The ABC’s Of Supplemental Feeding
By Mike Lambeth
Supplemental feeding is not for everyone. In fact, there are a few reasons why you shouldn’t feed whitetail deer. The three most popular reasons for not supplementing your whitetails’ diets are: (1) You are satisfied with the mediocrity of your local deer herd. (2) You have no interest in growing bigger bodies and antlers on the deer you hunt. (3) You have decided that better nutrition and increased deer numbers is not what you desire.
Okay, I’ll admit my reasons are sarcastic at best, but they serve to make a point: Supplemental feeding is essential in building a quality deer herd. However, before you go buy some feed and a feeder, consider a few things.
WHY USE SUPPLEMENTAL FEED?
Hunters today are blessed with many great trailblazers who have stood, and continue to stand, at the forefront of whitetail management. Groups like the Whitetail Institute and Quality Deer Management Association, just to name a couple, have set a standard that we would be wise to follow.
Many biologists are quick to point out that most deer receive all of the protein and nutrition they need from natural foods they acquire in the wild. Foods such as acorns, wheat, soybeans, alfalfa, oats, clover, orbs, grasses, and other browse keep a good number of whitetails in tiptop condition.
However, a problem with this theory is that most areas are going through cyclical drought conditions, and though some areas have received record rainfall amounts as evidenced by the past flooding, long-term moisture levels have reached all-time lows in some areas.
In Oklahoma where I live, we received ample rain this spring, but no measurable amounts since. Most of our yards (unless we water almost non-stop), as well as our hunting places are yellow with most things withered and wilted from the scorching heat.
What effect will this have on our deer herd? According to the Whitetail Institute, when food is scarce deer have to rely on their energy reserves to live. These reserves are fat that is deposited in a whitetail’s body during the spring, summer and fall months. These reserves are necessary to sustain a whitetail in the harsh winter months, but when a whitetail faces drought conditions he depletes these reserves early and is deficient during the winter months.
The winter months are the toughest months on a whitetail herd, due to the rigors of rutting and breeding. High-protein food sources are essential during this period; however, if the crops grew and are covered with snow, access is very limited. If the crops suffered due to lack of rain, then the deer are already behind the eight-ball.
If deer don’t suffer enough during the bitter winter months, some bucks coming out of rut have lost 25 percent of their body weights. These bucks will face a nutritional nightmare if proper food is not available.
During some years mast crops are at an all-time high. In Oklahoma, last deer season I saw fewer deer than ever before. However, with a bumper crop of acorns biologists surmise that most deer were in the thick woods unseen - never having to travel far from their bedding areas to browse.
In a nutshell, whether deer have ample forage or not, university studies have proven that deer that are fed with supplements grow bigger bodies and antlers than those who weren’t.
WHAT SUPPLEMENTS WORK BEST
Deer experts agree that whitetails need between 12- to 20-percent of crude protein in their daily diets. They also require calcium, phosphorus and adequate levels of sodium. Whitetails, like humans, have strict nutritional needs for their bodies to function in a healthy manner.
In an effort to try some of my own deer management, I looked into purchasing a deer feeder. The first feeder I bought I quickly set up at my hunting spot and filled it up with the most common deer feed available - corn! Most hunters, like me, continue to rely on the small yellow nuggets to attract deer to their hunting spots. But does corn really complete the job?
Not necessarily experts suggest. Corn is a starchy grain that provides a high-carbohydrate intake, also giving deer energy. However, deer that become too dependent on corn can lose their natural abilities to digest other forage. Corn has a protein level of only 5-7%. Don’t misunderstand me, for the money invested corn does a good job, but by adding a supplement to the corn, it can vastly improve!
Most high-protein deer pellets contain a 16-21% protein level, which is a good way to promote deer health. An even greater source for protein can be found in soybeans, which have a 35-45% protein level. Adding soybeans to your corn creates the perfect mixture. Corn acts as the attractant while the soybeans provide protein for healthier, larger deer.
With the price of both corn and gas on the rise, investing in a feeder can save you money in the long run. Instead of dumping a bag of corn on the ground where it will disappear within a couple of days, a feeder limits the amount of corn dropped at each feeding. Not only will this make your bag of corn last longer, it will pattern your deer to visit the feeder at the same time of day, every day. Depending on the size of feeder and the amount of feed you place in it, you can have up to four months of feeding without refilling. This will also save you money on gas to and from your feed spot.
CHOOSE A QUALITY FEEDER
All game feeders are not created equal. If you’ve ever attended a big whitetail trade show you’ll find a myriad of brands available, ranging from homemade models to sophisticated high-capacity models that hold over a ton of food.
When choosing a feeder, it is best to choose a company like Moultrie that has a good track record and long-standing tradition of making quality deer feeders. Having a dependable feeder and timer that are built with quality materials is essential.
I learned this lesson several years ago when a friend bragged about the bargain he received at a local sporting goods store on some “cheap” game feeders. I went with him to his hunting property to help assemble the flimsy contraptions and knew he was in for a nightmare. During the long ride home, my friend again gloated over the good deal he got.
When he returned to fill up his feeders a month later, he found that his “bargain feeders” had broken and failed to throw any corn. Embarrassed and irritated, my friend gave the defective feeders away, bought some Moultrie feeders to replace them and has never had any problems since.
Remember when choosing a feeder, look for a company with a long-standing reputation. Don’t be duped by cheaply made feeders and timers. Timers are one of the most critical components of the game feeding process. Select a feeder with a timer that is well sealed to protect the electrical parts from moisture or dust.
Reputable companies offer decent warranties on their products and are always available to help when a problem arises. Simply put, if a feeder doesn’t have a good warranty, stay away from it!
I contacted Moultrie once and was given some excellent instructions on setting my timer for multiple feedings. Moultrie’s knowledgeable staff is friendly and professional and always glad to offer assistance.
Feeding deer and other wildlife is an excellent way to practice conservation. Whether you desire to feed deer and turkeys just to watch them from your back porch, or you want to help grow bigger bucks with incredible antlers, supplemental feeding is for you.
Keep in mind that hunting plays a vital role in the propagation of deer. It’s true: We have more deer today because of controlled hunting. Wildlife managers have long known that deer are actually a crop. We as hunters are privileged to have this annual harvest!