Gerald Almy: Mineral licks help herd’s health

Gerald Almy

Deer seasons won’t open for nearly six months, but there are lots of habitat alterations you can make that will improve the health of the whitetail herd in your area. Some projects you can do include planting edges between woods and fields with shrubs, fertilizing native wildlife foods to boost their production, creating small ponds to collect water during dry spells and putting in food plots.

If you’re interested in a simpler project, though, here’s one to consider: create a mineral lick. The goal of a lick is to provide vital minerals and vitamins to deer and other wildlife species that might be lacking in the natural foods and soils available to them.

Hunting over a lick is illegal in Virginia, but that would seldom be a productive tactic, anyway. Animals use these mineral sites almost exclusively from spring through early summer.

It’s rare to ever see a deer going to a mineral lick during hunting season. The reason is that bucks need the vitamins, calcium and phosphorous when they are growing antlers. (A buck’s rack is made up of roughly 45 percent protein and 55 percent minerals).

Does need them when they are pregnant and nursing their fawns. That means spring and summer.

Minerals play an important role in the health of all animals. They make them eat better, digest food more efficiently, grow larger racks and reproduce more successfully. Natural licks form in some areas where the mineral supply in the soil is heavy and located near the surface. In most areas, though, natural licks aren’t available and you can help wildlife by creating one.

You can purchase bags of minerals at farm co-ops and hunting supply stores or by mail order. Ingredients include salt, phosphorous, calcium, vitamins, plus trace minerals and elements like copper, zinc, cobalt, iron and manganese, as well as a flavoring agent to attract the deer.

The salt attracts deer, too, but is actually an element deer need in the spring time, not just “junk food.”

Whitetails need a balance of potassium and sodium in their bodies. During the spring and early summer, deer operate at a sodium deficiency due to larger amounts of potassium in natural forage at that time, according to wildlife biologist Brian Murphy, executive director of the Quality Deer Management Association.

“This interferes with efficient sodium conversion in the body and increases the need for sodium intake. Also, almost all soils located more than 25-50 miles from a seacoast are low in sodium.”

This need for salt draws deer to licks. And while they are there, a quality mineral mix will provide them with the vital phosphorous and calcium they need, plus a good mix of vitamins and micro elements in the precise proportions a whitetail’s physiology requires.

A quality deer mineral mix will also have a calcium-phosphorous ratio similar to the percentage of these minerals in the hardened antler of a buck — 22 percent calcium to 11 percent phosphorous, or roughly a 2 to 1 ratio.

Take into consideration the size of the land area when deciding how many licks to put out. As a rule, one for every 25-50 acres is best. For a 50-acre tract, one or two would suffice. On 100 acres, create two to four licks.

First locate an area where you’ve seen deer or where there is sign present, but not close to a road or where there’s a lot of human activity. Deer need to feel safe when they visit a lick. To make older bucks feel secure using the site, place it in an area with fairly thick cover.

Avoid wet areas, since the mineral will sink in and spread out. You want it to stay concentrated where you put it.

The first step is to clear away sod or weeds if they are present. Dig down four or five inches in about a 2-3 foot oval area and pour out 10-20 pounds of minerals. Mix the minerals with the dirt you dug up, and then pour a small amount on top.

You can also just pour the minerals out, but I’ve found deer use it better if it’s mixed with the soil. Some wildlife managers put minerals in trays or feeders, but as a rule you’ll get the best usage when they are incorporated into the soil.

Return to the spot in a few weeks to see if the minerals have been used and add more if required. But avoid visiting the site too often and do so only during the middle of the day.

You’ll have healthier does and fawns, and over time, the quality of antlers on bucks should also improve.