What Should You be Feeding in Your Deer Feeders This Summer?

Deer Feeders | Summer Deer Feeding

Well it is that time of year again, the birds are chirping and fawns are about to hit the ground – spring has indeed sprung. It is that fantastic point on the calendar when hunters walk to and fro across their hunting properties in search of shed antlers…but more importantly, it is also the beginning of antler growing season. For those of you in the south, antlers were beginning to be shed possibly as early as late January for bucks in Mexico and south Texas. For those bucks in the northern states, that process is easily a month or so later. Regardless of where your hunting property is located, once antlers are shed, the new growth process begins almost immediately and continues through the late summer. Because of that so does our excitement as hunters, as we eagerly await what the new year’s growth will look like come hunting season. To that point the question most hunters ask is, “What should I be feeding in my deer feeders to encourage and/or support the most antler growth possible during the summer months?”

The Three Factors of Antler Growth

To answer that question let’s consider the three factors that have a profound impact on antler growth, those being genetics, age, and nutrition. Genetics are the roadmap to all development, with that they are the predefined plan for the characteristics (mass, number of tines, length of tines, main beams and spread) of antler growth, large or small. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done in the summer months by antler enthusiasts to influence genetics.

The second factor is age. Researchers have consistently documented that as a buck approaches and reaches physiological maturity, antler growth typically continues to increase from one year to the next. Therefore, reaching peak development at the age of 5.5 and/or 6.5. On the downhill side, and as one would suspect, antlers tend to regress from year 7.5 and as the buck ages. Similar to the genetic factor, there really isn’t a summer management action that can be implemented on age to have a positive impact on antler growth.

The third and final ingredient that influences antler development is the quality of food a buck consumes daily. With the proper nutrition a buck has the best chance of fully expressing his antler growth potential based on the genetics he possesses and his age in life. Therefore, in the summer – the focal antler growing time frame, the emphasis is traditionally on providing as much quality nutrition as possible. To meet this goal, hunters traditionally rely on the use of game feeders and quality feed products. By using these tools hunters can strategically locate game feeders so that bucks throughout their property can have access to a quality nutritional product throughout the summer.

Sources of Nutrition

There are three main sources of nutrition that can be provided in the summer with the use of feeders. The first is a pelleted feed or dry seed product via stationary feeders, second are food plots, and third is simply the native habitat. More and more, hunters are turning to the use of deer feeders and supplemental feeds to provide bucks with all the nutrition they require throughout the summer. Although, in the deer’s world, the familiar native forage is always preferred over a supplement product it doesn’t always meet their nutritional needs.

Remember supplemental feed is just that, a supplement to the native forage. Unfortunately, the native forage, for a variety of reasons, is not always managed in a manner that allows itself to fulfill its productive capabilities and thus meet a buck’s physiological needs. This is commonly due to one or more of the following reasons: poor grazing management with livestock, lack of implementation of quality habitat management techniques, and/or insufficient deer population control. In addition, the one factor that cannot be controlled and that can have a substantial negative impact on the native forage quality and quantity is the weather…drought, flood, heat, snow, wind, etc. Therefore, the reliability of the native forage fluctuates annually. Thus, it is common for hunters to use feeders to provide a quality supplemental feed source to ensure the bucks have the best nutrition available, 24/7 regardless of environmental conditions.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Photo From University of Missouri Extension. Nutritional, specifically protein, requirements for deer during critical activities.

Deer Feed Selection

With that being said, what products should be in your feeders during the summer? A quality supplemental feed product is designed to be highly digestible, provide a reliable level of energy (15-30% fats), contain 16-22% dietary protein, minerals, and other essential nutrients for lactating does and antler development in bucks. Manufactured pelleted feeds can easily meet these requirement, just remember to read the label, ask questions and seek the recommendations of other hunters who have used the same feed. Other great products that provide a diversity of nutritional benefits and are often used in the summer include black-eyed peas, soybeans and cottonseed. The three items tend to withstand moisture fairly well and therefore store easily. While cottonseed has the benefit of being less attractive to feed stealing varmints such as raccoons, song birds and feral pigs. Although depending on which part of the country you are located in, these items can be at times a bit harder to locate than bags of pelleted feed.

Now, if simply attracting deer to your property is the goal, nothing really works better than corn. It tends to be very affordable, it’s available for sale in most farm and ranch stores and deer are highly attracted to the scent and simple carbohydrates that it provides. It is important to note that corn, although a very good attractant provides little nutritional value for buck’s other than as a simple energy source.

Keep in mind, the consumption of feed by deer will greatly increase throughout the summer as the native forage quality begins to suffer from high summer temperatures, possible lack of rainfall or too much moisture. This is when you will want to check feeders regularly to ensure there is plenty of supplemental feed available as the buck’s desire to use it throughout the day or night. Without a question, feeders filled with attractants such as corn or higher quality food source such as pellets are a great method to continue to support antler growth through the spring, summer and early fall.

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