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Pregnancy/Birth and New Antler Growth

Spring forage is critical for whitetails since adults can lose 15 to 30 percent of their body weight during winter. Rigors of the rut and winter take their toll on bucks and they are second only to fawns to succumb to winter mortality. Bucks begin growing new antlers in spring, but antler growth is secondary until body resources lost in winter are replenished.

Whitetails have a relatively long gestation (about 200 days) and does have increased nutritional demands during spring. Although breeding occurs during autumn, over 80 percent of fetal growth and 90 percent of the energy spent on gestation occurs during the final trimester. In northern regions, new antler growth and the last trimester begin in April and correspond to spring green-up.

Spring foods high in protein and energy are necessary to meet the increasing nutritional demands. Spring foods include green leaves and stems of woody and herbaceous plants, leftover

mast, forbs, and legumes. In northern regions, preferred deciduous woody plants include red,white and black oak, yellow and white birch, and red maple. Preferred herbaceous plants include Canada mayflower, raspberry, and blackberry. Preferred mast includes acorns, beechnuts, apples,

crabapples, grapes, and blackberries. Preferred forbs and legumes include chicory, clover, alfalfa, and trefoil.


Fawn Growth, Lactation and Antler Growth

Fawns are born as spring turns to summer. Does now require even more nutrition as lactation is two to three times more costly than gestation. Their nutrient-rich milk contains about 78 percent water, eight percent fat, eight percent protein, five percent sugar, and one percent ash, and has twice the protein and energy per unit volume as cow’s milk. Undernourished does still produce nutrient-rich milk but at reduced rates. Well-nourished does with twins generally produce 67 percent more milk than does with single fawns.

Fawns have very high energy demands. They weigh five to 10 pounds at birth, will double their weight within two weeks, and can triple it within a month. Fawns depend heavily on their

mother’s milk for nutrition the first two to three months but can survive exclusively on vegetation by around two months of age.

Maximum antler growth occurs during summer and is directly linked to nutrition. Bucks with access to high-quality nutrition have significantly larger antlers than those on poor quality diets.  Minerals are also important for antler growth. Hardened antlers consist of 54 percent minerals, 45 percent protein, and one percent fat. Calcium and phosphorus are the most abundant minerals and occur in a 2:1 ratio. Deer get calcium and phosphorus from their diet and from reserves in their bones. Bucks store these minerals prior to the antler growing season for use during summer. A good way to ensure bucks are receiving enough calcium and phosphorus is to provide mineral licks. Although there is no scientific data showing measurable benefits to free-ranging deer, there is evidence of benefits from the livestock industry. Mineral licks can be created every 100 to 150 acres and should include a granular mix (not a block) of calcium and phosphorus in a 2:1 ratio,

trace minerals, and salt (<50% of mix).


Pre-Rut and Rut

Fawns: The nutrient requirements of fawns are high due to the stress of weaning. Fawns must fend more for themselves during the onset of rut when does may be separated from fawns for several days by the dominant buck.

    • High levels of carbohydrates and fat are necessary for the energy to find food and to reach an optimum level of body condition before the onset of winter.

    • Fawns require the proper balance of Calcium, Phosphorus, and other minerals for skeletal growth.

    • Vitamins and minerals are needed to meet the demands of a growing body and to support a healthy immune system.

Does: For greater reproductive performance, the doe requires higher levels of vitamins and minerals. Better body condition leads to a greater chance of conception during the first estrous cycle and a shorter recovery time after the physical demands of the rut.

Bucks: Bucks demand high levels of vitamins and minerals for proper reproductive function. Optimum body condition must be reached before the rut; high levels of protein contribute to the necessary muscle growth, and fat and carbohydrates provide energy. The physical demands of fighting and breeding require high levels of vitamins and minerals. Rutting bucks are on the move for many hours without eating. They need high levels of quality nutrients in a short period

of time.


Post Rut and Recovery

This phase occurs during harsh conditions which demand available energy just to stay warm. Immune systems are stressed and require vitamins and minerals for proper function.

Fawns: Fawns are self-reliant, and survival depends upon proper nutrient intake. The stress of a wet, cold climate, coupled with limited available forage, makes this a critical period for supplemental nutrition.

Does: During this time, does are recovering from the demands of raising fawn(s), the rut, and are in the early stages of pregnancy. Demands for vitamins and minerals for fetal

development are high. Does with proper nutrition in early pregnancy will raise a new generation of fawns better than the last.

Bucks: Bucks must recover body condition and gain weight when the climate is harsh and the natural diet is limited. Without proper supplementation during this phase, the growth of new antlers may be hampered and the buck will not reach his full genetic potential.

...Rigors of the rut and winter take their toll on bucks and they are second only to

fawns to succumb to winter mortality. Bucks begin growing new antlers in spring, but antler

growth is secondary until body resources lost in winter are replenished....