Do deer eat walnuts? [Yes, they can eat walnut kernels]

deer eating walnut leaves that fell on ground at night

We’ve had several folks ask us, “do deer eat walnuts?” Deer do eat walnuts—shelled and unshelled. The University of Minnesota and the University of Nebraska specifically state that deer eat black walnuts. Additionally, we’ll share ample video evidence below of deer eating walnuts and some anecdotal evidence.

Some of the people asking us if deer consume walnuts want to know if their walnut tree is attracting deer to their yard. Others want to feed deer in their yard and are wondering if black walnuts will work. And, we’ve had some hunters ask us because hunter prefer hanging their deer stands in places that deer find attractive.

In this article, I’ll explain what parts of walnut trees deer eat. You can skip to a section via the table of contents. If you have more questions, ask away in the table of contents.

Can deer eat shelled walnuts or only unshelled walnuts?

Deer can eat unshelled and shelled walnuts. You would think they prefer unshelled walnuts or at least walnuts with decayed walnut shells since they would be easier to crack. In fact, I found significant consensus on a hunting forum that deer won’t even try to eat shelled walnuts.

Deer hunter who frequently hunts near a walnut tree who never observed deer eating walnuts
Here’s a deer hunter who frequently hunts near walnut tree. He never observed deer eating walnuts during that time.
Person hypothesizing that deer jaws and teeth are not strong enough to crack walnuts
Person hypothesizing that deers’ jaws and teeth are not strong enough to crack walnuts

But here’s a video showing a doe crushing a white walnut shell and eating the walnut kernel inside. Black walnut shells, however, require more force to crush, so deer may find cracking black walnut shells more difficult.

Video showing a doe and fawn eating a walnut

Also, keep in mind that the above video shows a doe and fawn that are accustomed to eating what a human feeds them. This means their eating behavior might differ significantly from wild deer that don’t interact with humans.

I found a few case hunter who observed deers eat black walnuts. One hunter specified that the black walnut he saw deer eating already had decomposed husks (so they may have been soft).

Deer hunter observed deer eat black walnuts with decomposed outer husks
Deer hunter observed deer eat black walnuts with decomposed outer husks

If walnuts are shelled, deer are more likely to eat them because they don’t have to break the shells open. Below is a video of someone feeding a buck a handful of unshelled walnuts. Notice how fast the buck gobbles the unshelled walnuts compared to the video above of deer eating shelled walnuts .

Buck eating a handful of unshelled walnuts

Do walnuts attract deer?

Some people intentionally plant walnut trees to attract deer and help feed nearby deer herds. Here’s a video of a deer hunter doing just this:

Man planting young chestnut and walnut trees to help feed deer.

Additionally, hunters have often observed significant signs of deer activity just below walnut trees. Here’s a Reddit post where one hunter noted seeing ample signs of deer activity under a walnut tree, namely a buck rub on the walnut tree’s trunk. This made the hunter wonder if deer were attracted to the fallen walnuts under the tree.

Deer hunter describing signs of deer activity under a walnut tree
This deer hunter noticed signs of deer activity under a walnut tree when scouting for a hunting spot.

Another deer hunter confirmed seeing deer eat both walnut and acorns during the early season.

Deer hunter in tree stand describes watching deer eat walnuts
Another deer hunter confirms observing deer eat walnut and eggcorns in the early season.

What nuts do deer eat?

Deer eat beechnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, cashews, and likely many others. Chestnuts seem to be deers’ favorite tree nuts because they contain around 40% carbohydrates (most other nuts have a higher fat content).

Deer will also eat other nuts when given the chance. For example, here are some ladies feeding their pet deer some shelled pistachios. Notice how the deer is able to deshell the pistachio—eating the pistachio kernel while discarding the shell.

It seems safe to assume that if deer can shell small pistachios and eat the kernels inside, then deer can unshell and eat most types of nuts.

Do deer eat walnut tree leaves?

Trail cam video of a deer eating leaves from a walnut tree branch that recently fell.

Deer eat walnut tree leaves quite often. Deer will eat fresh walnut tree leaves that blow to the ground and, if deer can reach them, they’ll stand on their hind legs to nab the leaves hanging from walnut trees too. You can see an example of this behavior in the video below

Deer standing on hind legs to eat walnut tree leaves.

Do deer eat young walnut tree trees?

As with many young trees, deer eat young walnut trees. According to Washington State University, “deer are particularly serious pests of young walnut trees in outlying areas next to wooded areas.”

Deer will eat walnut seedlings and sprouts from walnut stumps. In the winter, deer will leafs, twigs, and even bark from younger walnut trees. Additionally, deer can damage young walnut trees when they rub against their trunks with their body or antlers.

And, unfortunately, there aren’t any completely reliable methods to deter deer from eating young walnut trees.

How to keep deer from eating walnut saplings

Here are several things you can try to keep deer from chewing up your young walnut trees.

  1. Deer fencing placed around individual trees or walnut orchards
  2. Bags of dried blood and bone meal hung from walnut saplings
  3. Chemical repellents that mimic deer predators
  4. Hunting deer (if given the necessary licenses)

Placing deer fencing around individual walnut saplings is effective but is costly if you have many young walnut trees. Same deal with installing a deer fence around an entire walnut orchard, effective but expensive. If you install a fence around your orchard, ensure your fence is at least 8 feet tall (deer can jump high).

The next option is hanging bags of dried blood and bone meal from the walnut saplings or spraying chemical repellents. Both of these methods require you to switch them out every 2 to 3 months or else the scents wear off.

Dried blood and bone meal likely spooks deer, making them believe there are predators in the area that recently killed a mammal. Similarly, chemical deer deterrents usually mimic deer predators (mountain lion, coyote, etc.) If you get a deer predator scent, ensure the predator scent is from a predator that is prevalent in your region.

Lastly, some places will grant walnut tree orchards special deer hunting licenses to protect their orchard. Check with your department of natural resources about this option to ensure you follow local laws and regulations.

Summary

To conclude, we’ve shown some video evidence that deer can eat walnuts, shelled and unshelled. But the videos of deer eating walnuts that we’ve shown you are all from deer that are blatantly accustomed to being fed by humans, so wild deer might not exhibit the same behavior.

Video of a deer eating unshelled walnuts fed to them by humans.

To add to the video evidence, we cited university sources some anecdotal evidence from a few hunters that suggest deer eat walnuts and walnut tree leaves, sprouts, and buds.

Published
Categorized as Animals

By David Jackson

I enjoy learning about new pest control strategies and sharing what I learn at NeverPest.com. I aim to create a reliable resource for people dealing with all sorts of pest issues.

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