Putting out minerals for whitetails is a popular strategy used by hunters to either aid in herd health or attract deer to a particular location. But can minerals actually achieve these goals? The research isn’t always 100% clear. Here’s what we know, what we don’t, and a few things to keep in mind this year if you plan to use minerals as a tool on your deer hunting property.
1. Minerals benefit deer health and antler growth (we think). There is no verified research with free ranging whitetails that proves that supplemental minerals improve whitetail health or antler production. But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and theory that makes most biologists and experts believe that there is some positive effect on whitetails when minerals are provided. There certainly doesn’t seem to be a downside, so in most cases it’s recommended if you have the luxury and resources available to supply additional minerals.
In addition, the basic biology of whitetail antlers suggests that there should be some kind of correlation between mineral availability and antler production. According to a QDMA article by Brad Howard and QDMA CEO Brian Murphy, “A University of Georgia study (Miller et al. 1985) detected 11 different minerals in the whitetail’s antlers. In addition to calcium (19.01 percent) and phosphorous (10.13 percent), the next two most common elements reported in the Georgia study were magnesium (1.09 percent) and sodium (0.50 percent). Lesser amounts of other minerals were found including potassium, barium, iron, aluminum, zinc, strontium, and manganese.Clearly minerals are important in antler development. Because of the large quantities of minerals required for antler growth, whitetails actually deposit calcium and phosphorous in their skeletons prior to the onset of antler growth and then transfer these minerals during active growth (Stephenson and Brown 1984). However, these body sources of calcium and phosphorous provide only a portion of that needed for optimum antler growth. The remainder must come directly from their diet while their antlers are actively growing. Therefore, supplementation of these minerals prior to and during antler growth may be beneficial.”
Long story short, while it hasn’t be proven yet, given the fact that we know minerals are important to antler development, it makes sense that increasing their availability for a whitetail herd is a good thing.
2. Calcium, phosphorus, and sodium are key.
Calcium and Phosphorus are the two most prevalent minerals in antlers, so it makes sense that these two minerals should be included in any supplement you provide. The next most important item is salt. This is mostly because salt is the major attractor for deer.
When considering a supplement to use, these key minerals should be focused on. According to that same QDMA article, there are a few key points to remember when considering mineral supplement composition: “The first is the calcium to phosphorus ratio. The mix should contain as much of these minerals as possible while containing enough salt to encourage use by deer. In general, there should be at least 1.5–2.0 times as much calcium as phosphorus. This is the approximate ratio of these minerals in mature antlers.”
That being said, trace minerals (all those other minerals in small amounts above) are important too, and in some cases could be the minerals that whitetails are lacking the most in their habitat. So be sure to find a supplement that contains these as well. According to a Grant Woods article, Trophy Rock contains some 60+ trace minerals and is a great option, along with other supplements such as Whitetail Institute’s 30-06.
3. Mineral sites attract deer. This probably goes without saying, but it’s worth mentioning again. Mineral sites are tremendous attractants for whitetails, especially during the spring and summer months. Put a couple out, throw a trail camera or two up and you will be sure to get some great pictures. Regardless of the nutritional impact, mineral sites are a great way to draw deer into a location for trail cameras. There's no debating that.
4. Minerals are only one part of the equation. Minerals or any other supplement for that matter are only one small part of the equation for those looking to improve the health and quality of your deer herd. I believe it was put best in a chapter of the book “Quality Whitetails: The Why and How of Quality Deer Management”
“Even if it ultimately proves beneficial, mineral supplementation is only one of several important factors (including age structure, genetic quality, population density, and food quality) that must be managed to produce a quality herd. Assuming all these variables are optimized, mineral supplementation may be the final factor that boosts antler quality from good to superior.”
Feature image via Matt Hansen.