Springtime Whitetail Nutrition

Evaluating available springtime nutrition for whitetails and finding ways to give deer a jumpstart will improve herd health.

Springtime Whitetail Nutrition

Spring fever is as real as wintertime cabin fever. Longer days, warmer sun rays and a sprinkling of green across the landscape is welcome after the toll of a lengthy winter. Whitetail deer may not have the classic emotions of humans toward spring, but nevertheless, they embrace all of the positive elements the season brings. You can make spring even more welcoming to whitetails on your hunting property with a few forward-thinking moves.

Jumpstart Objectives

It can be nearly impossible to provide early spring whitetails with the lap of luxury, but do your best as the health of area deer depend on it. Whitetails arrive in early spring at their lowest state of healthiness of the year regardless of your zip code. Add in the wear down of the rut along with bare winter shelves and bucks can see a weight loss up to 25 percent of overall body weight. Does may not have the same rut loss as bucks, but winter affects both sexes due to limited winter nutrition. As much as 40 percent of daily winter energy comes from body fat, and whitetail health suffers as a result of this self-cannibalism.

Approximately 200 days after the peak of the rut, in May and June, does will be welcoming a new fawn or two in their domicile. By March and April these still-in-the-belly developing fawns are taxing an already taxed mother. In extreme situations, a doe may even abort a fetus to guarantee its own survival if her health is dire. Ensuring these soon-to-be mothers achieve recruitment goals on your property is one reason to plan a spring jumpstart.

Although not nearly as incredible as bringing life into the world, bucks also have a taxing matter that piques your interest every fall: antler growth. By early April, most bucks have shed their antlers. Some jettison the load as early as Christmas, but regardless of the time they cast their antlers, new growth sprouts in much of whitetail country in April. Maximum growth occurs in summer when males will be pushing nearly a quarter-inch of antler growth a day.

Like an unhealthy doe that can abort and take care of herself first, if a buck goes into spring in poor shape, then its body may switch energy used for antler growth and put it toward pure survival. That could equate to a buck not showing its true potential in the antler department come fall.

Early spring is a critical period for whitetails. Ignore it and you could see the consequences the following hunting season, and possibly for seasons to come.

Noting the condition of deer and available leftover food sources while shed hunting will point you toward the next steps required to ensure good whitetail numbers next season.
Noting the condition of deer and available leftover food sources while shed hunting will point you toward the next steps required to ensure good whitetail numbers next season.

Shed Hunting Inventory

There’s no debate that the hunt for shed whitetail antlers has become almost as addictive as the hunt for the host buck months prior. Picking up shed whitetail antlers offers you the chance to grade your whitetail property as spring arrives. Use your time in the field to see if the deer will be getting a spring jumpstart or scratching up leftovers just to subsist. 

Since you’ll likely scour food sources on the hunt for bone, stop and examine to see if anything is left to scavenge. Whether you’re hiking across vast agricultural fields or manicured food plots, put on your detective glasses to see if the deer have high-quality food available to carry them into spring.

It’s doubtful you’ll find much corn or soybeans left from autumn crops, but buried turnips or sugar beets could still be providing critical nutrients to deer digging up the bulbous vegetation. Stop periodically to review what browsing remains on your food plots, especially if crops were buried deep in snow. Kale, rape and canola are examples of leafy brassicas that hold nutritional value throughout the grim winter months leading up to spring’s arrival. Perennials such as clover and alfalfa green up early, so it is imperative you review their spring potential and whether a reseeding is needed the coming year. These green fields are critical components to a property as they offer nutrition year-round in most environments.

You might not love eating turnips, but whitetails do. Both the tops and bulbs are nutritious food sources for whitetails.
You might not love eating turnips, but whitetails do. Both the tops and bulbs are nutritious food sources for whitetails.

Interior forests, timber edges and brush pockets also play an important role in overall nutrition. As you hike through woodland settings, be alert to any over-browsing situations with a defined browse line on a property signaling danger ahead. Although deer may appear to feed almost exclusively on a tailored food source, browse is critical to a deer’s digestive system working smoothly. It also provides nutrition in a sheltered environment when nasty spring weather forces deer to vacate field openings.

A final shed hunting aspect to note is the health of local deer. Do they appear frisky, nimble or even plump? If they appear haggard, lethargic and reluctant to flee, it could be a sign of poor health. The discovery of dead deer during your hike also means you need to take note and see if they are undernourished or even preyed upon because of poor health.

Jumpstart Ingredients

You may not be able to set a Thanksgiving feast for your spring whitetail friends, but you can help out with some customized additions. First, set aside an area for a perennial plot. As previously noted, perennials hold the answer to a great spring jumpstart. Clovers lead the way, but even hayfield fodder such as alfalfa offer an early boost. Increasing hours of sunlight bathe the landscape to stimulate perennials to green up first. This green carpet of spring can be a lifesaver for deer on the edge, and for does needing the boost, can offer a crude protein source of 14 percent or more depending on the perennial species.

Temperature extremes, soil variability, moisture fluctuations, deer densities, your budget and a variety of factors will dictate your seed selection. Consult the advice of a local agronomist to select a perennial that works in your region. In southern latitudes, you may need to re-seed clovers, but in most Midwest and northern localities clovers will act as a perennial. You could get 2 to 5 years from a single planting with proper maintenance.

Next, consult with a respected forestry expert near you. They have the knowledge to advise you on forestry projects, grassland revitalization and may even suggest management options to ease whitetails into spring easier. A healthy browse environment is vital to whitetail health in addition to food plot additions. The four-chambered stomach of a whitetail is designed to digest a variety of vegetation, 20 or more species per day. Without variety, the deer in your neck of the woods could suffer. With the advice of a forester, you can boost browse production through targeted cutting to create sunlight avenues for browse expansion. Plus, any trimmings piled in chosen locations provide deer with added cover.

Finally, whitetails require a boost of minerals and vitamins for optimum antler growth and overall herd health. Your property could be located in a mineral-rich zone, but don’t bet on all essentials occurring in nature. Offer your whitetails a mineral supplemental year-round, if legal, to aid in the demands of antler and fawn demands.

A year-round mineral supplement program will pay dividends with regard to antler growth.
A year-round mineral supplement program will pay dividends with regard to antler growth.

Calcium and phosphorous, in a two-to-one ratio, have long been noted as antler boosters. A supplement that sports magnesium, plus calcium, also helps does during gestation and later while lactating. Create mineral stations throughout your property with one placed on every 50 to 75 acres. These depositories need only be a flat stone or a hole in the ground where you leave trace amounts of mineral for whitetails to find. Place the mineral near major travel routes or feeding areas so deer will locate them instantly.

Winter is cruel, but spring can be just as devastating as whitetails wait for the green explosion to occur across the landscape. With some pre-planning, you can make spring just as enjoyable for them as for you.

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