Had a request for me to write an article on mineral supplements. The only problem with that, I don't know anything about them! So I'm turning to someone I consider an expert in this field, Michael Pahl. Here is Michael's first guest blog article:
Many years ago, I distinctly recall walking through the Pennsylvania woods and stumbling upon something out of place. It was a white block, in the middle of a muddy pit, with what appeared to be a camera tied to a tree. Looking back, that was likely my first exposure to the world of trail cameras. The thought of spending money developing the film from a camera over a salt block makes me cringe. Thankfully, much has changed since then but one thing remains the same; Mineral sites for deer continue to prove themselves as the most effective means of capturing giant mature bucks on trail camera. In this beginner’s guide, I am going to discuss some of the basics of using deer mineral licks to inventory mature bucks on your hunting grounds, and cover topics such as products to use and where to use them.
The first step to using mineral sites is to always consult with your local DNR. I can’t stress this enough. Some states simply do not allow the use of salt, mineral, or other attractants. Other states only limit the use of grains like corn, but allow the use of salt and mineral. It can get very confusing so I always suggest calling your local DNR and talking it over. In my experience, deer tend to abandon mineral sites around early September, so I have a hard time understanding the big deal. It’s also important to understand that congregating deer to one location is not a great idea when the risk of disease is high in your area.
The next steps involve selecting a location and choosing a product. When choosing a product, I suggest reading reviews and product tags. There are a ton of products on the market today, but only two I have had tremendous success with – Whitetail Institute 30-06 (or 30-06 Plus Protein) and Trophy Rock. A third contender and one I have only recently begun using is Repelx Deer Mineral made by Grandpa Ray Outdoors (GRO). While it is still not scientifically proven that mineral sites impact antler growth in free range deer, there is no doubt about the effectiveness of using these products during the summer trail cam season to inventory mature bucks in your area. All products have some pros and cons to consider, and I could write an entire book on the subject. In short, I like 30-06 for areas where I might be establishing a permanent mineral site, such as a deer sanctuary. Deer find 30-06 very quickly and spend a lot of time at the site each visit. I can generally get several dozen pictures of the same buck per visit. 30-06 also contains some added nutrients and vitamins to aid in overall herd health. I have poured 30-06 over a new site and captured deer on cam that evening eating the soil. The cost for a 20-pound bag of 30-06 is roughly $25.
Trophy Rock is the next product I suggest and comes in handy when a short tree stump is available and you may need to remove the product before hunting season. I seldom suggest placing the rocks on the ground, as they tend to last much longer when slightly elevated. Trophy Rock has recently released a loose mineral product called FOUR65, but I have yet to test it. It seems to take deer a little longer to find the Trophy Rock vs other products on the market, but once a bachelor group of bucks discover it, it quickly becomes a frequent place for them to visit. In addition to being highly attractive, Trophy Rock is 100% all natural and mined here in the USA. The common complaint against Trophy Rock is that the product contains a much higher percentage of salt than most competitors.
GRO’s Repelx Deer Mineral is very well researched and is a very health-centric option also available to try. The ingredients and analysis are published online, and deer find and use the mineral quickly. GRO’s popularity is quickly growing amongst enthusiasts and I’m excited to see what this product brings this summer. Repelx likely gets its name from its ability to aid in repelling fly’s, which is a unique feature usually reserved for cattle products. The salt in Repelx is also mined from the same source as Trophy Rock and comes in at about $40 for 35 pounds.
Lastly, another option I am going to mention is a homemade option. I have had mixed, but mostly positive results using homemade mineral mixes. You can stop by your local cattle feed store and purchase the ingredients to make a large amount of mineral mix for very cheap. The general recipe is one part Di-Calcium Phosphate, two parts Trace Mineral Salt, and one part Stock Salt. Cost varies but you are generally looking at up to 200 pounds of mineral mix for under $50. I have had my best luck with homemade mixes when I add a bit of dried molasses. I think the added scent makes the site more attractive.
When selecting a location, I would suggest staying off known walking trails and agricultural fields because mineral sites often become obvious deep muddy pits over time. As the old trapper saying goes “always setup over sign” like frequently used game trails thick with tracks and old rubs. Try to find natural pinch points and sections where multiple game trails come together. If you have a drainage ditch in the middle of large ag fields, where there are trees and cover for several yards on both sides of the drainage, those can be excellent areas for a site. If there is a natural water source nearby that is usually a plus. Position your mineral site or product in a location where your trail camera can aim north to avoid glare from the sun. Never allow your location to be dictated by not having the ideal straight tree available. Slate River makes an excellent trail camera mount that can help you position your camera in the perfect spot, even on crooked trees.
A general rule of thumb is to use one mineral site per 50-100 acres. A prime example would be a 350-acre property, split into quadrants, with one mineral site per quadrant. If you are consistently getting bucks on camera near the mineral site, but not on the mineral site itself, you might consider adding an additional site. No matter what product you use, keep your site refreshed yearly. In areas of extremely high use, you may even refresh the site a few times a year.
Now that you have your mineral mix, site locations, and local game laws figured out, we can shift our focus to the fun part – Trail Cam selection. When placing a camera over a mineral site you want to ensure you’re using a camera rated for 6+ months of battery life. This is mostly due to the fact you are likely to get five to ten times more pictures on a mineral site than game trail alone. In addition, I would suggest buying the ‘Premium Package’ tier from Trail Cam Pro (TCP) for active mineral sites, because the lithium batteries, extra-large SD cards, and lock box are all ideal for this type of setup. If you’re fortunate enough to have direct sun light available at your location, a pair of high capacity (2500mah or better) rechargeable batteries and a solar panel may also be a great idea. Browning features a 12v external battery power pack that allows you to add an additional 8 AAs to your setup, for double the expected battery life.
Camera speed is not the most critical factor in a mineral site setup, but clarity and crisp night pictures are everything. I am personally a fan of the Covert Black Maverick and Browning Spec Ops Extreme. Both cameras have great battery life ratings of 70 or better in TCPs battery tests, and above average image quality. Both models also feature LCD displays under the lens for precision aiming. You want to make sure your camera is several feet from the mineral site to make sure you are not cutting off those giant velvet antlers. Lastly, I suggest using a small Stanley level to make sure your pictures are nice and level, and tightening the strap tight to avoid Raccoons ruining your pictures.
Deer tend to begin using mineral sites in the early spring, so now is the perfect time to start planning. Peak usage by mature deer tends to occur in July and August. Don’t be discouraged if deer don’t heavily use your site in year one. Sometimes deer prefer an established area where salt and mineral have leeched into the soil and that can take some time.
Good luck, have fun, and share your questions and opinions in the comments below!
- Michael Pahl