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​Antler Growth Is a Year Round Affair

From our Friends at Sportsman’s Choice

It is common practice for many ranch managers to shut off their protein feeders and fire up the corn/spincast feeders once we get into hunting season. Theoretically, this corresponds with the nutritional requirements of whitetail deer, if we consider that bucks are done with antler growth and most doe have weaned off fawns and are no longer lactating. Basically, we go into a holding pattern for a couple of months and deer are able to cruise without having to meet the higher nutritional demands that are required in the spring and summer.

Even though range conditions look good currently, it is important to realize that although the nutritional demands of whitetail deer have fallen off, managers should not completely pull the plug on their supplementation program. Most would be surprised to know that more mature bucks are lost every year to malnutrition and post rut stress than are taken by hunters annually. This is due mainly to post rut stress and the fact that bucks will lower total daily intake during the winter and especially during the rut. Due to this behavior, it is not uncommon for mature bucks to lose as much as 30% of their body weight due to the stress of the rut. Providing a supplement will not eliminate the fact that bucks are going to lose some body condition, but they will still utilize it as a portion of their diet even if total daily intake has fallen off. Although requirements have lightened from a protein standpoint, managers have to be careful in what they are feeding as deer are much more sensitive nutritionally when they are stressed.

More mature bucks are lost every year to malnutrition and post rut stress than are taken by hunters annually.

If we allow bucks to fall off in body condition, many of the commercial nutritional supplements that are available can actually do more harm than good. Most have heard of the term acidosis and its effect on ruminant animals, but few know that it is typically caused by increased starch levels in the diet due to over-consumption of high grain rations. Most commercial pelleted deer protein supplements that are available have very high starch levels due to high grain inclusions. If we take a deer that has lost 30% of their body condition and offer them straight whole corn or a deer supplement that has a high starch level we are basically driving the last nail in the coffin. Deer that are stressed from the rut will die just as quick from acidosis as they will from a 30-06 bullet.

So, how do we solve this problem? The best way, although it may not be economically feasible for many, is to offer a balanced free choice supplement year round. Nutritional requirements for most deer fall off in the fall and winter, and typically the highest nutritional demand from a protein standpoint will come from younger deer that are not yet mature physiologically, but their growth demand shouldn’t exceed 14% protein in the total diet. The best recommendation would be to offer a lower protein 14%-16% ration that has high fiber, high fat and low starch levels. Finding the cheapest 14% ration available and feeding it is not a good idea, due to those feeds not being balanced correctly.

Many managers also worry about deer becoming nocturnal if they feed protein free choice during hunting season. Another misconception is that it is bad management practice to hunt over protein feeders. However, the added nutrition provided from a balanced free choice supplement when our habitat is at its worst will benefit the entire herd more now than ever, and deer becoming nocturnal is a function of pressure and not what kind of food source is present. The more pressure put on the food source, the less deer will utilize it during daylight hours regardless of whether it is a corn feeder, food plot, or protein feeder.

It is important to remember that body condition will always take precedence over antler development.

We work too hard improving habitat and managing our herds to grow quality deer only to allow half of the mature bucks to succumb to post rut stress every year. The best recommendation is to continue to provide your deer with a balanced high energy supplement September through February that is lower protein and balanced to promote rumen health. This will decrease post rut mortality simply by allowing your deer to maintain adequate body condition through the rut and allow them to recover and replenish body condition before they drop their antlers. It is important to remember that body condition will always take precedence over antler development. If bucks are able to maintain adequate body condition through the winter, we not only increase post rut survival, we improve antler production for the following year, as bucks are able to apply nutrition toward antler growth as soon as they drop their old set and do not have to replenish depleted body condition.


Texas Hunter Products offers a full line of protein feeders starting with a 300 lb. capacity. They also offer large capacity protein feeders with 600 lb., 1,000 lb., 1,200 lb. and 2,000 lb. hoppers. These innovative protein feeders are designed to keep protein feed clean, dry and fresh. The angle of the large feed ports makes the protein feed easily accessible to deer and prevents the weather from causing any issues with disrupting the feed flow.

Responsible deer herd management ensures your future deer hunts result in success and that you enjoy a robust and healthy deer herd. Make sure your deer get the protein feed they need and that you protect your investment by using the right gravity feeders for the job.

Learn more about Texas Hunter’s line of deer protein feeders, watch the video on the Protein Feeders and see the difference the right protein feeders can make.