By Cody Altizer
It’s that time of year, ladies and gentlemen! The days are getting longer, the grass is getting a little green, and turkey season is right around the corner (or even going on right now in some areas)! Folks, believe it or not, spring has arrived! For the serious bowhunter, there really is no offseason. We all know that. However, let’s be honest, we are pretty limited in our hunting related activities during the winter. Sure, we can hunt for sheds and do some hinge cutting, but spring and summer is when the real fun begins. Scouting, food plots, glassing for velvet bucks, and putting out trail cameras are all on the to-do list. But one of my personal favorites is establishing and maintaining mineral stations and we’ll be diving deeper into that today.
Mineral supplements and attractants have been used by deer hunters and managers for many years for a variety of reasons. First, it’s common knowledge that deer are attracted to salt, especially during the spring and summer when plants and vegetation possess high levels of potassium. And since most mineral supplements and attractants have at least a trace of salt (it doesn’t take much to attract a whitetail) deer become easier to capture on trail cameras when mineral stations are placed in front of them. Using minerals this way makes it easier to conduct trail camera surveys of your local deer herd and help you get an idea of the “inventory” available on your property. These trail camera surveys are also great for determining buck to doe ratio, fawn recruitment rates, and overall herd health.
In addition to that, many deer hunters also utilize minerals as a part of their Quality Deer Management (QDM) plan as a way to benefit overall herd health. Many mineral supplements on the market today offer vital minerals and nutrients (calcium, phosphorous, zinc, protein, etc.) that aid in antler growth among bucks and the lactation process among does.
Creating a Mineral Station
Fortunately, creating, establishing, and maintaining a mineral site is relatively easy work and won’t break your bank. Whether you choose to buy popular name brand minerals, or create your own mix at your local co-op store, you can begin attracting and inventorying the deer on your property in no time. Here’s how.
First and foremost, you need to decide on a location. This is an obvious first step, but a first step that should not be overlooked or lazily decided upon. You want your mineral stations to be in areas deer frequent often so you can maximize the site’s effectiveness and attractiveness. Locating your mineral site out in the middle of an open oak flat will attract some deer, yes, but not nearly as effectively as if it were strategically located on your property.
When deciding where to create your mineral sites, think of locations where you would hang a treestand, and think similarly. Again, you want your site to be frequented often, so you want to put your site in areas that deer congregate and in areas in which they feel safe. These locations could include heavily used deer trails, especially where two or more trails intersect. Similarly, pinch points, bottle necks and funnels are a great place to establish a mineral site. Close to bedding areas or in thick, brushy overgrown locations where deer feel safe are other great choices. Finally, a food plot or other sustainable food or water source would be a great option as well.
Once you’ve decided where you want to create your mineral lick, it’s time to establish it. This is a very easy process. Once you’ve decided on your choice minerals simply dig a small hole (no more than a couple inches deep) or use a rake to loosen the topsoil in the ground, and add your minerals. I’ve heard of several hunters and deer managers adding molasses, sugar, or other sweeteners in with their minerals for the first application, but I don’t think that’s completely necessary. I’m sure it works, but nearly all mineral sites have a habitual taste additive in their minerals that should suffice.
I recommend creating your mineral sites in late winter and early spring. If you already have an established mineral site, this would be the time to freshen them up as well. A whitetail will be lacking key nutrients at this time, and providing them with an added nutritional boost before spring green up can make a tremendous impact in the health and antler growth for bucks, and for does carrying fawns.
Since deer food is scarce this time of year, it also gives your deer an added reason to stay on your property, rather than relocating to your neighbors in search of the needed nutrients. Once the deer become comfortable and accustomed to a mineral site, they’ll visit it nearly year round, keeping bucks on your property, and not your neighbors.
Maintaining a Mineral Station
Once you’ve created your mineral lick, the majority of your work is done. It shouldn’t take the deer very long to locate and begin using it. In fact, that process can all take place in less than a day if the site has been properly located. However, if you want your site to receive extended, continual use, especially by mature bucks, there are a few steps that need to be mentioned.
To begin with, your site needs to be freshened. If you let your mineral site sit idle for an entire spring and summer deer will gradually use it less and less. Sure, rain showers help seep the minerals into the soil and the deer will still visit your site to retrieve the minerals out of the dirt, but your site wouldn’t be reaching its full potential.
I like refreshing my mineral sites every 3 weeks to a month. This keeps them attractive and keeps the deer interested in them. To refresh a mineral site, I just repeat the same process as when I created the site. I dump out my minerals and rake them into the dirt. The time in which you refresh your mineral sites, however, is of the utmost importance.
As most serious bowhunters know, deer can become educated very easily, and carelessly visiting your mineral sites is a great way to turn your deer nocturnal, or to keep them from visiting your site period. To prevent this from happening, I only refresh mineral sites during the middle of the day, usually around 12 or 1. During the heat of summer, this means a hot, sweaty, snakey walk through the woods, but it’s worth it because I know I won’t be educating any deer to my presence, at least not too much. I also wear rubber boots and spray down completely with a scent eliminator. I have found this makes a tremendous difference, particularly with bucks. If possible, I also try to refresh my mineral sites on a weekday. I’m very blessed to have a job where I work from home and it allows me to visit my hunting property at my leisure. Since most hunters aren’t afforded that luxury, they are resigned to the weekends to work on projects on their hunting property. By refreshing my sites on a weekday, I leave my property completely untouched on the weekends. That way, when other hunters are busy tramping through the woods, my property will serve as a refuge or sanctuary, thus increasing their comfort and security level with my property reinforcing it as a safe location.
If you have any familiarity with minerals and mineral sites, then you’re sure to know that salt is the primary ingredient in most mixes. In fact, salt is used solely as an attractant in many mixes. Yes, deer need some salt, but too much salt can be a bad thing too, especially during spring and summer. It is during this time when plants and vegetation are at their most desirable state to a whitetail. They’re delicious, nutritious, palatable, and abundant. It’s no coincidence, however, that deer are drawn like magnets to mineral mixes heavy in salt content during this time of year. Since most of a deer’s diet revolves around lush, green browse this time of year they derive a healthy amount of potassium from those plants. Further, since potassium and salt work harmoniously in balance with one another, deer become drawn to salty mineral mixes and attractants.
This will result in a lot of traffic and trail camera pictures at your mineral site, but an excess of salt can limit a whitetail’s nutritional intake. Deer that frequent mineral mixes with an excess of salt consume an excess of salt. This excess of salt in turn makes a deer incredibly thirsty driving it to water sources more than usual. The majority of a whitetail’s water intake should come from the vegetation it consumes. However, when it’s forced to drink more water than usual, the water then occupies space in the whitetail’s stomach that should be used for nutritional, protein packed deer foods this time of year. That said, when choosing a mineral avoid any that are too heavily composed of salt.
Trail Camera Inventory
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of maintaining a mineral site is using your trail cameras to inventory the bucks using the mineral site and watching them grow throughout the spring and summer. It’s very rewarding to watch not only bucks, but does and fawns as well, utilize the minerals you’ve placed for them and incorporate said minerals into their daily routine. Not to mention, if your trail cameras have video mode, like many offered in the Stealth Cam line, then you can watch deer interact with one another at the mineral site. Video mode can be extremely beneficial when capturing bucks because you can learn a lot about his personality, aggression levels, and social status.
I’ve had great success working mineral sites and trail cameras together during the summer to gain a better understanding of what deer are using my property during the summer. I also use the information I gather from the photos to determine how many does I should try and harvest off the property the following fall, and what the fawn recruitment rate is for the particular year. Logging all of this data into a journal or spreadsheet will further enhance the benefits from running trail cameras and mineral sites together.
With spring on our door step, it’s certainly not too late to start your first mineral site. If you’ve already started one, then don’t forget to properly freshen it up throughout the spring and summer to ensure deer continue using it. Minerals and mineral sites provide a deer hunter and manager with a plethora of information and intelligence that can make us better hunters and stewards of the land, and it’s something I would recommend to anyone who has the ability to give them a try. At the very least, it’s a fun way to kill time until fall arrives. And after all, isn’t that what we’re all waiting for anyway?