Back in the 1960s, spike bucks were considered genetically inferior. After reading a magazine article about bucks with superior antlers being taken on mineral rich limestone bluffs in Wisconsin’s Buffalo County, I wondered if the spike bucks common in my hunting/study area were simply not getting enough calcium, phosphorus and zinc needed for normal bone and antler growth. I then began a 20-year study to see if cattle-type mineral blocks containing these minerals (with only traces of salt) placed in half of my hunting/study area in early spring would provide the answer. Not only did spike bucks become rare in the treated half (inhabited only by wild, unpenned deer) but antlers of older bucks in the treated half were found to have a 10–20% greater mass (measured via water displacement) than those of same ages in the untreated half. Moreover, fawn survival was about 20% greater in the treated half. All of this was well chronicled in my magazine articles and books in the 1980s.
Today, I am amazed by the enormous number of products available that are claimed to increase sizes of antlers. In some states, such products are “illegal,” especially where efforts are being made to keep whitetails from congregating and thus helping to spread of certain diseases such as chronic wasting disease.
There are a few things wrong with believing such minerals cause whitetails to congregate to any notable degree. It should first be mentioned, all wild whitetails congregate regardless, big time in traditional wintering areas between late December and snow-melt in spring. Second, the only wild whitetails that have ever congregated at any of my mineral blocks were about half the deer living within a half-mile: typically one or two mature does with young (including yearling bucks) – does that fiercely keep other does with young from invading their home ranges – and 1-2 mature bucks, the common number of wild bucks living in a forested half square mile. Because mature bucks travel little during the antler-growing season, I discovered to actually promote increased antler growth on any older buck, a mineral block had to be placed very near its secluded spring/summer/fall bedding area in early spring (difficult for most hunters to find). Does and their young quickly found mineral blocks placed in their separate feeding areas. Generally, therefore, my hard-surfaced 40 to 50-pound mineral blocks lasted three years or more. Finally, after antler growth is complete and does have weaned their fawns, about September 1st, whitetails have little or no desire for these minerals and quit visiting mineral blocks, meaning, mineral blocks do not attract deer or cause deer to congregate during hunting seasons. For that matter, cattle-type salt blocks are not particularly attractive to whitetails in fall and early winter either. This may not be true of some of today’s new antler-growing concoctions that contain other substances that may be attractive to whitetails.
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