Nutrition Vs Attraction

By Matt Harper
Childhood experiences often cause behaviors that stick with us for the rest of our lives. For example, I have this weird quirk that involves eating items on my plate in a systematic fashion, nishing each portion before I move to the next. What influenced this dietary methodology is the fact that I was forced to try everything that was offered and I had to clean my plate completely. I know what you’re thinking; torturous, medieval even, but no matter how heinous the food (we are talking things like dandelion greens and cooked parsnips) I was forced to eat what was put in front of me.

No chicken nuggets or instant mac and cheese back up, either. These things weren’t even in the vocabulary at that time. So, I developed a plan where I would start with the item I disliked the most and moved in progression around my plate leaving what I liked the best until last. That way I used hunger as an aid to accomplish this ghoulish task. Years later I would learn that, while still torturous, the force feeds of certain foods was done to make sure I actually ate something nutritious instead of just  what was tasty to a youngster. Who knew that spinach was more nutritious than chocolate chip cookies?

Nearly every package of food plot seed, deer mineral or attractants will say that inside that package you will find a product that deer will be drawn to uncontrollably. Of course, what else would you expect it to say? If it said something like, “This product is packed with nutrients, deer don’t like it much, but it’s really nutritious” I doubt too many bags would leave the store. Speaking of nutrition, nearly all deer products will also promote some kind of nutritional benefit. So, you may wonder if you are buying a nutrition product or an attractant — or buying both. These are very good questions and ones we will examine in order to help you determine nutrition vs. attraction.

The first thing to determine is the definition of nutrition and attraction. A nutritional product is one whose primary function and purpose is to supply specific nutrients to deer in order to improve the quality of the herd. The primary role of an attractant is to draw deer to a specific spot or a specific area by using flavors and aromas that deer prefer over other flavors and aromas. These definitions seem somewhat simplistic, but regardless it is important to continually keep them in mind when analyzing products.


Because of the definition we are using, the attractant category can contain nearly an infinite number of products. For simplicity’s sake, however, we can further divide the category into feeding and non-feeding type attractants. Nonfeeding attractants are primarily pheromonebased scents that either contain or mimic urine and/or glandular secretions of estrous does or rutting bucks. Scents that contain or mimic general deer urine would also belong to this subcategory. Because this article pertains mostly to feed/food attractants we will not spend any time diving into non-feeding attractants any deeper, but as you can imagine, there is no shortage of opinions and theories on this particular subcategory—enough to write several articles. Feed/food attractants contain or mimic flavors and scents of food stuffs that are thought to be preferred by deer. Acorns, corn, apples, salt, persimmons, molasses, berries (of all varieties) are just a few of the most common flavors/scents that are used, but the list of culinary delights that profess to bring deer running is virtually endless. While there are arguably other feed/food flavors and scents that attract deer, most are primarily based on the attraction power of sweet or salt. Undoubtedly deer are attracted to sweet food sources. Apples, berries and molasses all have one thing in common and that is a high sugar content. The reason for the attraction power of sugar is not definitive, but an examination of a deer’s taste buds would show a high percentage of sweet receptors. An additional thought is that sugar is high in energy which could make the food source more attractive if you prescribe to the thought that deer instinctively know what food sources are high in energy.

This particular theory gains some believability when you consider highly attractive food sources such as acorns, corn and soybeans. These food sources are not particularly sweet nor do they have an overly high salt content. They are, however, packed with energy in the form of oils or carbohydrates and, in the case of soybeans, are also high in protein. My personal opinion (remember I said opinion) is that deer do not necessarily know what food sources are the best for them to eat based on nutrition. Perhaps, instinct is really a learned behavior that has evolved over time. Regardless, it is irrefutable that deer are attracted to hard mast and grains no matter the reason.

Salt is another very common substance used to attract deer. The reason behind the attraction lies at a cellular level. Cells maintain osmotic pressure largely by maintaining a proper balance of sodium and potassium. A balance of these two minerals must be maintained for normal cellular health and function. In spring, when fresh new vegetation is growing, the plant material is typically very high in potassium and low in sodium. This causes deer to crave sodium which is a natural bodily reaction to try and maintain the sodium/potassium balance. Salt is sodium chloride, thus the attraction power of salt in the spring and summer.

When plants begin to mature, the potassium level drops and the deer’s attraction to salt also drops. That is why most salt-based attractants often lose their draw in the fall and winter. When using attractants, the key thing to remember is that they are designed first and foremost for attraction purposes. If you pour some salt or a salt-based attractant out and see the deer digging a big hole in the ground, don’t think that you are automatically improving antler growth, doe lactation or any other production function. While there is some nutritional benefit in terms of potassium balance, salt (sodium) does very little if anything for antler growth. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and trace minerals such as copper and zinc are much more involved in antler growth. Further, most sweetbased attractants have limited to no nutritional value. Aside from the energy the sugar provides, little nutrition is derived.

What about putting out corn or acorns you might ask? Certainly there is nutritional value with these items, but you mainly provide only one nutrient—carbohydrates—which don’t create balanced nutrition. Further, in most attraction situations, too little is used to really provide even enough carbohydrates to call it a nutritive source. So, if the main purpose of the product is to attract, it likely is an attractant only. For example, if a “deer mineral” contains primarily salt (more than 50 percent), then it should be considered an attractant. Yes, if there are a few other minerals in the mix, it may provide some, and I stress SOME, nutrition but not enough for me to call it a nutritional product. I am not saying that using an attractant is wrong, if that is your only goal. Just do not expect much, if any, nutritional benefit.

All products whose primary function is one of supplying nutrients to deer would qualify as a nutritional product. That does not mean that they all provide the same level of nutrients and for that matter the same types of nutrients. It is simply that the goal in the design of the product is first and foremost to increase the nutritional plane of the deer herd. To get a better understanding of this, we should first start with the most common nutrients used in food/feed supplementation for deer. Protein has long been a buzz word in deer nutrition as it is involved heavily in antler growth, and because most regions of the country contain natural browse that does not meet deer protein needs to achieve maximum antler production. A growing antler is up to 80 percent protein and even a hardened antler is 45 percent which leaves little doubt as to why protein is often supplemented either through food plots or feed supplements. Keep in mind, however, that antler growth is not the only derivative of protein. Muscle growth and doe lactation are just a couple of the laundry list of protein functions.

Minerals are another nutrient family that coincides with the topic of deer nutrition. Minerals are divided into two groups — macro and micro. Common macro minerals are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride. Common micro minerals are copper, zinc, manganese, selenium, iron, iodine and cobalt. All of these minerals perform a multitude of vital functions, but the ones most discussed are antler growth, doe lactation and fawn growth. In terms of antler growth, it is important to remember that each year a buck will regrow what would amount to a large percentage of its skeleton in the form of antlers. Hardened antlers are 55 percent mineral so it should be easy to draw the conclusion that minerals are vital for antler growth. Minerals, however, perform many other functions including immunity, epithelial integrity, blood formation and enzyme activity just to name a very, very few.

Vitamins are often overlooked but nonetheless important. In particular fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E are vitamins that are not produced in the rumen via microbial populations like most B vitamins and are often supplemented in nutritional products. These vitamins are involved in a host of functions such as immunity, blood transport and reproductive health. The final nutrient family we will discuss is energy, which is not necessarily a nutrient but a derivative of nutrients. Energy is needed for nearly all bodily functions and certainly is vital in growth and body maintenance. Energy can be produced from several sources including protein, but the most common are carbohydrates and oils/fats.

The key to understanding true nutritional products is that that they are designed to supplement a deer’s diet that may be lacking in one or more nutrients, thereby disallowing the deer to reach full genetic potential. For instance, as previously stated, most parts of the country contain natural browse that is lower in protein than what is needed for optimal antler growth and doe lactation. To remedy this, a food plot can be planted that contains high quality, high levels of protein to help balance out the deer’s diet.

Likewise, most parts of the country have soils that are deficient in one or more minerals. Therefore, a mineral supplement is used to help supply the lacking minerals. Maybe you live in an area where winter can bring harsh climate conditions and a lack of food for your deer herd. Energy is vital at this time of year in order to maintain body weight and strength to deal with the cold weather. Using a feed supplement or food plot that contains high amounts of energy could help to provide deer with the nutrients they need to see another spring and see it in good condition.


If you ask most deer hunters, they would say that they want to provide their deer with supplemental nutrients to improve the overall quality of the deer herd. While this is most likely an honest answer, if they see little usage of this product and deer are not attracted to the product, it will likely be the last time they purchase that product no matter how good the nutritional quality of the product may be. Frankly, the truth is that if the deer are not attracted to the product, it really doesn’t matter what nutrition it provides because obviously the deer have to eat the product to receive the nutrition. Back to my opening comments, even though dandelions greens may be packed with nutrients, if your stomach turns each time you smell them, it really doesn’t matter their level of nutritive value. The answer to the question of how to combine attraction and nutrition lies in the design of the product.

For example, when researchers at the Whitetail Institute were developing the revolutionary food plot product Imperial Whitetail Clover, the focus was on both protein content and attraction. Several different clover varieties were tested for attraction and protein and the varieties that showed the best characteristics were interbred to produce an F2 generation of clover. This process was replicated several more times to eventually result in the only clover product bred for deer specifically to provide unequalled attraction and nutrition. Another example from the Whitetail Institute of combining nutrition and attraction is the Cutting Edge Optimize nutritional supplement. This product is designed to be used in the spring and summer to supply mineral and protein. You might think that this product is high in salt but Optimize contains less than 17 percent salt. Instead, Optimize is loaded with vital minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, trace mineral and protein and contains a proprietary attractant that is a result of a blend of various scents and flavors.


My taste buds have apparently changed as I got older. I actually like spinach now and many of the other foods that bunched up my face when I was a kid (I still don’t like dandelion greens). I am not sure that this was a result of acquired taste through force feeding or because I realized I had to learn to like it to get better nutrition. What I do know is that most of the time there is a definite difference between the food you should eat and the food you like to eat, i.e. nutrition vs. attraction. What I have figured out is that the best plan of action is to focus on foods that I like and are highly nutritious. There is absolutely no difference when it comes to deer nutrition. Find a product that will attract deer like a magnet and provide quality nutrition and you have achieved the best of both worlds.