Deer Suckers and Antler Builders A Guide to Product Identification

By Matt Harper

One of the major goals of a marketing group is to create a story or feeling around a product that is so appealing, the consumer believes their life would be better if they rushed out and purchased said product. If the consumer already has a deep passion for whatever the product will be used for, a small promotional push promising success is normally all it takes.

For example, let’s say your passion is golfing — so much that you spend hours on the course trying to whittle away at your handicap. One day, while nursing the wounds of a back-9 train wreck, you read an advertisement for a new driver that’s so technologically advanced it will increase your drive by 30 yards. The advertisement shows a guy confidently striding past his golfing buddies to his ball which is significantly farther down the fairway. You think to yourself, “That could be me. That’s all I really need to beat old Jerry — just 30 yards.” Even if Jerry has a better second shot than you, how cool would it be to out-drive him? The driver you have is only a year old, but what the heck, if there’s a chance the new driver will do what it says it will, it’s worth the cost of a couple of — or maybe four to five — date nights. Of course, the advertisement doesn’t tell you that although the club might hit the ball farther, it’s also much harder to control accuracy, and the improvement in distance is only realized with the perfect swing. A passionate golfer is always trying to lower his score and will buy whatever equipment might give him a better chance of accomplishing that goal. Likewise, hunters will purchase products based on the slightest chance it will improve their odds of seeing more deer or help them harvest a monster buck. I’ve been in sales and marketing for most of my professional career, much of which has been in the hunting industry. Every year, outdoor retailers ask their sales representatives the same question: “What do you have that’s new?” They know hunters are looking for the elusive silver bullet for hunting success. Knowing this, I still fall victim to trying the newest gadget because there might be a chance it works. My hunting room holds multiple types of guns, knives, broadheads, releases, camo patterns, scent-control devices and — well, you probably get the drift. Besides, my wife might be reading this. As hunters, we have a passion for what we do, and if there’s a product that even has the chance of increasing our odds, a lot of us will give it a try.

A Blurred Line Deer minerals and attractants have been on the market for many years and hold a special allure for avid deer hunters. An attractant, for example, raises the possibility of using a deer’s keen sense of smell against it by luring it to a spot and keeping it coming back there because of an uncontrollable desire to consume the attractant. How many times have you sat in a tree stand knowing there are deer somewhere on the property but remain frustrated that the elusive boogers won’t show themselves? If it’s simply a matter or pouring something out, hanging something up or tossing something on the ground that will attract them, it would seem crazy not to give it a shot. A deer “mineral” has the touted ability to attract deer and affect the quality of deer on your property by improving their nutrition and thus their quality. If a deer mineral could make the deer you hunt bigger in body and bone, it would seem foolish not to use such a game-changing tool. The reality with attractants and minerals is, some products on the market truly do the things mentioned. The problem is, the line separating attractants and minerals has been blurred by marketing and advertising folks who take some generous liberties in how they define and promote their products. Some attractants are advertised as simply that: a product that will attract deer. Others, however, have crossed the line claiming not only attraction but also nutrition, and what could be better than a product that is a powerful attractant and also grows monster bucks? Some products attract deer and provide beneficial nutrition, but others make claims that are a stretch — at best. Words such as “antler-building minerals” or “fortified” sometimes find their way onto packaging of products that, after close examination, might have a hard time supporting those claims. True, the product might contain a mineral that is involved somewhat in antler growth, but that does not necessarily mean that it will improve antler growth. So how do you cut through the marketing fog to make good decisions about what to purchase and use? You first must have a good understanding of what defines an attractant and a mineral.

Attractants In the purest sense of the word, an attractant is a product that uses some form of sensory stimulant to attract deer. These stimulants focus on the two major components of a deer’s life: breeding and eating. Most attractants related to breeding claim to mimic the scent of an estrous doe that will attract a rutting buck. Attractants that target the taste buds can generally be divided into sweet or salty. But before we get into those in more detail, it’s important to point out that a “food” attractant can use either or both smell and taste. Have you ever walked into your house and followed your nose to the kitchen in expectation of fresh-baked cookies only to find the source of that smell is a cookie scented candle? You look around for a while in hopes there might actually be cookies somewhere but eventually give up and leave. Now, let’s say a deer smells the sweet scent of apples and investigates to find some kind of reddish looking stuff piled on the ground. If the deer dips its muzzle in the pile, the stuff will taste like apple, right? Not necessarily, because attractants often use scent or flavor enhancers to create the attraction, with the key word being or. Some enhancement ingredients focus on smell and others on taste, so a product that smells like persimmons might not actually taste like persimmons. There are a few that smell and taste like the same thing and some that use the actual natural ingredient to some degree. You have probably seen the products that say something like, “Loaded with actual acorns,” or “contains real apples.” The truth is these products typically contain some scent-enhancing ingredients to produce a stronger scent than what is produced by the natural ingredient. Often, a scent enhancement is used to target the consumer and not deer. I remember a product that claimed something like, “With the attraction power of acorns.” Acorns smell like dirt, but people don’t associate dirt with attraction, so the product contained a scent enhancement that smelled a little like smoky caramel but nothing like an acorn. As mentioned, sweet is a taste used to attract whitetails. Some say that apple is the best sweet attractant, but others swear by molasses. I know a deer researcher who used cherry pie filling to attract deer into range of a net cannon. In fact, I’ve heard so many variations on what particular source of sweet works the best to attract deer the only certainty is that if it’s sweet, there’s a good chance deer will eat it. Sodium is another taste sensory trigger that will attract deer. However, it will typically only attract deer at certain times of year. In spring, when plants are vegetative and growing rapidly, they contain high levels of potassium. Sodium and potassium must be in an appropriate balance in the body to maintain proper cellular osmosis. When a deer’s diet is high in potassium and low in sodium, such as it is during spring and summer, deer become salt-hungry because their bodies crave sodium to balance potassium. Another factor of vegetation during spring and summer is that it’s high in moisture that acts as a flushing system, further decreasing sodium level in the body and increasing a deer’s need for that element. As plants mature and potassium and moisture levels drop, the craving for sodium becomes less, decreasing its attraction power. Salt is the most common form of sodium used in attractants, but other sodium forms work, including sodium bicarbonate. One popular attractant uses soda ash or sodium carbonate. The interesting thing about this product is it has a warning label for nose and lung irritation because its pH is so high yet it has been on the market for years.

Free Choice Deer Minerals The term deer mineral covers a large diversity of products, some ranging from highly fortified and nutritionally sound products to those that carry the name loosely at best. A true deer mineral is constructed with the first priority being nutrition. Yes, attraction is important, because no matter how nutritionally beneficial the product might be, deer have to consume it to derive any of that benefit. The primary consideration, however, in the development of a true deer mineral is a nutritional profile that will improve the quality of the deer herd. In general, the specific nutrients found in a deer mineral will consist of three categories, including macro minerals, trace minerals and vitamins. Occasionally, deer minerals might contain additional additives, such as a probiotics, a protein source, flavor or scent enhancers, and many others, but the main structure remains supplemental minerals and vitamins. Macro minerals used in deer supplements are those needed in larger quantities and typically consist of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sodium. Trace minerals are needed in smaller quantities but are nonetheless vital. These consist of zinc, manganese, copper, iron, selenium, iodine and cobalt. Vitamins used in deer minerals are normally limited to the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E. Occasionally, water soluble or B vitamins are formulated into products, but deer have the ability, via rumen micro flora, to produce B vitamins, so generally they are not added to most deer mineral products. Just having these items formulated into a product does not make a true deer mineral, as there are other considerations to take into account. First, what is the level or amount of each mineral or vitamin in the product? This is an important part of the equation to investigate, because an ingredient can be listed on the product label regardless of how little is actually used. This is typically called “tag dressing,” which means putting in just a little so it can be added to the label. Unfortunately, this can be fairly common. For example, I know of a few products that claim to be “deer minerals” containing the “essential” elements we discussed. However, upon further examination, you find the product is 98 percent salt with some small amounts of macro and trace minerals and vitamins added for tag dressing. One product claims to have dozens of vital minerals but upon analysis contains .0001 percent of most of them. This causes the blurred line between attractants and true minerals. Another consideration is the source of the mineral. For example, copper can be derived from several compounds, including copper sulfate, copper chloride and copper oxide. If any of these are used, laboratory analysis will show that copper is present in the product and even at the level listed on the tag. However, the digestible variability of these sources differ greatly, with the chloride and sulfate sources being largely available but the oxide form being mostly unavailable, rendering it useless to deer. Finally, the ratio in which the various minerals are formulated can greatly influence the effectiveness of a product. The most common example is calcium and phosphorus ratios. If these minerals are not formulated at the appropriate ratio, neither will be beneficial to deer. There are many more examples of important ratios and, in fact, nearly all the minerals will interact with one another, meaning the ratio puzzle must be considered with each mineral used in the product.

Knowing the Difference As mentioned, it’s sometimes difficult to identify whether a product should be classified as a deer mineral or an attractant because of how the product is promoted and positioned. Words or phrases can be used in the product’s marketing that are legal but also misleading or, at best, embellished. If you want a deer mineral, you must be careful not to buy an attractant that is simply dressed up to look like a deer mineral. I want to make it clear that I’m in no way putting down attractants. If your goal is first and foremost to attract deer with little concern for the nutritional benefit, an attractant is certainly worth considering. On the other hand, if your first concern is providing nutrition, there are a few things you can look at to evaluate a product. If a product contains more than 60 percent salt, I would tend to classify it more as an attractant than a true mineral/vitamin supplement. As discussed, salt is used as an attractant, so a deer mineral will have to have a certain amount to get deer to eat it, but it should not be formulated so salt is the overwhelming ingredient. Also, I look to make sure the product contains all the macro and trace minerals we discussed, as well as vitamins A, D and E. Then I look at the levels of each mineral to determine if any ingredients are being used solely as tag dressing.

Conclusion Whether you’re looking for a deer sucker or an antler builder, it’s important to get what you’re seeking and not be distracted by clever advertising. Having a better understanding of the characteristics of each and how to generally tell the difference will help guide you to the right product. Finally, choose a product from a reputable company with years of experience and years of research, such as the Whitetail Institute of North America. It is fairly easy to put some stuff in a colorful bag with a big deer on it and use some catch phrases to sell the product, but nothing compares to years of success.