Science Behind The Need (or Not) for Deer Minerals



There is a big misunderstanding that minerals equal big antlers, which is not correct! The Buck Advisors’ Weston Schrank reveals the real science and reason for mineral stations for deer!

The marketing and old school first cubes and supplements created the vision in our mind buy setting two bucks out in front of us. A 150 3 year old, and a 120s 3 year old which actually was more like a good 2 year old, one of course with no minerals, one with. This has seemed to be stuck in the mind of every hunter. Minerals = bigger deer right? Yes but no, not in the sense that you think. Deer do pick up some trace minerals, and some of these minerals do help in the antler growing process but just because they have minerals does not mean they will grow bigger racks, not something that would be very noticeable to a hunter anyways. So why do we put out mineral stations for deer? Dive into this video to see the real science behind mineral stations for deer!

The fact is that deer get all the minerals and nutrients they need from the environment. Yes they can only grow antlers up to the mineral or nutrient that is most lacking, and they stop, they are held or capped off to the most limiting factor. But even in the harshest of a whitetails range, the nutrients and minerals are available, especially during spring and summer. Nutrients, minerals, plant growth, and nutrient absorption by deer are at the peak in spring and summer, but so is the real reason behind mineral stations…water and potassium. Deer get and metabolize most of their water from the plants they eat. With spring rains, plant cells, and the nutrient highway systems inside plants, the xylem tissue, deer get the nutrients and water they need from digesting spring and summer growth. But this creates another craving, the increased water and potassium uptake creates a sodium deficiency because of the potassium and water content in their diet. This craving for salt is why deer will dig out a pond under a salt block just to reach the leaching salt.

So are the minerals vital, or should you just put out a plain old salt block? Well to really determine this we need to figure out if the minerals are even that important. So you farmers out there, a lot of research is available for salt licks and more importantly minerals that suggest increased forage intake, reproductive success, and many other benefits of mineral supplementation for livestock and captive cervids, but not so much research has been on free ranging deer, and we all know that is a different ball game completely. Especially since they have a lot of access to quality forage in spring and summer.

 What we do know is that antlers are made of about 20% calcium and 10% Phosphorous together comprising of 30-35% in deer antlers like the other bones in deer body, but also many other elements. Deer have the ability to tap into their skeletal structure, actually shown to retrieve about 40% of their calcium needs from their skeletal structure in order to grow antlers. This is why we recommend most salt attractions or minerals of mineral stations for deer to contain around or more than 20% calcium and 8 % phosphorous in the mix. This is under the notion to supply whatever we can in a deer and habitat management program on your property to boost the little bit that it might in our deer herd.

 While we do supply this, it it’s really not known how much difference supplying some minerals in mineral stations for deer in the form of a block or granular bag can make in terms of antler development. So it goes back to how it makes us feel, we are supplying some vitamins, a little kick to our deer herd for lactating does and growing bucks. Now this is different than supplemental feeding, when we are supplying up to 20% protein feed or forage in the form of soybeans for bucks and does in the summer, that’s another topic for another day, we are staying focused on mineral stations for now. SO with this question still pertaining to salt and minerals what should you set out, just plain salt or salt with minerals, or more minerals than salt?

For that we can look at what actually happens when placing out a block or bag to explain what we should put out. Salt leaches out of the soil very fast, in some soils like sand up to 3 weeks the salt is leached down pretty far, for clay soils it might take several months, this is why deer will dig down in salt licks and under blocks, the calcium, phosphorous, zinc, selenium, and so on will stay at the top of the soil and leach slower in comparison. So have you ever noticed that after about a month or so deer usage and the actual digging of these sites will stop. Have you ever wondered why? The minerals, and nutrients are still sitting atop the soil in the first couple of inches? If they desired the minerals deer would still use it, but they dig to chase the salt, once it is leached to far down it becomes more work than reward. So if the deer really chase the salt, and the minerals in a bag or block are helping at minuscule at best, why are we putting out mineral stations for deer?

The number one reason for this is our desire to see velvet giants. The sodium deficiency that bucks operate on during the summer creates the perfect opportunity for a photo shoot. Placing out salt or mineral stations for deer and placing trail camera out over them is the best way to take inventory of your bucks throughout the summer.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be diving into mineral stations, this video is really to explain the science and meaning behind them before we dive into tactics. But one of the very next videos in this series is a test to show you a better idea of the theory and what product you should buy, we are setting up the big three, or the basic blocks you will find, a mineral station test, a block of salt, a livestock mineral block with less salt and more minerals, and a natural trophy rock with 90 percent salt, and 60 different trace minerals with but all low amounts, this is what you will see when walking into most stores, we are not going after the bags, we are not trying to create a mineral lick and big hole here since we hunt this small property, we are going to with the scenario of a small property hunter, taking inventory of bucks but still needing to hunt come fall around or near this site.  With that said we are going to show you which deer prefer in the way of mineral and salt blocks and produce the most results, again not in terms of inches of antler but preference of product to increase trail camera opportunities and take advantage of the salt craving.

So basically what you should take away from this, and a point that I want to end on is that at the end of the day so much more goes into the health of your deer herd, and the antlers of your buck. Age, nutrition, deer density, stress, a host of environmental factors, and so much more, how beneficial or drastic would a little rock with some minerals do for your herd? Chances are you have something that requires more attention but there is no doubt they are important for taking inventory and keeping tabs on your deer herd over the summer!

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