Early-season damage to corn by deer
RL (Bob) Nielsen, Extension Agronomist, Department of Agronomy, Purdue University
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are among the common mammal pests of corn in Indiana. The sight of deer grazing in harvested fields for dropped ears of corn is quite common in the fall, but these animals are also attracted to corn fields at other times of the year and can leave permanently damaged plants in their wake.
Early in the growing season, deer will sometimes feed on the whorls or tops of young plants in mid- to late June (about leaf stage V10 or roughly 30 inches tall) when the immature tassel down in the whorl is 4 to 6 inches long. Rather than actually eat the whorl leaves, the deer are apparently drawn to the succulent, moist immature tassel. The result are decapitated plants whose young whorl leaves have simply been pulled out and (I can only imagine) the tassel somehow chewed out and eaten. The mostly intact whorl leaves are left behind on the ground along with the tell-tale evidence of hoof prints and deer scat. The decapitated plants usually survive and ear development will continue through pollination and on to maturity, though the ears are usually less than full size owing to the fact that most of the photosynthetic leaf area above the ears is missing.
For more information and photos, see my lengthier article online at Decapitation of Corn Plants by Deer