Which are the most important minerals to provide for whitetails?

By Grant Woods,

  Filed under: ,

← Grant's AnswersAsk Grant

I was wondering, could you take a minute to talk about minerals, antler development and the overall health of whitetail deer?  I was in a pretty serious debate with another fellow hunter the other day about minerals and am looking for more input on the subject.

When looking for a product what should we look for it to contain?  A friend of mine uses a product that is full of calcium and phosphorous.  Everything you read says these are the two single most important minerals for antler development.  I was also taught that those two minerals are usually very available in most areas, with about 80% of the calcium they need being available through the food they eat.  Some may think that the more you give them the better off, but is it true that they can only use so much of one mineral, just like humans?  I can take three mutli-vitamins per day but my body will turn any excess into waste.  If that is true in deer than it’s a waste to give them what they can get in their environment and better to focus on minerals and nutrients that are not available to them.

I also want to get your thoughts on salt as a vessel.  No deer is going to consistently come back to just mineral so you need an attractant or something that tastes good so they will come back as much as possible and get the benefits.  Isn't it true that during spring and throughout the summer deer have a sodium deficiency?  Although a lot of sodium year round probably isn’t good for anyone, is it good during the key times of year when they need more mineral?  I had someone say that if you give them a lot of salt then they will drink more water and then you'll have deer full of water.  That doesn't make any sense to me, I thought water was good.

I am sure I gave you enough here to think and write about.  Thanks for taking to the time to answer my question and thanks for putting the show out every week.



The answer to your question is probably better material for an article or book chapter than this format.  There is a good chapter, Mineral Supplementation for Antler Production, in Quality Whitetails, The Why and How of Quality Deer Management book.  I just filmed a webinar at Clemson University for QDMA on this subject.  I’m not sure when and where that webinar will be released in the future.

I agree with your statements.  However, we should all be aware that there is no definitive evidence that supplementation of any mineral will increase antler production in wild, free-ranging deer (or captive deer).  Almost all plant material contains some calcium, phosphorous, etc.  Sometimes it is in a digestible form and sometimes it’s not.  Many of the record book deer harvested didn’t have access to supplemental minerals.  However, most record book deer harvested have had access to production agriculture crops (corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat, etc.).  These crops were most likely grown on relatively good soil and had been fertilized appropriately.  They most likely contained a much higher and more digestible mineral content that native browse grown in primarily timbered areas.  Such crops are almost always more digestible than native vegetation, except when the native vegetation is very young.

So, if I lived where production agriculture was the prevalent use of the land, I wouldn’t be as concerned about providing supplemental minerals on my land.  However, just as there is no scientific documentation that supplemental minerals will increase the average antler size, there is certainly no evidence that they will harm the herd or decrease average antler size.  Supplemental minerals are relatively inexpensive, so I always advise my clients to provide them where legal.

The next question is which minerals to provide.  Where I live, and most of the properties where I work, have a good food plot program with the crops being limed and fertilized to promote maximum forage production.  Given this, I’m not worried about deer ingesting enough calcium or phosphorous.  I am concerned about the potential of some trace minerals not being available.  Most fertilizer programs don’t address trace mineral needs.

This is one reason why I like to use Trophy Rock to as a mineral supplement.  Trophy Rock has been analyzed and confirmed to contain 60+ trace minerals.  You are correct that a small vitamin pill will provide 100% of most minerals adult humans need on a daily basis.  In fact, the pills could be smaller.  Much of the pills are filler so we can handle them without dropping them.  Clearly, a deer licking a Trophy Rock a few times a day will most likely ingest all the quantity of the available trace minerals they need.

Most deer ingest a huge amount of water during the spring and summer simply from the plant material.  Quality forage plants during this time contain as much as 70% water by weight.  To rid their body of this excess ingested water, they must have salt for a critical process in the kidney (the details are too technical for this format).  Deer clearly seek salt, either from sources supplied by humans or naturally occurring licks.

I believe that there’s more of a chance that salt is a limiting factor than deer will ingest excess salt.  Clearly deer survive in areas where no supplemental salt is supplied.  However, I doubt they express their full potential unless there is a readily available, naturally occurring source of salt.

In summary, I’d rather supply supplemental minerals than not.  Deer herds without supplemental minerals have and will exist.  I doubt these herds express their full potential.  Unless it is known that an area is very low in a specific mineral (which does occur), I’d rather provide a supplemental mineral that includes a wide range of trace minerals which are much more likely to be missing from the available forage.

Growing Deer together,