Cheap Ways to Attract Deer | Watering Holes and Mineral Sites for Deer
As hunters and outdoors-lovers, we’re always looking for ways to get better, improve our land, and see more deer. This leads us to trying out all kinds of new outdoor products, planting elaborate food plots, and managing our forests. But two often neglected activities could make a huge difference to your deer hunting success. When done in tandem, they offer a 1-2 punch of effectiveness that can attract and hold deer on your property throughout the summer and fall months. As you probably guessed, we’re talking about mineral sites for deer and watering holes for deer.
The reason this combination is so effective is because one increases the attraction of the other. Let’s use a human example. After eating a very salty food, such as movie theater popcorn, we get pretty thirsty, right? That’s because our bodies need more water to balance and dilute the salt intake. But after a physically intense day in the summer sun and drinking only water, we start to get cramps. This happens because the minerals/salts we’re talking about carry an electrical charge and help our bodies to keep firing correctly. When we don’t have enough of them in our bloodstream, things start going haywire, resulting in cramps. So how do we solve the problem? We chug sports drinks like Sqwincher® with high mineral and electrolyte content. It’s pretty much the same for deer.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Mineral Sites for Deer
Deer especially need minerals in the spring and summer. During this time of year, does are creating little fawns and then nursing them, which puts a mineral strain on their own bodies. Bucks obviously need protein, calcium, and phosphorous to feed the antler-building process, since antlers are essentially bones and consist of various proteins and minerals 30% calcium and phosphorous) themselves. These two minerals are very important deer minerals for antler growth, but you’ll also strive to supply various trace minerals and salts to fill the gaps in their diet. While they do get some minerals through existing soil and mostly all of it from browse, it’s often in limited quantities. Providing the “whole package” to them in one place is a great way to help them along. Deer will still use mineral sites during other times of the year, but there seems to be the strongest use in the spring and summer. For these reasons, it’s important to set yours up in the late winter to get maximum use.
Location is fairly important to consider when choosing your mineral stations for deer. You shouldn’t just toss some deer minerals out in the middle of the woods with no clear strategy. You should try to establish mineral spots between feeding and bedding areas. And for best results, locate them next to water sources (more on that below). Doing this puts them in a convenient area that deer already use daily, so it makes it easy for them to quickly stop.
You’ll also need to decide what type of mineral supplement you want to use. There are two basic types of mineral: crushed/powdered or rocks. Crushed mineral works by quickly dissolving and incorporating into the soil, while rocks stay in one larger piece for longer. The powdered mineral in Big &J Legit® combines a high calcium and phosphorous mineral nugget with intense apple flavor and aroma to attract them. Because of its calcium and phosphorous composition, products like this are often used as antler growth products. Mineral rocks are often called a deer mineral lick, since deer have to actually lick it to get the mineral content. You could also create your own homemade mineral licks for deer, by combining various bulk minerals (e.g., stock salt, trace minerals, dicalcium phosphate for deer) from your local coop.
When you’re starting a new mineral site, there are a few things you can do to help it establish quicker. First, rake away any leaves or debris in the area to expose the soil in a circle about five feet in diameter. Next, scatter the crushed or powdered mineral around the soil, and lightly rake it in to incorporate it. Alternatively, place the mineral rock on top of the dirt. When it rains, the mineral will start to seep into the ground and deer can actually smell it. Aim to set up one mineral station per 100 acres on your property.
As far as how often you need to replenish these sites, it will greatly depend on how many deer utilize your property. If you have a very healthy deer herd that really pounds the site, you may have to replenish it a couple times over the summer. In more remote areas with limited deer traffic, one application could be enough to get them through the critical spring and summer months.
A Watering Hole For Deer: The Missing Puzzle Piece
While having mineral sites for deer will really help the herd, you’re simply missing out if you don’t have a good water source nearby. Some properties have an abundance of natural water sources (e.g., rivers, ponds, creeks, swamps, etc.), and don’t need any artificially-made ones.
But if you don’t have any natural watering holes, here’s what you need to know about making your own: it doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need are a few simple tools and materials you probably have lying around the garage anyway. Find a shovel and either a tarp or your children’s old plastic kiddie pool. That’s really it! But that’s the easy part; now the work begins.
Locate a spot near your mineral site, which you can see from a tree stand. Minerals alone won’t make for a great deer hunting spot, but it will when you add a water source nearby. Water can be an incredible draw during the hot weather of early fall. Deer are putting on winter coats and the weather isn’t cold enough to wear them yet, so they need a steady source of water to stay cool. Because they are such a magnet, you should always plan one strategically and within bow hunting range of a tree stand.
While you could theoretically just dig a hole and let it fill with rain water, your soils may be too sandy to really hold the water in the depression for more than a few minutes, making it useless for deer or other wildlife to use. You need to add another layer to trap it. That’s where the tarp or pool come in. Given that understanding, there are essentially two types of watering holes for deer that you can do.
The first is the sunken pool approach, where you actually bury the pool into the ground. Dig a hole large enough around and about one foot deep (or however deep your pool is). Drop the pool into the hole and add a little dirt back into the bottom to give it a natural color and help weigh it down when it’s not full of water. Depending on how ambitious you’re feeling, you could also dig a series of channels leading to the pool to help rainwater fill it more efficiently. Always add a large branch dipping from the pool to the outside, so that if any smaller mammals fall into the water, they can escape from drowning.
The other watering hole approach obviously involves the tarp, but more work. This time, dig a hole three feet deep at the bottom and taper the sides up gently to the edge. You’ll want this design to be larger in diameter than the pool, so 10 to 20 feet across is about right. Because of this scale, using a tractor with a bucket would really help for this task. Now you could simply lay the tarp in the bottom and weigh it down with rocks, and it would function alright for a while. But if you’ve gone through this much work, you may as well take extra steps to make it last as long as possible. Make sure your tarp is heavy duty or add two layers. Add some of the dirt you excavated back onto the tarp, to a depth of about six inches. Pack it down well by driving your new Bad Boy Buggies® Onslaught 550 over it several times. You’re basically creating your own natural-looking pond that utilizes the tarp water barrier to hold onto the runoff. At its deepest in the center, it will be 2 ½ feet deep, which is plenty deep enough to hold water for a while even in hot, dry weather. Since the size is larger, it also has a bigger catchment area to grab rain water.
Combining the 1-2 Punch
When you locate your mineral sites for deer near a water source, you create a hot spot for deer hunting. When a deer visits one of the sites, it increases the attraction of the other. Always locate them in a good hunting location that you can access and exit without spooking any deer. For example, these spots should probably not be situated on a destination food plot. It will be too difficult to hunt effectively. Instead, place these sites in the woods between the destination field and the bedding area, ideally with a tree stand and access trail downwind of it. They tend to be most effective in the early fall months, but you may also see action throughout the rest of the season.
One way to monitor their effectiveness is to place trail cameras on them. You can easily spy on wildlife using these sites by hanging a trail cam on a tree overlooking the area. It may take them a few days or weeks to start regularly using these sites, but once they find it, they should start using it regularly. And the beautiful thing about it is that each year you continue to replenish these mineral sites and ensure your water hole is still functioning, it will get better and more engrained into the deer’s behavioral habits. Every new fawn that visits the area with their mother will remember it as they grow older. Within a few years, it will be a regular pause point for every resident doe group and mature buck on your property. With a weekend of work and up to three replenishing trips each season, you could create a game-changing addition to your deer hunting property. That’s worth the investment, don’t you think?