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Do Bears Attack & Eat Deer?

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Bears both hunt, attack, and eat deer. In fact, it is common prey for bears to hunt. While most bears prefer to eat berries, plants, insects, and fish, they do also frequently eat deer.

The diet of bears varies greatly depending on several things, such as the species, time of year, and location.

Most bears are omnivores and feed on both plants and meat, which diminishes the amount of meat they eat, and hence the prey they need to kill.

But how much of that is deer?

In this article, we’ll discuss the relationship between bears and deer, and how much deer bears really eat.

Do Bears Eat Deer?

Yes, bears do eat deer. However, the majority of their diet actually plants. Bears are omnivores and feed on both meat and plants. In the summertime, when plants are less accessible, they may prey more on deer.

While bears are hunters and predators, most bears prefer to feed on vegetation such as berries. These are full of calories, sugar, and vitamins.

When they do hunt, they hunt for a very wide array of prey, such as:

  • Ungulates (including deer)
  • Fish
  • Insects
  • Small mammals
  • And more

Black bears in Yellowstone National Park have been observed primarily eating berries, roots, grasses, and insects.[1]

The majority of a bear’s diet (up to 90%) consists of plant matter. So while bears will certainly hunt down and eat deer if given the opportunity, they’re far from exclusively meat-eaters.

As mentioned, this very much depends on species. Polar bears almost only eat meat, while Panda bears only eat plants.

polar bear eating

Do Bears Eat White-Tailed Deer & Fawns?

Bears do eat white-tailed deer and fawns. Bears prey on the young because it is easier for them to catch than an adult, which can be more agile and dangerous. 

However, bears have no problem taking down either one. Very few prey animals can put up a fight against a bear, as they use their large paws, claws, and teeth to take down prey.

Bears may also scavenge on leftovers from other predators. Ungulates make up the majority of a wolf’s diet[2], which makes their leftovers ideal for bears looking for some meat.

White-Tailed Deer

Do Black Bears Eat Deer?

Yes, black bears do eat deer. However, the majority of their diet is actually plant-based. 

Black bears are omnivores and feed on both meat and plants. Up to 90% of a black bear’s diet consists of plant matter.

They typically prey more in the summer, when plants are less accessible compared to the spring.

Deer carcasses left by black bears showed several puncture wounds and lacerations, as the bears used their claws to kill the prey.[3]

black bear walking on the road

Do Grizzly Bears Eat Deer?

Grizzly bears do eat deer for certain, but they still only make up a smaller part of their diet. 

One major difference between grizzly bears and black bears is that grizzlies actively hunt for ungulates, including deer, elk, moose, and bison.

While their diet is still largely plant-based, they do frequently take part in feasting on deer meat. They both hunt the deer themselves or scavenge for leftovers from other predators.

One study shows how grizzly bears ate 25% increased deer meat when it was easily accessible.[4]

bear eating eat on the rock

Do Bears Hunt & Kill Deer?

Some bears do actively hunt and kill deer[1]. However, their diet is actually more plant-based than meat-based. 

Bears have been known to kill deer, but it’s not common for them to do so. Many bears are scavengers and are more interested in feasting on carcasses than hunting down live prey.

Multiple research groups have found dead deer carcasses with lacerations from bears though.[5]

How Do Bears Hunt Deer?

Bears attack and hunt using their claws. Their prey is typically clawed and mauled. Another frequently used method for smaller animals is to kill them by breaking their spine and neck. 

Bears have an extremely strong sense of smell, which allows them to find their prey from a great distance. They also rely on their keen eyesight to spot deer in the forest.

When they do get their hands on larger prey, they will attack from the rear and proceed to claw them.

Bears typically kill more deer in the summer when plants are less accessible. In the winter, they feed mostly on stored food sources like nuts and berries.

bear hunting in the field

What Do Bears Typically Eat?

Bears’ diet is very dependent on the season, but they are typically omnivores. They eat more plants in the spring, meat in the summer, and sprouting berries in the fall.

The diet of different species vary greatly, but most bears eat the following:

  • 60-90% of Plants (vegetation, berries, and similar)
  • 10-40% Meat (small mammals, insects, fish, and ungulates)

There are exceptions to this, as Polar bears almost exclusively eat meat, and the Panda bears only eat plants.

Related: What do bears eat?

Plants

A bear’s diet consists mostly of plants[6]. While they do eat meat, they do not rely on it as their main source of food. Plants provide them with a greater variety and make up the vast majority of their calories. 

The average bear’s diet consists of about 65% vegetation including berries, fruits, and vegetables such as corn. They also feed on nuts, seeds, anything else they can find.

Bears are very fond of sugar, which is one of the reasons they eat a lot of berries. This is also the reason why they eat honey.

Meat

Bears prefer to eat insects, fish, birds, ungulates, and small mammals. This includes: 

  • Salmon
  • Deer
  • Moose
  • Elk
  • Ground squirrels
  • Mice
  • Bison
  • Rabbits
  • And other similar animals

These animals are usually easy to catch and the meat is high in protein.

Bears Preserve the Deer They Kill

If bears don’t eat all of their prey, they will preserve it using foliage and moss. They cover it up to the best of their ability to keep it hidden from other scavengers.

Most predators and scavengers have an excellent sense of smell. That way, they can quickly identify food sources. Hence, bears bury the carcasses of their prey under leaves, branches, and moss. 

This way, the meat will stay fresh longer, and stay hidden from predators.

What Other Animals Eat Deer?

Bears are far from the only animals to eat deer. Ungulates are a popular food source of many predators and scavengers. Especially the weaker and older animals are favored, as they’re easier to catch.

Wolves

Wolves primarily feed on ungulates, such as deer[3]

They commonly feed on the flesh of young deers that die during the birth season, or old, slow, and weak deer.

When wolves hunt, they hunt in packs. They have great stamina and will tire out their prey until they can surround it. They’ll then pounce, tearing into their shoulders and flanks with their sharp teeth and powerful bite.

wolves hunting as predators

Coyotes

Coyotes are opportunistic predators and scavengers. They’re mostly scavengers and will take advantage of an easy meal left behind by bears or wolves.

As coyotes are solitary hunters, they have a more difficult time taking down larger prey.

coyote alone in the wild

Humans

Deer have been hunted by humans for many years. While most people don’t eat deer on a daily basis, many people enjoy the taste of the game.

While you can buy deer meat, it’s not as accessible as beef, pork, or chicken, which is why it’s not commonly eaten in most homes.

deer hunter

Conclusion

Bears do eat deer, but the majority of their diet comes from plants. Different bear species have different diets. Among all bears, grizzlies prey the most on deer. They’re larger, and hence have an easier time taking them down.

Bears typically prey more in the summer, when plants are less accessible compared to the Spring. 

Research indicates that bears consume a variety of different plant species, including grasses, herbs, fruits, berries, and nuts. While they do eat meat, it only makes up a small percentage of their diet. 

As a result, hunting is not the primary focus of bears.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.

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