You just finished up the late archery season a month or two ago, now what? Sleep in? Take a break? Relax? Heck, no! It’s time to get back into the woods and start preparing for the 2016 season.
Right now is a good time to establish a few mineral licks on your land or the property you hunt. Mineral licks are easy and inexpensive to make and maintain, and they serve two purposes. First, they provide minerals and vitamins for all the deer in the area, from bucks growing new antlers to pregnant does getting ready to birth fawns. Second, they are top spots to place trail cameras and monitor bucks throughout the late winter, spring and summer.
Science of Minerals
There is a great deal of scientific information available about minerals and how important they are to the cattle, sheep and goats that share the same range as deer herds, but very little has been scientifically documented about the importance of minerals as they pertain to free-ranging deer.
Studies that have been conducted with pen-raised deer are largely inconclusive. Separate projects completed at Penn State and Auburn University tracked two different groups of young bucks. In each study, one group of deer was fed a normal diet, while the second group’s feed was spiked with minerals. The researchers could find no discernible difference in antler growth between the groups from year to year.
In a similar study at Mississippi State, researchers did find a correlation between soil mineral content (primarily phosphorus) and the body size of bucks, though no direct link to antler size was found. Bucks supplemented with minerals grew a bit bigger and heavier than deer on a normal diet, but antler growth was the same.
With “hard” mineral evidence lacking as it pertains to the wild deer we hunt, is it really worth it to set out minerals? One of the country’s top ruminant nutritionists thinks so.
“As land managers and hunters, we supply minerals to herds for similar results in deer that we see in livestock that share the same environment,” says Dr. Brian Dorcey, a lifelong deer hunter who received his doctor of veterinary medicine from Iowa State. “Some of the well-documented benefits of supplying supplemental minerals in cattle, sheep and goats include increases in milk production, growth rate, ability to fight off disease, reproductive efficiency and ability to deal with stress. We believe the benefits of providing minerals to a deer herd can be seen in all aspects of a deer’s life.”
Top Camera Sites
From a hunting standpoint, the number one reason to establish mineral licks on your land is to get pictures of deer. Mineral licks make great camera hubs and allow you to take pictures and watch deer grow throughout the spring and summer. These hubs also allow you to start patterning deer in late summer.
On one of the farms I hunt in Virginia, my friend Jack and I have six licks strategically placed across 800 acres of woods. We begin replenishing these sites with minerals in spring and the deer hit them immediately. The bucks on this farm know where the licks are and have been checking them regularly for years.
In mid-June, when the new antlers are up and growing nicely, we start running trail cameras at all the licks and keep them rolling through late summer. During this timeframe we’ll get hundreds, if not thousands, of deer images. A little proof that minerals work? I think so.
Running cameras over our lick sites allows us to immediately see what kind of rack year it’s shaping up to be — something every bowhunter wants and needs to know. We wade through the picture mountain of does and young bucks and start focusing on mature deer. Any thick 8- or 10-pointer in the 130-inch class catches our eye, and we really hone in on the odd buck in the 140- to 150-inch class.
We start making notes on the big deer we’ve located at our licks, and the days, times and locations of their travels. We cross-reference our notes with a huge aerial photo of the property tacked on the camp wall and voila, the patterns of the bucks and where to hunt them begin to come into focus.
Which Minerals to Use
I know people that make homemade mineral concoctions of salt, di-calcium phosphate and other stuff and swear by it. These homemade brews are inexpensive as minerals go and I have no doubt they will attract deer to your cameras.
There are dozens of commercial minerals on the market formulated not only to attract deer, but also designed to provide deer with necessary health-boosting trace minerals. The three I have tried or heard good things about from hunters and deer managers I trust include are Whitetail Institute Imperial Minerals, Monster Raxx and Trophy Rock.
Recently, I have begun using Mineral Dirt 180 from Anilogics Outdoors, which contains a product called Anishield TX4, a “health pack” formulated to provide key minerals for the growth and health of does and bucks.
“We have performed tissue analysis on harvested animals that consumed Mineral Dirt 180, and it shows a superior tissue mineral profile in the supplemented animals versus animals that were not supplemented,” said Dr. Dorcey, who serves as a field specialist for Anilogics Outdoors.
How to Build a Lick
The ideal time to establish a new mineral site is late winter or early spring.
“You will see the highest usage of a mineral lick by deer during spring green up and lasting to about the first frost,” says Dorcey. Basically, mineral licks are a late-winter through late-summer game.
Place your licks strategically across the property you hunt. The corners and edges of crop fields and food plots are good spots, especially if thick cover abounds. All our licks are fairly close to main deer trails, where bucks can veer over to check them with minimal effort. Two of our best sites are near creek crossings back in the woods.
Look for a flat spot with a good tree for a camera within 10 to 12 feet. Clear a spot 6 to 8 feet in diameter and rake away old leaves and grass. The goal is to get down to the bare, fresh soil.
Apply and scatter a light coat of loose minerals. There is no set amount; sometimes we use a whole bag and sometimes half. I mix the minerals lightly into the dirt with a rake or my boots. Another method is to set a mineral block strategically in front of your trail camera.
We refresh our licks (and pull and replace our camera cards) with a new application of minerals once a month into August, but I have friends that do it once every two or three weeks. It is fun to watch how the most active sites grow. As deer dig for the minerals, the holes get bigger and deeper. We have a couple of old licks deep enough to hide half a buck.
Here in Virginia, using minerals to supplement the diet of deer is legal during spring and summer but not permitted from the first of September through the end of hunting season. State laws on using minerals and attractants vary widely from state to state, so check your game regulations.