Dept. Forestry and Natural Resources
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W. Lafayette, IN 47907
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White-tailed Deer - Corn (back to white-tailed deer home)


Vegetative Growth and Tassel

At emergence (VE) plants are susceptible to both trampling and feeding damage.


Entire plants may be pulled from the ground, especially in loose or moist soils. As long as the growing point is undamaged, the plant will continue to develop; from VE to V5, the growing point is below the soil surface. The plant characteristics at the point of damage will usually have a rough appearance since deer lack upper incisors. (top of page)


Throughout the remaining vegetative growth stages (V6 until prior to tassel), deer may browse leaves of corn. Deer damage during this period, however, often is a complete bite of the stalk below the tassel and at the center of the growth whorl. (top of page)


Deer also may bite off the tassel later in development. Damage to ears early during their development will result in a telescoping husk as they mature. Feeding on young ears late during vegetative growth (V12 to V15) will result in almost 100% loss of yield for that plant. (top of page)


Reproductive Growth

During reproductive stages of development, deer damage to corn is concentrated during the silk stage (R1), milk stage (R3), and maturity (R6). During the silk stage, deer bite the tender, succulent corn silks. The impact on yield from the removal of the corn silks will depend on the timing of damage relative to pollination. Damage occurring prior to the pollination of all silks will impact yield. This is usually the case with damage of this type since the silks dry out after pollination of the kernels. (top of page)

Deer may bite off the end of an ear, or ...



...completely pull the entire ear from the plant. Biting the tip of an ear off after pollination is completed results in minimal yield loss. (top of page)

Deer often remove kernels by using their lower incisors to scrape an ear along its length.

Deer can knock down stalks of corn. Signs of deer damage include a small number of stalks (usually 12 or less) knocked down, and all lying in the same direction. Damage of this type is usually caused by deer running through the area rather than their actual feeding behavior. Deer bedding in cornfields results in a few or no corn stalks knocked down. Areas with a large number of stalks knocked down are caused by raccoons and not by deer bedding down. (top of page)


Deer feed on corn sparingly after the milk stage until the crop matures. Stalks are more easily knocked down during this period and deer will feed readily on kernels on the cob and those on the ground. While stalks are on the ground (whether or not deer knocked them down) deer may scrape the ear along its length using its bottom incisors. At maturity, some corn plants have reddening of leaves and/or the stalk.
(top of page)

Red stalks can be a clue to past wildlife damage, but not all corn plants with red stalks and/or leaves are caused by wildlife damage. Feeding at the stalk node by European corn borers also can result in reddening of the attached leaf at the location of damage (Nielsen 2002).

Corn plants with purple-colored stalks in August –September often are indicative of damage caused by deer. Deer will readily scrape kernels off the cobs of mature corn plants, generally causing little or no physical damage to the corn stalk. Removal of kernels after maturity results in red cobs. Damage caused earlier in the growing season results in dirty brown cobs.



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