Do Deer Eat Hickory Nuts? [Here’s What They Eat!]

Deer are known to consume numerous plants and have a varied diet, but many people wonder exactly what they eat on a daily basis.

It’s clear that deer enjoy eating nuts, but what about hickory nuts in particular?

Deer eat hickory nuts occasionally, but because they’re so challenging to crack open, they prefer other types of nuts, such as chestnuts, walnuts, butternuts, hazelnuts, acorns, and beechnuts. However, deer do eat the buds, twigs, and leaves of the hickory tree. They also eat a vast array of other plants, consuming up to eight percent of their body weight daily.

In this article, you’ll learn more about why hickory nuts aren’t a staple of the average deer’s diet.

We’ll also discuss other components of a deer’s diet, talk about the nutritional value of hickory nuts, and mention several other nuts that deer like to eat.

Are Hickory Nuts Part Of A Deer’s Diet?

Photo: Phillip Stewart / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Nuts make up an integral part of a deer’s diet, but hickory nuts aren’t a staple. Because of their extremely hard shells, hickory nuts are very difficult for deer to eat. 

They prefer acorns, chestnuts, and walnuts, but will eat hickory nuts on occasion if more preferred foods aren’t available.

A deer’s mouth does not contain any top front teeth, although it does have bottom front teeth. Instead, on the top of the deer’s mouth is a hard palate. In the back of the deer’s mouth are molars that enable chewing. 

Although the front section of a deer’s mouth is meant for grabbing and breaking food, it’s hard for deer to break open the notoriously hard-to-crack hickory nut.

See also  Can Llamas And Alpacas Breed? [Answered & Explained]

Components of a Deer’s Diet

Deer mainly eat a variety of plants, but their diet is extremely diverse, including more than 400 plant species just in the Southeast region.

Deer enjoy various types of vegetation, crops, grasses, nuts, and acorns. Every day, an adult deer needs to eat up to eight percent of its body weight to maintain its health.

To put this in perspective, a 110-pound deer could eat nearly nine pounds of food in a single day!


When it comes to the hickory tree, deer are more likely to eat the tree’s browse than its nuts.

Browse is a crucial part of a deer’s diet. Not only is browsing an activity performed by deer, but it also describes the food that is foraged when deer perform this activity.

Browse includes the buds, twigs, and leaves of woody plants. It’s an especially vital part of a deer’s diet during the cold winter months, when it’s more challenging to find other types of food.

Deer have long tongues and narrow snouts, plus very active salivary glands. These characteristics mean that certain plant parts, such as browse, are perfect for them to eat. 

Interestingly, deer produce specific enzymes that enable them to consume large amounts of plant compounds, such as tannins, that would be deadly for other animals.


Mast refers to fruiting bodies that can be hard or soft. Acorns fall into this category, as do other nuts and various berries. 

Generally, deer are much more inclined to eat acorns and nuts with softer shells than hickory nuts. These hard-fruiting bodies provide deer with plenty of carbohydrates and fats. 

See also  8 Animals with Long Names

Meanwhile, soft-fruiting bodies like berries have lots of vitamins and sugars. 

Forbs, Grass, Lichen, and Fungus

Forbs, the stems and leaves of non-woody plants, are another part of the average deer’s diet. They contain quite a bit of nutrients and are easily digestible.

Grass isn’t eaten as often as browse and mast because it’s not as easily digestible and doesn’t have as much nutritional value. 

Lichen and fungus, like moss and mushrooms, are a consistent part of a deer’s diet, but they don’t comprise a large portion of it.

What Kind Of Nutrients Do Hickory Nuts Provide For Deer?

Deer don’t often eat hickory nuts because their shells are so difficult to remove, but that doesn’t mean they’re without nutritional value.

A 100-gram serving of hickory nuts contains nearly 65 grams of fat, 436 milligrams of potassium, and over 18 grams of carbs. About one-third of the carbohydrates come from dietary fiber.

They also contain almost 13 grams of protein. In addition, hickory nuts supply nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, niacin, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and pantothenic acid.

What Is A Deer’s Favorite Type Of Nut?

Here are several nuts that deer enjoy:

  • American chestnut
  • Black walnut
  • Butternut (also called white walnut)
  • Hazelnut
  • Oaknut/acorn
  • Beechnut


Although hickory nuts provide plenty of nutritional value, deer rarely eat them because they’re extremely difficult to crack open. Deer tend to opt for different types of nuts, including butternuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, beechnuts, and acorns.

See also  Can Grizzly Bears Climb Trees? [Answer & Facts]

Deer might not eat hickory nuts very often, but they do eat different parts of the hickory tree, such as the leaves, buds, and twigs. Many other plants also make up a deer’s diet, and they can eat as much as eight percent of their body weight every day.

Read More About Deer:

  1. Do Deer Eat Pumpkins?
  2. Do Deer Eat Mushrooms?
  3. Do Deer Hibernate or Migrate?
  4. Do Deer Shed Their Antlers?
  5. Do Bears Eat Deer?

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.

Recent Posts