Deer need minerals just as we do. Yet, many cannot obtain all they need from nature; that’s where we come in. Mineral sites not only have the potential to improve the health of animals, but are also a superb way to keep deer hanging around your hunting grounds. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Deer use minerals heaviest during the spring and into the summer as their food’s moisture content is highest. If you plan on setting a mineral site, get it going as early as possible. Rejuvenate sites with an additional block or sprinkle of minerals mid to late summer.
Select a location that allows deer easy access but still offers cover to encourage daytime use. A spot just off main travel routes is tops. This allows deer to discover it more easily and feel secure. Avoid slopes, as minerals will most likely wash away. Depending on deer density and the size of your land, about one site per 50 to 100 acres is ideal. If you wish to draw deer from surrounding areas, two sites at opposite ends of your property is a good strategy.
For years, hunters carted heavy lumps of salt into the bush just before the hunting season. That’s a good start, but expect limited results. When using any mineral block, rock or brick, place a large flat rock under it to keep it off the soil, prolonging its effectiveness. Or wedge the block into an old stump. As minerals absorb into the wood over time, deer will eagerly chew the wood.
Stores have racks of commercial deer mineral mixes that offer specialized blends. Companies such as Big & J, Bio-Logic, Deer Cane, Primos, Trophy Rock, Wildgame Innovations and Whitetail Institute are solid ways to start.
No mixing, buy only as much as you need. You can also Do It Yourself.
Buy these ingredients in bulk from a farmer’s co-op or farm supply store:
The basic mix:
1 part dicalcium phosphate
1 part mixing salt
2 parts trace mineral salt
To start a new mineral lick site, mix about 5 litres or ¼ of a 20 litre pail. Store the rest in a cool, dry area.
Refreshing existing sites requires a bit less.
For commercial products, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. For the DIY mix, rake away all leaves, branches, and pine needles. Loosen the earth, then rake the soil flat. A typical site can be from 3 ft x 3 ft to 6 ft x 6 ft in size.
Dust a portion of the minerals over the loose soil and rake to work them into the earth. Repeat this process a few times to ensure the soil is rich with minerals. A litre or two of water can be washed over the site to start the leaching process. Over time, rain will help release the minerals into the soil and in turn allow the deer to extract them.
Dr. Grant Woods, of Reed Spring, Missouri, has been a consulting wildlife biologist for 28 years and is host of Growingdeer, a weekly web show. Woods is a strong advocate of Liebig’s law of the minimum, which focuses on the scarcest resources or limiting factors having the greatest impact on the growth of animals, deer in this case. This means mineral sites have the greatest impact in marginal lands where diversity in the ecosystem is limited. So, if you hunt the big woods along the Canadian Shield or your hunting ground isn’t richly diverse, the deer you hunt will benefit immensely.
Dr. Woods is a strong believer in the product Trophy Rock. Mined in Utah, it contains 60 trace minerals.
Keith Munro, the wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, concurs with Dr. Woods, but cautions that deer might not gravitate to a site in droves as they might be getting their mineral intake naturally. “Deer won’t benefit from calcium supplementation if they already have all the calcium they need,” explains Munro. “If you don’t see much interest in your mineral site, that might be why.”
Set up a trail camera. Small critters tend to have little interest, so all the action will be deer, the odd bear, or even a moose. An active mineral site is a perfect place to do an inventory of deer in the area and to watch antler growth throughout the summer.
Originally published in the June 2019 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine