, small birds, lizards, rodents, deer carrionArboreal (tree-dwelling); southwest Asian tropical forests, montane forests, swamps
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In Conclusion

Black (Asiatic and American), brown, and polar bears will actively hunt live deer, whereas other species will consume carrion.

Bears are opportunistic feeders eating a variety of food sources. This includes preying on young, old, or weak animals, or finding sources such as human garbage.

All of the bear species are capable of eating meat, however, some consume considerably more vegetation in their daily diets.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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