After a through and exhaustive search, I am here to declare once and for all that hunting whitetails is hard. While that may be surprising to some—the ones lucky enough to walk out their first time with a bow or gun and a shiny new hunter education card and wallop a monster—to many it is knowledge earned after exhaustive hours in the field.
And would you really want it to be easy? If everyone went out and shot a Booner their first day, how much fun would it be? (Although after 20-plus years, I think I should have earned at least one gimme.) After all, it is the allure of harvesting something rare and unique, a trophy like no other, that keeps our blood boiling and separates the hunters from those who merely hike with weapons in the whitetail woods.
Accepting the challenge is certainly different from not doing everything possible to increase your odds. At the very least, you’ll want to do everything you can to maximize the size of the trophy. Either way, the challenge is the same, but what if the same animal were say 10 to 15 percent larger… Ten to 15 percent is quite a claim and has raised more than one eyebrow in the past and for good reason. Miracle claims from products that have disappointed more often than not bombard us. I have seen deer walk past salt licks, and what I thought was a fine four-course meal (for a deer). However, I have also seen the crater left behind where a mineral block used to reside with a freeway-sized path of hoof prints leading to it from every direction.
Mineral supplements are no different. The formulas have been proven to work on penned deer under controlled conditions. However, we do not hunt penned deer nor under controlled conditions. So, what is the effect on a herd of deer in the wild? The exact same, but much more dispersed. I am sure you have heard the claims that you will be contributing the health of the entire herd not just a particular deer, which is true but begs the question of how much good are you doing for the investment. Now, to be clear, that does not mean tossing out a bag of minerals now and then will inoculate your local herd like magic beans and make them suddenly bigger.
It is more like, well, supplements…vitamins, a boost to compensate for something they may be missing in a particular area. This means a little work on your part. Step one is to check the laws in your area of course. Mineral supplements concentrate deer in a particular area. This may be harmful to herds suffering from Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) or other diseases spread by the use of a common area. It can also be illegal for other reasons, primarily baiting during certain times of the year.
However, that is the exception not the rule. In most areas, it is perfectly legal to supplement with a few groceries—at least up until a specified period before the hunting season. In other areas, they call it something more creative. One state I hunted, it was illegal to feed the deer, but you could plant milo for the quail. The craziest thing happened though; the deer seemed to enjoy dining on the quail’s milo more than the quail did. Not that I would recommend milo as a strategy, however check with your local game and fish department. Many will offer creative solutions, approved by the state wildlife agency and without running afoul of any laws.
Mineral supplements provide vitamins such as A, D3 and E; minerals such as calcium, phosphorous and salt, most importantly a strong supply of needed micro minerals such as copper, iodine, zinc and selenium. Topping it all off is the secret ingredient. It’s not really a secret, it’s artificial flavoring. The stuff that makes it taste good.
That’s the secret to getting the deer close, it is also the reason you’ll need to do some homework. Not all deer crave the same food. Some flavors will mimic foods naturally found in your area; others may provide something the deer can only get from you. The thing to do is buy a few small quantities of different brands or flavors. Place each in a different area and monitor it with a quality trail camera. Because deer typically feed at night, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the cameras with a good IR sensor.
After that, all you need to do is sit back and see what critters are roaming your area. This provides a great opportunity to catalog your local bucks, determine travel routes and train the deer to use the ground you want them to use. Best of all, you will actually be lending a hand at improving the health of the herd and in time assisting the antler production local bucks. Once you determine the preferred vitals for the buck or bucks in your area, exploit it and you may well have the opportunity to offer the buck a ride in the back of truck later in the season.
Which brings us back to the original question, “Are mineral supplement worth the investment?” That is a very personal question. You can increase antler size. Science has proven that. Does should be dropping fawns anytime now, and like any momma after birth, they need to replace many nutrients and provide high quality milk that increase the fawns’ odds of survival. Mineral supplements can do that. What mineral supplements cannot do is substantially grow the bucks in your area beyond the genetics. Illinois may have a lot of behemoths running around, but let’s face it, after a few bags of minerals, you are not going to suddenly start seeing a bunch 200-inch class bucks in Alabama. I have talked to ranch and game managers in Alabama, Illinois, Texas, Colorado and many other states. Supplemental feed and minerals have proven to work in all of them with increased overall antler production, but you’ll have to put in the work and now is the time to start deploying the minerals, long before the start of the hunting season.