When buck deer start growing their new set of antlers, they need extra phosphorus and calcium. They are unable to get enough from their natural forage, and studies have proven that they get the required minerals by leaching them from the bone in their rib cages.
So, two things are going on while antler growth is occurring. Bone tissue in the rib cage is eroding, and new bone is formulating. Antlers grow from the tip, where cartilage is replaced by bone. The rate of growth can be nearly incredible, as much as a tenth of an inch per day, in the early period of antler growth.
Instinctively, excess amounts of calcium and phosphorus accumulate in the deer’s bones during the period prior to antler growth. Those two minerals are the most commonly found in antlers, but they also contain magnesium, sodium potassium, iron, zinc, and other minerals.
Bucks that grow big antlers have the right combination of genetics and nutrition.
Setting up a mineral lick in the spring serves many purposes. The first one is that it supplements the natural forage with needed minerals. A product should contain calcium and phosphorous, and since these two minerals are palatable, salt to sweeten the taste.
A side benefit to providing supplements to aid antler growth is that the male deer in the vicinity grow accustomed to using your hunting area, without pressure. In fact, it may be the first stop on a buck’s agenda when they leave their bedding area.
A buck’s antler size year-to-year is also related to the amount of rainfall the area receives during the period of prime antler growth, typically spring. Deer often derive much of the moisture or water they need in their diet via the water content of the native forage. When deer nutrition is challenged in the spring due to drought, antler growth will not be as good.
I train pointing dogs, and during the spring and summer months, put water tubs out in the fields so that dogs can be dunked and cooled during the workouts on hot days. It wasn’t long before I began to notice a throng of deer tracks at these little “tanks,” which were really not much more than big laundry totes with rope handles.
I hooked a landscape trailer to my ATV and refilled the totes/tanks at the house, to get them out into the fields. Once I noticed the deer activity, I repositioned the water areas near treestands, figuring, anything that draws a deer near a stand is a good thing!
The author said a water tub set up so that working dogs could get cool also acted as a watering hole and attracted deer.
Although the best way for deer to get valuable nutrients is by eating quality, native forage, when this is not possible — due to poor habitat or drought — you can supplement their diet by feeding high protein food. In one study, done in Texas, bucks which were fed supplemental protein were 10 pounds heavier than the other deer in the study, and they also had 10 more inches of antler!
Good genetics can only do so much. Deer need maximum nutrition to reach maximum antler growth, and we can take steps to help that happen.
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