Deer poop is normally called “droppings” because they’re small pellets that the animal deposits in large numbers. They look very similar to the popular candy Raisinettes. That is, they’re about the size of a raisin with an ovular shape like an almond. They’re greenish brown and may have bits of plant matter visible.
Knowing your way around a deer dropping is an important skill for a hunter, but even if you’re not hunting deer, any wildlife enthusiast or person with deer on their property can benefit from knowing what deer droppings mean.
Let’s go through what to look for when analyzing deer droppings and what that can tell you about the deer around you, from their eating and movement habits to their recent whereabouts. Then, to make sure you’ve really found deer droppings, we’ll go over the scat of other animals and how to tell it apart from deer poop.
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What Features of Deer Poop Should You Pay Attention To?
While deer droppings all follow a general pattern, there can actually be quite a bit of variety when it comes to certain features like size and shape. Learning what these features are and what they indicate can help you track deer, manage a herd on your property and, of course, hunt.
Size is one of the first things you’ll notice when examining deer droppings. They’re usually about half an inch in diameter, but you may find larger, longer droppings. This actually doesn’t really indicate the size of the deer but rather its diet.
When deer eat fibrous foods like leaves and nuts, the droppings are small and round. However, in the summer and fall when they’re eating a lot of fruit to prepare for winter, their poop is more likely to clump together and produce long droppings.
Shape is usually directly related to size. Smaller droppings are round while larger ones are bullet or cone shaped.
Again, this reflects their diet. Deer chewing on a lot of grass, bark or acorns will produce nearly perfectly round pellets. This is more common in the winter when food is scarce and deer eat what they can find.
Deer eating your persimmon feed will poop the cones. This is more common in the summer when they have a lot of succulent food to eat.
Deer poop is almost always green or brown with the occasional black droppings. The color itself is an indicator of the deer’s diet. More green means more green plant matter, of course, like grass or leaves. More brown indicates other dietary sources like fruits and nuts.
The shade of green or brown can also indicate how long it’s been since the deer laid the scat. Darker colors mean it was more recent while lighter colors mean the poop has dried and the deer is probably long gone.
Plain and simple, the location of deer poop indicates that the deer was, well, there. At the very least, you know the area is a place deer pass through.
However, just like you feel a bowel movement coming on after a big lunch, deer tend to poop at the same time that they eat. If you find deer droppings in an open area, it’s likely that it’s a deer grazing area and a smart place to hunt.
Deer may also poop in their bedding area. The best way to determine if deer poop is in their feeding area or bedding area has to do with the amount, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Otherwise, bedding areas tend to be more well hidden and less open than grazing areas.
The number of pellets in a pile of droppings is the only real way to tell the size of the animal. Quite simply, all else being equal, a bigger deer will eat more and therefore produce more scat.
Of course, there are no definitive numbers or ways to tell, say, a trophy buck from a small doe. For whatever reason, an enormous buck may simply not have eaten much lately and therefore have produced a smaller pile of poop. Additionally, a deer may have pooped multiple times in the same place making it appear larger than it actually is.
For these reasons, you’re better off paying attention to patterns than any one-time count. For example, if you consistently find fresh piles of scat much larger than any others around in a feeding area frequented by a herd, this may be a buck that’s staked out that territory.
On top of the number of pellets, you can also learn some things about the deer by the number of piles themselves. On average, deer poop 13 times a day, so you can kind of get a feel for the number of deer in the herd based on the number of piles of scat. Just a few piles could indicate a few deer or even just one while dozens is good evidence of a large herd.
Similarly, the number of piles can indicate the activity of the deer in the area. As we mentioned before, you can partially determine whether you’ve found a feeding or bedding area based on the amount of scat.
Specifically, if it’s a bedding area, the deer will probably poop repeatedly in the exact same place. In fact, it may even look like one big pile if you can’t tell the difference by color or shape. Meanwhile, feeding area droppings will be more spread out since the deer are moving around as they graze.
You probably don’t want to go smooshing deer poop between your fingers—especially since it could potentially carry disease—but believe it or not, some serious hunters actually do. Even if that’s not your style, you can still gauge the temperature by waving your hand near it or, at least in the winter, noting the amount of steam wafting off it.
As you can guess, warmer, steamier poop means it’s been laid more recently. The deer is probably still in the area. Fully cooled scat, however, means the deer left a long time ago.
The consistency of the poop will tell you even more about the deer’s diet. Firm droppings mean the deer is eating denser food. This could be twigs and leaves or even deer feed like oats and corn. On the other hand, droppings that are mushy and soft mean the deer has been eating things that are, well, mushy and soft. This means fruit like persimmons or peaches that you probably put out for them.
Consistency could also reflect how recently the deer was in the area. Drier scat means the deer left the droppings a while ago. Moist scat, though, means the deer left the droppings relative recently and could still be nearby.
You can gauge the level of moisture by paying attention to the sheen of the droppings. If they still have water left in them, they’ll have a moist sheen that shines and glistens. Dry droppings will noticeably lack any trace of water.
Other Animal Droppings That Can Be Mistaken for Deer Poop
As a close relative of whitetail and mule deer, elk droppings are arguably the easiest poop out there to mistake for deer. They have the same almond shape and the same green or brown color, though they may be a bit darker.
The main difference is size. While whitetail deer droppings max out at about half an inch in diameter, elk droppings are about twice the size at an inch in diameter. You may also more easily be able to see the contents of the scat and the food eaten.
Also in the cervidae family with deer and elk, moose produce similar greenish brown pellets. Moose, however, are very large animals and so is their poop. It will at least be an inch in diameter and probably much larger.
Additionally, unlike deer and elk, moose are solitary animals. It’s unlikely you’ll find multiple piles of moose droppings in the same place.
Goats are also ungulates and eat virtually the same diet as deer—plus a bunch of other stuff—so their droppings are almost identical. You can tell them apart because goat droppings are smaller and often more numerous. You may also find bits of food deer don’t eat like human trash.
Rabbits also poop pellets, so at first glance, they can seem similar to deer droppings. However, they’re actually quite different. Rabbit droppings are smaller and almost perfectly round, unlike the almond shape of deer droppings. They’re much firmer as well.
You may also come across poop from other animals like raccoons, foxes, coyotes, bobcats and bears. These animals are all carnivores and they’re droppings are not very similar to deer droppings.
In fact, they don’t really produce “droppings” at all. Since they eat irregularly and don’t consume much plant matter, their scat is more like human poop: long cylinders laid two or three at a time.
Be Careful When Analyzing Scat
Animal droppings can tell you a lot about the animals, but it can also be dangerous. Depending on the animal, it can carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. It’s best to avoid touching deer droppings or other animal scat directly. If you do, use the proper protection like gloves and hand sanitizer.