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Do Deer Minerals Work?
Several large trophy bucks have been taken by deer hunters in areas of the country that don't typically hold large bucks. Some of the deer hunters claim they harvested a monster buck in an area known for pint-sized bucks because they fed the deer some type of mineral supplement. Deer minerals are gaining in popularity like food plots are. They go hand in hand. Many hunters who are trying to manage deer on their property are willing to do almost anything to grow large-racked bucks. Deer minerals like food plot seed can be expensive but most deer hunters don't mind. Deer minerals can be purchased in a powder form, rock form, or in a mineral lick (like a salt lick). Regardless of which type a deer hunter purchases, the promise is the same: feed deer a mineral and bucks will grow larger racks.
Dave Wheeler from Marvo Mineral, a dairy mineral company in Michigan, knows quite a bit about deer mineral supplementation. He also markets a product called Lucky Buck. Wheeler has decades of experience in the mineral industry and believes deer minerals can have a large impact on a bucks' antlers and the overall health of does. "There isn't a deer mineral on the market that is going to turn a small buck into a large one overnight but if deer hunters consistently feed a deer mineral, especially during the winter and spring, the deer will be healthier overall and the bucks will produce larger racks," Wheeler said.
The calling card in most deer minerals is sodium, but most companies put other minerals in their products that can help a bucks' rack grow. In most areas, whitetail deer can obtain most of their dietary requirements with the exception of sodium (Na) in most habitats. Whitetail deer and other herbivores require sodium for regulation of fluid volume and blood pressure; maintenance of osmotic balances and buffer systems and conduction of nerve impulses. Sodium is not readily available in the plant materials they consume since most plants don't require sodium. Therefore, deer actively seek sources of sodium. This salt drive is highest in deer during the spring and summer. The amount of water and potassium in the diet impacts the ability of the deer to retain sufficient sodium for metabolic needs.
During the spring, deer consume many plants that contain exceptionally high levels of water and potassium, causing a temporary sodium imbalance, resulting in development of the salt drive and the amazing results and activity we see at our deer mineral stations throughout our food plots. Research has shown that antler mineralization in whitetail deer reaches its peak during the late summer when sodium drive in bucks is strong. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that providing supplemental sodium and deer minerals during this time can be beneficial to deer.
In most areas, deer seldom move more than one mile for salt minerals. Providing a supplemental source of sodium mineral stations like salt blocks won't likely alter deer distribution to a great extent. However, it may attract deer from the local area (about 2 to 3 miles) to a specific site.
Much of Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa have soil that is rich in minerals which is part of the reason bucks that live in these states often grow large racks. In areas of the country that don't have great soil and high mineral content, bucks often have smaller racks. Dr. David Samuel, a noted deer biologist, says feeding deer minerals makes sense. "Feeding deer minerals that they lack in their natural diet can only help them," Samuel said. However, not all biologists and deer researchers agree that mineral supplementation can work.
Over the last several decades, biologists at Universities across the country have researched the effects deer mineral supplementation has on a bucks' rack. In most cases, they put deer in two pens. In one pen, the deer were feed their regular diet. In the other, the deer ate a mineral in addition to their regular diet. After a few years in most studies, researchers did not see a noticeable difference. Many biologists bring up the research every time a deer hunter brings up minerals. C.J. Winand, a biologist from Maryland, believes that deer minerals are hocus pocus. "All of the data available today says that deer mineral supplementation doesn't have a lasting impact on antler size. Research is being done regularly and until I see a study that shows that minerals help deer grow larger racks, I will continue to believe what I believe," Winand explained.
On the flip side, several well-known deer hunters say minerals work. Skipper Bettis from Legends Ranch in Bitely, Michigan operates a large high-fence hunting operation. He feeds his deer minerals in a pellet form to help boost antler growth. Feeding the deer the pellets costs the ranch lots of money, but according to Bettis, it is worth every dime. "We have done our research in collaboration with biologists from Texas. Our research indicates that deer mineral supplementation helps antler growth. If it didn't help, we wouldn't feed our deer pellets," Bettis noted. After spending a little time at the ranch, I can tell you they are doing something right. The bucks were enormous.
Another well-known deer hunter who doesn't get paid to endorse deer minerals but believes they work is Charlie Alsheimer. Alsheimer has a little over 30 acres enclosed in New York. He has a small number of whitetails in his enclosure that he photographs on a regular basis. His bucks show up on many magazine covers across the country. His deer eat better than most of us and Alsheimer is the first one to tell you minerals help deer, especially deer that don't have all the minerals they need in their diet. "When I feed the deer in my pen minerals, they usually walk right through the mineral and don't even touch it. They have a diet that is full of the minerals and nutrients they need because I feed them a special diet. On the other hand, when I feed wild deer a mineral a few feet away from my fence, they tear up the ground and eat every drop of mineral, which tells me that they aren't getting the diet they need and crave the mineral supplement. Deer know what they need in their diet. The deer inside the pen don't eat a mineral supplement because they don't need it. Wild deer need it," Alsheimer explained.
Dave Wheeler has a simple theory that makes sense to many people. "A bucks' rack is an unnecessary item that he doesn't need in order to survive. When his diet is lacking nutrients, the first thing that suffers is his rack. If his diet is complete and he's getting everything he needs, his rack will prosper," Wheeler noted. Wheeler also believes deer mineral supplements can help does. "When does are pregnant and lactating, the fawns take a lot out of them. Minerals help them stay healthy," Wheeler added.
Most experts who agree with deer mineral supplementation (and even those who don't) agree on one thing. If there is a key time of the year to feed deer minerals, it's during the winter and spring when bucks are growing antlers and does are nursing fawns. Deer hunters often do the opposite. "Our sales are at their peak during deer hunting season. Deer minerals work as a great attractant, but hunting season isn't the best time to feed deer minerals," Wheeler advised. If you purchase deer minerals during the hunting season, remember that one pail of deer minerals or one mineral block can last several months. If you plan to purchase a deer mineral to hunt near, the deer will probably still be feeding on it during the winter when they need it.
Remember that hunting over a deer mineral is just like hunting over bait. In many states, it's against the law. Some states allow people to feed deer year round for wildlife viewing. Read the rule book in your state to ensure that you are not breaking any laws if you plan to feed deer a mineral.
As with any debate, it's up to each individual deer hunter to decide if they believe feeding deer a mineral makes sense or if they think it is a waste of money. Many deer hunters are somewhere in the middle. It's interesting that many of the biologists who are skeptics feed deer a mineral supplement on the hunting properties they manage deer. Many of them agree that even though they don't believe minerals grow large deer racks, minerals can't hurt the deer. If it can't hurt them, feeding them a mineral makes sense because it is an attractant. Many deer hunters hang cameras over the mineral just to see the bucks in the area.
Many deer hunters who have harvested large bucks and fed deer minerals for several years believe it works. If you decide to feed deer minerals, realize that even the experts who think deer mineral supplementation works say it takes years to see a difference in a bucks rack. If you see a difference, it's often in mass; not in number of points. As with any style of deer management, it takes years to see anything help a herd. From food plots to deer minerals to selective harvest practices, trophy bucks take time to grow; they don't just grow a big rack overnight.