UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
Folks, believe it or not, but spring has arrived! After the long and grueling winter we all endured, I think we all deserve a little warm weather and sunshine. For the serious bowhunter, though, there really is no offseason. However, let’s be honest, spring and summer is the sexiest time of year for a deer manager. From planting food plots, to glassing for velvet bucks, this is the time of year we live for (well, second to hunting season anyway)! Putting out trail cameras, and one of my personal favorites, establishing and maintaining mineral stations, it’s this time of year where we invest the most sweat into our craft.
For as long as I can remember and before that, Deer hunters and managers have used mineral supplements and attractants on their hunting property. It’s common knowledge that deer are attracted to salt, especially during the spring and summer when plants and vegetation posses their highest levels of potassium. 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 thus making it easier to conduct inventory and surveys of your local deer herd.
Many deer managers utilize minerals as a part of their QDM plan. Many mineral supplements on the market today offer important minerals and nutrients (calcium, phosphorous, zinc, protein, etc.) that help bucks grow bone and lactating does produce milk. As mentioned, they are also great for trail camera surveys to determine buck to doe ratio, fawn recruitment rates, and overall herd health.
Creating a Mineral Station
The process of creating, establishing, and maintaining a mineral site is relatively easy and won’t break your bank. Regardless if you choose to buy “buck on the bag” 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. This is how you do it.
First, you need to decide on a location. You want your mineral stations to be in areas deer frequent often so you can get the most out of your mineral site. Creating your mineral site out in the middle of an open oak flat will attract some deer, of course, but not nearly as effectively as if it were strategically located on your property.
Spring is finally here! Now is the perfect time to fire up your mineral stations and start taking inventory of your deer herd, while providing them with added nutrition at the same time.
When deciding where to create your mineral sites, think of the same locations where you would want to hunt those deer. 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. For example, an area where two or more trails intersect in between a bedding area and food source is fantastic. Similarly, pinch points, bottlenecks 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, near a food plot or other sustainable food or water source would be a great option as well. Like standing sites, considering access is important when building your mineral site as well. You want to be able to quickly and quietly access your mineral station to freshen the site, or to change camera cards without alerting any deer.
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 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 minerals have a habitual taste additive in their minerals that should suffice.
Timing is Everything
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 it 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 won’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. 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 1pm. During the heat of summer, this means a hot and sweaty walks through the woods, but it’s worth it because I know I won’t be educating any deer to my presence. I also wear rubber boots and spray down completely with a scent eliminator. I have found this makes a tremendous difference, particularly with bucks.
Trail cameras and mineral stations go hand in hand. Use them together to learn the most about your deer herd during the spring and summer.
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 allow me to visit my hunting property at my leisure. Since most hunters aren’t that lucky, 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 that’s not a realistic strategy for your situation, don’t sweat it. However, I do believe it can make a significant difference if applicable to your situation.
Nutritional Benefits of Mineral Sites
If you’re at all familiar with minerals and mineral sites, then you’re surely aware that salt is the primary ingredient in most mixes. In fact, salt is used solely as an attractant in many mixes. While deer do need some salt, too much salt can be a bad thing, especially during spring and summer. It is during this time when plants and vegetation are at their most desirable state to a whitetail. Those plants are 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 consume 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.
If possible, leave your trail camera on the same mineral site throughout the spring and summer to watch the deer grow. I captured over 1000 images of this buck last summer, and those photos helped me pattern this deer going into the hunting season.
Trail Camera Inventory
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of maintain a mineral site is placing 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 also does and fawns as well, utilize the minerals you’ve placed for them and incorporate said minerals into their daily routine. Throughout the summer, I also get several other visitors at my mineral sites including foxes, coyotes, black bears, raccoons, and turkeys. It’s interesting to watch how these animals behave during the summer when we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see them.
In addition, if your trail cameras have video mode, then you can watch deer interact with one another at the mineral site. There are few things more enjoyable than watching a mature buck in velvet waddle through the woods, or watch two fawns play tag while their mother stares at them with a stern look of disapproval. Video mode can be extremely beneficial with mature bucks because you can learn a lot about his personality, aggression levels, and social status; traits that can help you hunt that same deer during the fall.
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.
A final positive of mineral stations is that they attract nearly all the wildlife in your area. I was fortunate enough to capture this image of a big black bear last summer as he investigated a new mineral site.
With May underway, and June right around the corner, it’s certainly not too late to start your first mineral site. If you’ve already started one, then don’t forget to follow the above tips to when freshening your sites to ensure that your deer continue to use them. Minerals provide deer manager with a wide variety of information and intelligence that can not only make us better hunters, but stewards of the land as well, and it’s something I recommend everyone who has the ability to give them a try.