If you’ve spent any time out in the country, you may have heard of or seen a type of apple called a deer apple. However, while many have heard the deer apple term used, they may not know exactly what a deer apple is or what they are predominantly used for. At my day job, I routinely address questions about this type of apple so let me focus on answering the following two questions: can deer eat apples, and what are deer apples?
What are Deer Apples?
Although I haven’t been able to locate any specific or recognized sources that define the deer apple term, this type of apple term can be used to describe or associated with three different meanings:
- Wild apples
- Commercially grown apples that are not fit for human consumption
- Certain types or species of apples that are too tart or sour for human consumption
Certain types of apples are known to grow in the wild in a non-cultivated scenario. These apple trees are likely the wild variant that is a distant relative of the modern-day cultivated apples sold as fruit.
Wild apple trees are usually small trees (especially compared to their commercially cultivated cousins) that produce small apples that are hard and tart. This type of wild apple isn’t popular for human consumption, but they are extremely popular as a food source for wildlife. For example, deer are quite fond of wild apples when they are available, which played a role in these apples being referred to as “deer apples.”
It’s worth noting that not every apple tree found in the woods is a “wild apple.” Some are apple trees that are leftover from a deliberate planting that was abandoned. This type of apple tree may have started as one designed to produce commercial apples, but it reverts back to more of a wild apple tree without care and pruning. The apples on these trees are generally larger and sweeter than those from a proper wild apple tree.
Commercially grown apples that are not fit for human consumption
Not every commercially grown apple makes it to market. Apples with bruises, insects, damage, etc., are separated from the better-quality apples sold at produce stands and in grocery stores.
Knowing that deer love to eat apples, and in an effort to recoup some profit from these lower quality apples, apple farmers started offering these apples to hunters as “deer apples” at deeply discounted prices.
As a kid, I can remember one Uncle in particular who bought bags and bags of what he called “deer apples” at the local farm supply store to spread out around his deer stand.
Since deer will eat apples in almost any condition other than completely rotten, these deer apples can make an effective, short-term food source for drawing deer.
A note of caution about using apples as a supplemental food source for deer: Be sure to check the hunting regulations in your state or region, as some states have strict rules about using fruit as a deer lure. Some states will allow materials like corn or soybeans for use in a deer feeder but will not allow apples, oranges, grapes, or pumpkins to be fed to deer.
Certain types or species of apples that are too tart or sour for human consumption
The term deer apples are sometimes used to describe certain strains of apples that are a bit too tart or sour to be eaten by people. Although they are not popular as a consumable apple, these apples have other uses such as:
- Apple butter
These overly tart apples may be referred to as deer apples.
As a kid, I had a grandmother that grew a substantial number of fruits and vegetables as a food source and for canning purposes. She and my grandfather had a large garden and several fruit trees, including pears and apple trees. They had three different apple trees on the property that produced three different variants or strains of apples. One of the trees produced small reddish apples that were hard and sour tasting. My Grandmother called these deer apples, and she only used them for cooking purposes.
I typically spend part of the summer with them and have fond memories of picking apples from all three trees. I routinely saw deer at the trees eating any apples that fell to the ground. Rather than run the deer off, my grandparents left them alone because they helped dispose of the fallen apples. If the fallen apples were left unattended, they would rot and attract insects, including bees, yellowjackets, and wasps.
Do Deer Eat Apples?
In addition to questions about the definition of deer apples, people also ask if Whitetail deer can eat apples?
This line of questioning usually comes from people interested in feeding deer in their backyard or those looking to help deer in the winter by offering alternative food sources.
To answer the question, deer will eat apples if they are available. While apples are not directly bad for deer, they can pose digestion issues if consumed in large quantities.
I’ve spoken to a few different wildlife biologists from different states, and the general consensus seems to be that, from a nutritional standpoint, apples offer limited nutritional value and are not a food source that can support a deer individually.
While apples are a source of complex carbohydrates and natural sugars, they don’t offer much nutritional value beyond those compounds. In addition, apple seeds contain a tiny amount of a cyanide-based compound called cyanogenic Glycoside. Small doses of this chemical compound don’t seem to cause any issues, but large quantities may cause deer problems.
Apples are more like a sweet treat (even the sour ones) and are best consumed in small quantities.
Since apples are only available for a short period of time during the year, deer will feast on them when they can.
Here are some commonly asked questions that I see and read relating to deer apples and the consumption of apples by whitetail deer:
Are apples good for deer?
In small doses, apples are fine as an occasional treat for deer. However, large doses are a different story as apples can cause some digestive stress for deer and are high in natural sugars.
In addition, feeding deer a steady diet of apples may cause them to deviate from their regular diet to the point where potential diet deficiencies come into play.
I always compare feeding deer apples to feeding kids’ candy. A little bit is OK, but too much may cause issues.
Can I feed deer store bought apples?
As long as you thoroughly wash the store-bought or commercial apples thoroughly to remove any potential chemicals used in the growing process and offer them in small amounts, most deer biologists state that store-bought apples are acceptable as a treat for deer.
Do deer like apples?
Whitetail deer apples quite a bit and will consume them in bulk when apples are available. I have seen a few situations where deer seem to ignore apples, but those incidents are rare, and there’s usually some other issue that’s making them ignore the apples.
As a matter of fact, if you’ve ever visited an apple farm, you may notice that the tree limbs have been removed from the bottom portion of the tree trunk, and the tree limbs closest to the ground are located 10-12 feet off the ground. This pruning process is done by design and is an attempt to keep deer and other wildlife (like bears) from reaching the apples when they ripen. Apple farmers usually trim the lower branches to the point where a deer or bear standing on its hind legs cannot reach the lowest limb of apples.
Can deer digest an apple?
While deer have a diverse diet and a somewhat robust digestion system, it does have their limits. Apples (both wild ones and store-bought ones) are acceptable in small amounts. However, large amounts of consumed apples can cause some digestive stress in deer as they may struggle to process the high sugar content of the apples. In addition, as previously mentioned, apples feature very little actual nutritional value for deer.