By Bob Humphrey
Proper nutrition is important to deer survival throughout the year, but is most critical at winter’s end when food is least abundant and nutritious. The whitetail’s nutritional gas tank is on “E” and in many cases they’ve already switched on the reserve. This is a time when supplemental feeding can be extremely helpful, if done correctly.
Through winter deer have been feeding largely on a diet high in coarse fiber (predominantly woody browse) but will soon be shifting to fresh greens as they become available. Their complex, four-chambered stomach has adapted to this diet and too much of the wrong food could do more harm than good. You can enhance both nutritional intake and rumen function during this transition period without shocking the system by providing a protein block. Look for something with at least 15 - 20 percent protein. Some even contain mineral supplements and vitamins.
You can begin your supplemental feeding any time. If you’ve been feeding through the winter, simply continue. If not, begin slowly to allow the deer’s digestive system to adapt. In either case, once you start, don’t stop, as they may become dependent on the food you provide.
Remote locations are preferable. Attracting deer to populated areas increases stress and the deer’s susceptibility to car-deer collisions and harassment by domestic dogs. Stay away from roads but don’t worry about OHV trails. In fact, the task of hauling 10-pound blocks or 50-pound bags to remote locations is made much easier if you can haul the feed in the bed of your Side-by-Side vehicle.
Again, this is a critical period. Nutrition is low while bucks are already growing a new set of antlers and does are eating for themselves and their rapidly growing fawns. Providing a little extra nutrition now gives more deer a chance to survive winter. It could also mean bucks will sport bigger antlers and does will be better able to provide for their fawns come spring.