Clearing Up the Mineral Mystery and understanding the differences between supplements and attractants

By Matt Harper

Twenty years ago, most hunters and land managers were not aware of the extraordinary benefits a deer herd could realize from access to quality food plots. Through time, education and experience, the importance of food plots became a well-accepted doctrine. In fact, food plots are now standard operating procedure for most management-minded deer hunters.
Mineral supplementation, however, is a management practice that has gained acceptance at a much slower pace. Ask most hunters and deer managers if they plant food plots, and nearly all will say they do, at least to some extent. Ask the same group whether they use mineral supplements, and many will say they are not using mineral supplements, at least not regularly.

There are several reasons behind this slow rate of acceptance. First, and probably foremost, people are unaware of the difference between a nutritional mineral supplement and an attractant. Second, many folks are not educated on the benefits a true nutritional supplement can provide. Therefore, many hunters believe mineral supplements are a waste of time and that all deer minerals on the market are pure hype. Yet another reason for the lack of mineral supplementation is that often, improper mineral site application is used, producing limited or no apparent success.

Whether it was put in the wrong spot, used at the wrong time or some other important step was not done correctly, the lack of success because of these errors causes a hunter to abandon the idea. 

Finally, the biggest cause of the lack of mineral supplementation is the confusion created by so many products. Nearly all claim nutritional benefit and unequalled attraction. Yet the differences among these products in terms of actual benefit and nutrition quality range dramatically. In reality, this final factor is why the first three problems exist.

In this article, we’ll clear up some of these confusing aspects of mineral supplements by taking each of the problematic factors and shedding some light on them. Using mineral supplements in your deer management program can produce tremendous results, and after we clear away the fog surrounding mineral supplements, you will be able to make the choices to begin realizing the benefits.


The first major issue to clarify is the difference between products designed predominantly for attraction and those designed around nutrition first and attraction second. Most products designed primarily for attraction are nearly all salt based. Like all herbivores, deer can be attracted to salt during spring, summer and early fall. The attractiveness of salt is caused by the animals’ need for sodium, which is supplied by salt in the form of sodium chloride. At a cellular level, potassium and sodium must be in appropriate balance in order to maintain normal body function. Green, lush vegetation normally found in abundance from spring through early fall is very high in potassium but very low in sodium. Therefore, deer are overloaded with potassium and search out sodium where it can be found. 

However, just because deer are attracted to sodium does not necessarily mean it does anything to improve antler growth  beyond maintaining a proper cellular osmotic balance. In fact, if you analyze a hardened antler, you will find that it contains only .03 percent sodium.

Many products found on the market are largely sodium based, obtained from salt or some other sodium form. There might be some minute levels of other minerals included in the product — enough to allow a company to market the product as a multi-component mineral — but close examination will show the product is mostly sodium. Further complicating the use of the word “mineral supplement” is that salt is a mineral. A product that's all salt can be called a mineral because at the strictest definition of the word, salt is a mineral. However, most people who see the word mineral assume that means the product contains significant amounts of multiple minerals, not just one. Clinching the situation regarding confusion around sodium based “minerals” is that deer are attracted to them. These products appear to be working. It is difficult at times to physically see the benefit of using a mineral product beyond whether deer are eating it. It's assumed that if deer are eating it, it must be working. Well it is working as far as attraction but is not necessarily giving much antler-growing nutritional benefit.

A nutritional-based mineral product is designed first for nutritional improvement and therefore contains significant amounts of several types of minerals that have been found to be key to antler growth. Some of these minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and selenium just to name a few. Of course the deer must still be attracted to the product and consume it before any nutritional benefit is realized. Therefore, certain amounts of attractants, such as salt, must be added to get the deer to eat it. However, the amounts of these attractants contained in a nutritional supplement are far less than those found in an attractant-based product, as nutritional-based products are designed around nutrition first and attraction second.


There has been a long-running debate on the actual benefit that can be derived from using a mineral supplement in your deer-nutritional management program. This debate stems from the fact that getting scientific data on wild deer is nearly impossible. To acquire this data, all other variables must be taken out of the equation, and therein lies the problem with wild deer. There is no way to control all variables. Of course, you can do this with penned deer, but that does not satisfy many people’s questions about wild deer. The situation is not helped any by the fact that there are many products claiming to be nutritional deer minerals. In reality, they are mostly attractants, as we mentioned earlier. These attraction products will likely not give much benefit to deer. However, a common-sense look at antler growth, doe lactation, fawn growth and overall herd health leads you to the conclusion that mineral supplementation is beneficial to a deer herd.

Mineral requirements during antler growth and doe lactation are higher than nearly all other animal classes, including cattle. When you look at the process of antler growth, you find that the antler is basically growing bone, an outside extension of the skeletal system. In the hardened form, antlers (bone) are comprised of 55 percent mineral. When you consider that antlers are shed and then regrown each year, it is difficult to argue that mineral supplementation is not beneficial. The mineral used in antler growth is taken from the buck’s skeletal system and deposited on the growing antler. This mineral must then be replaced from the deer’s diet. Because antlers are secondary sex characteristics, the buck will not endanger his body to grow bigger antlers.

If there is not enough mineral in the diet, less mineral will be transported to the antler, thus creating decreased antler size. Does require high amounts of mineral during lactation, as doe milk is very nutrient dense and fawns require mineral for skeletal growth. For years, the benefit of using mineral supplementation for cattle has been proven, so common sense tells us that if mineral supplementation is beneficial for cattle, and deer require more mineral per pound of body weight, how much more beneficial would mineral supplementation be for deer? Field observations have shown dramatic antler-growth improvements when mineral supplementation is practiced. Probably the most compelling evidence for the benefit of mineral supplementation for antler growth comes from comparing soil maps and P&Y and B&C records. Soils that contain the higher levels of minerals directly correlate to the same areas for the highest number of P&Y and B&C entries.


I know several people who have tried a mineral supplement on their property, had no immediate results and quit the practice completely. Although there are some unexplained instances where application was not the problem, 99 percent of mineral supplement failures can be traced back to how the practice was conducted. First, site location is critical. I have seen many people put a mineral site in a wide-open area, such as on the edge of a food plot. Although these areas sometimes work, many times they do not. Deer are vulnerable when they stop and eat. They do not like using areas where they are outside and away from protective cover. The most effective sites are normally four to eight feet off of a heavily used trail surrounded by protective cover.

Second, timing is important. A mineral supplementation program should be started in early spring, when antler growth is just beginning, and continued throughout the antler-growing cycle. Many folks do not begin using supplements until late summer or early fall, which dramatically decreases the benefit. For those who want to take nutritional management to the highest level, there's Cutting Edge Nutritional Supplements, which are designed to meet the changing needs of deer specific to a particular time of year. Use Initiate for late winter and early spring, Optimize for spring/summer and Sustain for fall and winter.

Another common mistake is only trying one spot. The typical recommendation for the number of sites is one for every 40 to 100 acres. That does not mean, however, that if you are starting amineral programfor the first time and you have 200 acres, you should only try two to five areas. 

Deer are very picky animals. There are some areas they simply will not use. Whether it is the soil type, the cover around the area or for whatever reason, deer will prefer one spot over another. I have conducted tests where I have used the same product 100 yards apart, and deer have nailed one area while leaving the other almost untouched. Therefore, when starting a mineral program, I recommend starting out with small amounts (five pounds) in say two to four areas per 40-acre parcel. Through time, deer will tell you which area they prefer. After that's established, discontinue the unused areas, and replenish the area most heavily used.


As I mentioned earlier, the most confusing part of the mineral supplementation question is the myriad of products available on the market claiming to be the best. How can you compare products, dig through the marketing and find out which product is truly a high-quality, nutrition based deer mineral supplement? You might not know it, but every mineral product on the market has a guarantee. This guarantee is found on the tag or label. This tag tells you the purpose of the product, what can be found in it and what nutrient levels are contained in that product. You would surmise that a quick look at the tag would tell all you needed about that product and how it compares to similar products. Unfortunately, that's not always true.

First, a tag should tell you all the ingredients found within that product. However, it does not tell you the exact amount or the quality of the ingredient used. For example, a tag may list calcium iodate (an iodine source), but unless iodine is listed in the guaranteed analysis, you have no way of determining how much is in mix. A company can legally list the item as long as it is added, no matter how little is used in the formula. In terms of quality, there is no way to determine the quality of the ingredients from looking at the tag. Vitamin A comes from many sources that range dramatically in quality. The tag does not have to list the specific source, only list “Vitamin A Supplement.” For these and other reasons, it is possible for a company to make a product of lower quality equal to that of a higher quality product simply by creative tag writing. So what are you supposed to do? The best answer is to go with a proven product supplied by a trusted company. The Whitetail Institute has been at the forefront of mineral supplementation in terms of research and innovation. The mineral and nutritional supplements offered by the Whitetail Institute have been developed through years of research and by the leading deer nutritionists in the industry. Only the highest-quality ingredients are used, and each product is formulated to maximize digestibility and usage. Imperial 30-06 and 30-06 Plus Protein are staples in the deer mineral supplementation industry and have the longest history in the market of showing dramatic improvements in a deer herd. In terms of innovation, Whitetail Institute was the first company to introduce nutritional supplements designed to match a deer’s needs based on the time of year and physiological stage the deer is in. The products found in the family of Cutting Edge Nutritional Supplements (Initiate, Optimize and Sustain) remain the most innovative products to hit the market in recent years.

As you can see, it is little wonder there has been confusion among hunters and managers about the use of mineral supplements in a deer herd. There are a lot of “blurred lines” out there that make decisions difficult. But keep these critical aspects in mind. Know the difference between true mineral supplements and attractants. Realize that true mineral supplementation can improve the quality of your deer herd. Make sure your mineral site application is done correctly and choose a quality product from a trusted company. Follow these guidelines, and you can start reaping the benefits mineral supplementation can provide in your nutritional management program.


The Whitetail Institute offers three products designed to be used during spring and summer. Many people want to know why there are three and which they should use. First, the products are designed and formulated to match the specific nutritional needs of bucks and does during spring and summer. All are proven products with years of field tested results. The main difference lies in the mode of attraction. As mentioned in the article, no matter how good the nutritional profile of the product, if deer do not eat the product, it does little good. Through research the Whitetail Institute has found various ways to attract deer. 30-06, 30-06 Plus Protein and Cutting Edge Optimize use different types of attraction to enhance consumption. Also, through extended research, it has been found that deer might prefer one of these products over another based on the type of consumption enhancement used. There is no set pattern to the reason behind these preference differences, as preference might change even from farm to farm in the same region. Therefore, if you are beginning a mineral-supplementation program or thinking of switching to a different Whitetail Institute product, we recommend trying our three-product sample pack. You will receive all the products: 30-06, 30-06 Plus Protein and Cutting Edge Optimize. Put all three products out on your property, and let the deer tell you which you should use. See ad on page 65 or call 800-688-3030 x 1.