No-Fail Deer-Feeding Strategies for Your Favorite Time of Year
November has finally arrived and brought with it frosty mornings, shortened days, snow flurries and every respectable outdoorsman’s favorite time of year – the rut. Deer are officially on the move, looking for love and becoming far more active than they were during the early season. And while bucks are currently focused intently on breeding does and less on food, a deer’s still gotta eat.
But what do they eat this time of year? Better yet, what should they be eating? What do their bodies need?
For land managers across the country, providing key food sources year-round is paramount to keeping healthy thriving herds on their properties. But knowing what nutrients and foodstuffs to include in those supplemental feeding stations and at what time of year is something that requires really knowing both the animals living in the area – how many there are, for starters – and the general climate as well – do winter weather conditions trend more toward mild or brutal?
And if you’re after real results, no, piling corn here and there all willy-nilly won’t cut it. If you’re feeding with the intent of making a positive impact on the health, viability and sustainability of the entire herd, then you’ve got to be a little more strategic.
Be sure to check your state and local laws for baiting in your area, as they vary greatly. For example, some states require all supplements be removed prior to hunting seasons, while others do not.
A Deer’s Gotta Eat
Regardless of season, weather conditions or rut craziness, deer need consistent, reliable food sources. However, this is especially important during the rut, given bucks tend to take poor care of themselves in favor of working to keep local populations stable for the year to come – burning far more calories than they take in. In fact, bucks not only lack a drive to seek out food sources and eat during this time of the year, but biologically they also seem to know it’s advantageous for them to do so, since by avoiding prime feeding locations during peak rut times, they’re avoiding other males, and thus more potential competition when it comes to getting the job done.
But, by not eating like they should be, the rut takes an even greater toll on them physically. Bucks come out of the rut in the worst shape they’ll be in all year, so ideally, land managers should do all they can to ensure they go into it in the best shape they can possibly be. Not only will this help deer recover post-rut, it will go a long way toward preserving overall herd health and numbers for next season as well.
Before the Rut
When feeding deer during the early season, or fall through early winter, focus on helping the animals up their fat reserves. Food plots, in addition to acorns and other crops available this time of year, are great for attracting deer to different areas of your property, ideal for running trail cameras, and identifying target bucks and their patterns. But these food sources should also be supplemented to boost the available carbohydrate and fat content in the deers’ core feeding areas.
Between their velvet coming off and the rut beginning, bucks work hard to bulk up. Putting out nutrient- and calorie-dense attractants, like our Boss Builder Feed Attractant, to deliver optimal levels of carbs and fats – perfect for adult deer gearing up for the rut – helps them do just that. Plus, mixes like this are high in protein as well, great for this year’s fawns that are still growing, developing and about to fight their way through their very first winter.
Across the board, the goal is to minimize weight loss within the herd, regardless of sex or age, as they head into the most taxing and trying period of the year – the rut followed by winter.
Heart of the Rut
For those of you in states with no legal restrictions around feeding/baiting during the rut, hopefully you didn’t take our previous mention of corn too hard (we love the stuff, really!). While it offers little in terms of actual nutritional value, corn is a great source of quick energy, something bucks and does can both benefit from having a bit more of at this stage of the game. It also continues to work its magic as an attractant, drawing animals to and through those prime feeding spots when they’re in need of a little boost but don’t necessarily have the time to stop for a real meal.
So, go ahead, keep throwing down your corn. We just suggest mixing it with another supplement that packs a bit more of a long-lasting, far-reaching punch. Our Apple Flavored Feed Attractant, for example, is formulated to do just that – serving both as an attractant with its pungent apple aroma, and a worthwhile food source, promoting weight gain all year long.
Keep in mind, much like people, a deer’s digestive system will be sensitive to dietary changes, so it’s always best to introduce supplements (and other foods not found naturally in your region) gradually. It’s also best to start that introduction in the springtime, when deer are at their healthiest and additional food sources are most plentiful. This will allow their rumens to adapt to digesting those new foods and not be an additional stressor when they’re already far from being in prime form.
If you plan to hunt one of these feeding spots during the peak of the rut, be sure to give the area some time to breathe before things really kick-off. You’ll want target animals to view it as a safe place to come for a free meal beginning well before then and continue their visits through those days of absent-mindedness and distraction as well. Frequent trips in and out will only spread around human scent, which is far from a deer’s favorite aroma.
We suggest setting your feeder, filling it and leaving the area be until prime-time hits (in this case, that probably means investing in something motorized that’s able to hold a few hundred pounds of whatever you’re putting out). To monitor activity and make sure your unit continues to throw feed, invest in a cell camera or two so you can do it all from a distance and not risk blowing whatever you’ve named this year’s target buck from his preferred feeding ground. These handy, high-tech units allow users to configure general camera settings, transmission schedules and even wipe memory cards remotely, all but eliminating the need to make any hands-on adjustments whatsoever.
To improve your chances of catching some excitement on those cams, you’ll need to put your feeder in the right place. Ideally, this spot will be flat, easily accessible on foot or in a vehicle, away from roads and other human sights, sounds and smells. It should also be located near key travel routes between cover, food/water sources and bedding areas where plenty of sign and/or previous sightings of the animal(s) you’re homing in on. You’ll want them to feel safe approaching and to let their guard down long enough to eat a bite or two.
After the Rut
Sadly, like most of the best things in this world, the rut too must come to an end. When it does, make sure you’re prepared to meet your herd’s ever-changing needs. In other words, don’t forget to feed them after the rut, when they need it most.
By now, winter is likely in full swing, and quality, naturally occurring food sources are becoming more and more scarce. Given that the rut has passed, deer are also now in the worst shape they’ll be all year – bucks and does both (we suppose a few weeks spent frantically chasing each other around, dodging bullets and hardly eating will do that to ya) – not the best combination.
The best way to take care of herds in the late season? Continue your supplement practices. Much like you did in the early season, offer supplements with high caloric content. While action at these sights no doubt waned during the heart of the rut, it’s sure to pick up again in the weeks that follow, at least through spring and the return of the deers’ preferred greenery.
Following the rut, deer have weeks of intense activity and body weight loss to make up for if they hope to make it through the remainder of winter. As a land manager, it’s your job to help them recover now, in order to help yourself maintain healthy populations, and produce healthier, more productive animals (think more fawns, healthier offspring and greater antler growth) for many seasons to come.