At first glance, feeding deer in the wild seems simple.
Choose a site, buy a feeder, load it with grain or other tasty treats and then step away and let the magic happen.
Indeed, feeding deer was “a thing” long before modern feeding devices came along. One method was to visit a location from time to time and simply scatter (or dump) corn, sunflower seeds, oats or other treats on the ground. Many hunters still do this today.
Another popular method is to plant primitive, minimally tilled leafy green gardens for deer. For example, one northern Minnesota hunter scatters plantings of red beets, lettuce and spinach for deer-grazing pleasure. These plants are integrated with the natural grasses and wild flora.
Getting Better Deer Feeding Results
While the traditionalists know what they’re doing, there’s no question that deploying a modern, mechanical deer feeder unit will get superior and more consistent results.
Feeders offer other significant advantages. More on that in a bit.
Today, feeders are available from hunting equipment and specialty companies. They range from large sizes that may hold 300, 400, 500 or even 600 pounds of feed — to smaller units that carry something like 20 to 30 gallons.
Smaller feeder units may be fine for folks who live near their feeding sites and can frequently visit to refill. In general, however, the further one lives from the location, the larger unit can keep the feeding going for weeks at a time while the deer aficionado is away.
Timing is Key
Today’s well-designed deer feeders can be programmed to release feed at specific times. There are several reasons why strategic releases of feed at optimal times of the day are advantageous.
For example, whitetail deer – and those monster bucks – tend to feed in the dark just before sunrise and just after sunset. They will often continue to eat all night. That means they sleep a lot during the day.
Thus, hunters can program feeders to release feed only during daytime hours. In effect, this allows hunters to “train deer” into becoming day feeders. That makes for better hunting and bolsters the opportunity to bag a trophy with a major gnarly rack.
Timing by Season
To truly get a handle on understanding how, when and where deer feed, one must take into account the seasons. This is especially true in northern climates where there are four distinct seasons, winter, spring, summer and fall.
Deer change their feeding habits significantly by season.
In the winter, for example, food is scarcer. This means deer go into survival mode and eat as often as they can at all times of the day and night. For the deer feeder, this spells an opportunity to supply a major easy source of nutrition. This, in turn, helps the hunter “train” deer to frequent locations where you want them to be on any given day.
Summer is obviously the easy time for deer because all manner of plants that deer love is widely available. Deer adopt an easy routine of eating widely and abundantly from natural foods sources of wide variety and availability. Feeding deer is less effective in summer.
In the fall, however, deer understand that “crunch time” -– winter –- is not far off. Thus, they step up their feeding activity as they endeavor to fatten up for the long winter months ahead.
In the case of bucks, however, they tend to cut back on feeding in the second part of the fall because they start their rutting activity. The latter includes battling rival bucks. Their powerful drive to mate blots even the need to fatten up for winter.
For the hunter, however, fall feeding is an excellent opportunity to attract animals to be where you want them to be when it’s time to hunt.
Spring is the least advantageous time to feed. The landscape brings forth scads of tender green plant growth that delivers a greater nutritional punch than older vegetation. It’s also more digestible. The bottom line is, competing with the bounty of nature in the spring with supplemental feeding offers the poorest return on investment.
Just the basics of feeding deer with devices designed for that purpose have been covered here. Perhaps even more important than reading up on all this is gaining experience on the ground. Most hunters learn the patterns of their hunting grounds and gain insights into how deer feed through practice in the wild.
That’s what makes it fun!
Alison Lurie is a farmer of words in the field of creativity. She is an experienced independent content writer with a demonstrated history of working in the writing and editing industry. She is a multi-niche content chef who loves cooking new things.