Whether you’re a wildlife photographer or an avid hunter, deer feeders and game feeders can be an incredibly useful tool for not only attracting game to certain areas of your property, but for also actively managing your herd’s diet. But before you go snap up the first deer feeder you see on the internet, be sure to do your homework. This quick guide is a good place to start to ensure your deer feeder supplemental feeding program results in better wildlife watching from the backyard, or better hunting in the field.
1. Know your local game feeding and baiting laws
Before you do anything else, investigate your state and or local laws and regulations in regards to wildlife management, deer feeding, and baiting. Many states ban feeding during certain times of the year, particularly during the actual hunting season.
In some states, penalties for baiting deer during the hunting season range from $500 to $1000. Yikes.
Save yourself the trouble. Check with your state’s game and parks commission or department of natural resources before proceeding. Usually you can easily find this information online pretty quickly. If not, give them a call. Just try not to do anything illegal.
2. Be mindful of disease
Hunters, game managers, and wildlife biologists alike have reason to worry about feeding, because when done irresponsibly it can wipe out entire populations. Especially in the winter, feeding causes deer to frequent and gather together around food sources, which greatly increases the risk of spreading deadly Chronic Wasting Disease.
Likewise, feeding deer an abundance of grain can cause Acidosis, which is caused by sudden dietary increases in high carbohydrate/low fiber food sources like corn. A sudden shift in diet can cause a deer’s lactic acid levels to spike, causing death within 24-72 hours. That said, this is less of a concern in midwestern states with an abundance of corn cropland because deer populations grow accustomed to grain throughout the growing season and into late winter.
3. Choose your deer feeder
So you’ve decided that a deer feeder is the right way to go. The next step is to choose the right kind. There are a lot of options, from the bare bones basic to feeders with bells and whistles. The most important thing is to choose a feeder that properly regulates feeding while saving you time. There are several helpful battery-powered options on the market that automatically dispense preselected amounts of feed at certain times.
Choosing a durable, waterproof feeder with a locking lid is also a good option, as it means your feed and feeder will be able to stand up to both the weather and other pesky critters. Likewise, a tripod deer feeder is a great way to keep feed out of the reach of cattle and other animals, while keeping it accessible to your deer.
4. Choose the right feed at the right time
No surprise here – it’s not as simple as dumping a pile of corn on the ground, although in certain situations corn is a good feed option. Rice brand is a good alternative, and as an added benefit, cattle tend to pay less attention to rice brand than to corn. You can mix your feeding regimen up with apples, salt licks, and peanut butter to bring deer around the backyard, but the most important thing is to try to mimic deer’s natural diets with seasonally appropriate foods. In the wintertime, for example, deer feed on woody browse and high-fiber foods like blackberries, greenbriers, and saplings.
5. Stick to the bare essentials for antler growth
A diet high in protein has been found by some studies to promote antler growth, however it depends on the time of year and the growth stage of your deer. For example, fawns and young bucks require more protein in their diet than older bucks. Mineral supplements in feed also promote growth, but a good rule of thumb is to stick with the bare essentials – calcium and phosphorus. Don’t want to mess around with your own blend? Luckily there are plenty of prepackaged deer feeds that make supplemental feeding easy.
6. Take it slow with your deer feeder
Large, sudden changes to a deer population‘s food source can have adverse effects, so be sure to introduce feed slowly and deliberately. A deer’s gut flora can take anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks to adjust to a new diet, so when you set up your feeder, start with small amounts. No more than 10 pounds of feed spread out over several days at first. Feeders with automatic dispensers make this an easy task. You can also pique deers’ interest in a new feed source by spreading some loose feed around the base of your feeder.
7. Choose the right spot
Picking the right place to set your feeder is as important as all other factors. Keep variables like food plot, water, and other food source proximity, as well as game camera and treestand location, wind, bedding areas, and game trails at top of mind when choosing where to place your feeder.
Quiet forest clearings and the edges of tree lines are often promising, but be sure to place your feeder far enough away from human activity and or known breeding or feeding grounds for local predators.
That said, the more remote your feeding and hunting spots, the farther you potentially have to drag a dead deer out, so consider trail and road access too.
8. Study continuously
Dig deep and know everything you possibly can about the wildlife and deer in your state, in your county, and on your property. There’s no secret formula for success for every hunter or wildlife enthusiast, so be diligent, cautious, and deliberate as you choose a responsible wildlife management feeding strategy.