Plenty of people feed deer either for baiting or even to help grow bigger, stronger, more full-antlered bucks on their farm land. However, before we get started, make sure you know if feeding deer is legal where you live. This will, obviously, heavily depend on the area in question, and in many locations it is fine, but do your own research to be sure.
In New York for example, you can face a $250 fine and 15 days in jail for feeding deer. While this seems harsh, it is not without good reason, which we will go into in a minute. First though, let’s talk about deer nutrition and why feeding deer might be a bad idea.
Deer Nutritional Needs Vary By Season
First, identify your reasons for feeding deer. Are you looking to bag a big buck this hunting season? If so, it’s important to know when supplemental feeding is needed, AND what the deer need to grow and thrive. In most cases, supplemental spring feeding is not really needed, because there is an abundance of tender greens for them to feast on.
However, summer for example, is a great time to start supplementing minerals and other nutrients which aide in antler growth. This helps young bucks to mature into trophy animals and calories. This is one of the reasons corn is so popular, it provides a good deal of calories to them and they are already accustom to foraging for it in fields.
Unfortunately, in winter, deer may not be used to eating corn This could lead to acidosis, a disorder which does not allow them to process this sudden new food and they can even die as a result. In addition, feeding deer often congregates them in one area, when otherwise they would not. This contributes to the spread of chronic wasting disease and should be avoided.
So, what CAN you do? If you still want to feed or bait deer, here are some better ideas.
Bring Browse Down To Their Level
If you’re worried about feeding deer incorrectly, you can always get our your chainsaw and bring a small patch of woods on your property down to deer level. This is very inexpensive to do, and it is far safer than introducing new food sources to a deer population which you do not know anything about. The patch will grow into a “new forest” and provide browse to deer over winter..
Deer actually have four chambered stomachs, and while what is left in winter looks sparse, they have adapted themselves to survive on it. Often times humans, while having good intentions, only damage this natural process with supplemental feeding.
However, they also feast on early blackberries, and planting more of these on your property could help to attract or sustain whitetails better than tossing around some corn bits for them. Learn more on basic deer land management here.
Plant A Food Plot
If you want to add some browse for deer during the growing months, a food plot is a better idea than deer corn. It’s cheap and easy to purchase a bag of seed to plant your own deer forage. It’s also a far better option than stuffing them full of corn which they will likely have issues digesting. Try something like this clover mix to attract deer in a healthier way.
Offer Minerals Instead Of Food
Deer need minerals for antler growth and just to survive in general! Unfortunately, the same issue exists here as with salt licks. Deer congregate and can pass wasting sickness on to each other. For this reason, salt licks should be avoided, but a product like lucky bucks, which is a powder could be spread out better in more places, leading to less congregating of animals.
Try adding multiple water sources to your property and then making a “mineral site” near them. Deer like to drink after ingesting minerals, and this means your property now has two things they need rather than just food, inspiring them to stick around.
Introduce New Foods Slowly
If you insist on feeding the deer on your property, then do it slowly. This protects the animals and allows them time to build up the gut bacteria they need to process a new food. While it’s not really “healthy” to supple-mentally feed them at all, this way you can at least do it without killing off the local whitetail population.
Purchasing a timer based deer feeder is a good way to do this, but you can also manually spread half a bucket of feed out every couple of days. Easily do-able if you live on your land, not so great if you have to travel to get to your hunting acreage, which is where the timed feeder comes in.
Deer will eat a variety of things including berries, mushrooms, oats, soybeans, and acorns. However, you should take the same approach here as with corn, introducing a new food source suddenly can have negative effects. This is why improving the natural forage of your land is a far better long-term strategy for creating prime live-able habitat for whitetails.