Summer is here and mass trail camera deployment is right around the corner! That means only one thing for us as whitetail hunters, growing velvet bucks and #velvetfest! You can't talk summer trail cameras and not mention mineral sites, at least where mineral sites are legal. The two are like peanut butter and jelly...only the weirdos say they are not a match made in heaven. Regardless of the product you use at a mineral site through the summer months, the objective is typically the same. Get pictures of growing bucks and inventory your summer deer herd.
In this article we're breaking down the When, Where, Why, and How of mineral sites and we brought in some of the industry's best whitetail habitat specialists for their additional insight.
WHEN TO START A MINERAL SITE
The vast majority of folks focus on starting mineral sites in the spring and then continue to freshen up sites through the summer. The common thought and industry marketing focuses on mineral sites growing bigger racks on whitetail bucks which leads to having mineral out during the velvet growing period. The thought process and validity around minerals putting inches on wild whitetail bucks seems to be highly debatable at best and we'll touch on it later in this article.
Brett Smith of Whitetail Land Management Services says this on when to put out mineral "As soon as “green up” occurs. It may seem early, but if you’re already looking to scratch your whitetail itch, get your mineral out NOW".
Don't beat yourself up if you miss the spring deadline, it's never "too late". On the flip side of only running mineral sites through spring and summer, there are plenty of individuals who offer mineral sites to whitetails year round, where legal.
WHERE TO PLACE A MINERAL SITE
Deeper is not always better. Remember the goal: Collect trail camera intel on growing bucks, inventory the local deer herd, and provide whitetails with added nutrition if needed.
At first glance you assume any location will work for a mineral site but there's a little more thought to picking a good mineral site location. Access, property layout, evening food sources, water sources, and bedding all play into where you should place your mineral sites.
Don Higgins of Higgins Outdoors and Real World Wildlife Products has this to say about mineral site locations, "When using mineral sites to concentrate deer for cameras, I prefer to stick to easy to access locations such as field edges where I will inflict minimal human intrusion on the property. This may result in more nighttime photos but that is much better than bumping bucks from their security cover by intruding into it."
Jared Van Hees of The Habitat Podcast says something similar "Since deer obtain many of their minerals through the plants they eat, I like to spread a light amount of a trace mineral blend out among my food plots. The roots of the food plot crop will take up those minerals and be ready for the deer to consume. When going for camera inventory, I find a location that is easy to access without pressuring the area. An old log or stump on a field edge or two track works perfect."
WHY TO START A MINERAL SITE
At the end of the day, within a wild deer herd, we are not going to add inches of antler to a buck's rack by dumping a supplement on the ground. At least there is no current hard scientific evidence supporting mineral supplementation equals "X" additional inches of antler. However, by using mineral so we can provide overall health benefits and the mineral sites are an absolutely fantastic way to gather inventory of the deer herd.
While it is debatable on whether or not mineral sites actually offer any heath benefits on free range whitetails but those who believe so will often tell you to run a low salt content mineral year round as part of a nutritional regiment. Which ever side of the fence you fall on, it's important to know what you're paying for. Often times marketed mineral products consist of large amounts of salt, in which case you can save yourself some coin and just buy stock salt.
Higgins says "Where legal, I like to utilize mineral sites as both a place to get great summer photos of velvet bucks and a way to supplement the nutritional intake of the deer on a property. For this reason, I am adamant about using a scientifically balanced product such as Real Worlds Maximizer mineral products instead of salt-based attractants or home-brews that offer limited nutritional impact."
Many property owners managing large tracts of ground work towards improving year round habitat for their whitetail herd. With tracts large enough to encompass a whitetail's home range for 12 months it's important to think about year round habitat, food, water, cover, and even mineral supplementation. However, for the vast majority of us hunting on smaller tracts with whitetail's home range encompassing multiple parcels, mineral sites are about getting photos and videos throughout the summer months. Smith adds "Other than gaining the inventory of who made it through last season, any other information from summer patterns generally isn’t overly relevant come hunting season."
HOW TO START A MINERAL SITE
There's plenty of ways to skin the cat here. It's really about personal preference.
When starting a new mineral site I like to clear a 4' diameter circle on the ground. Next, I disturb the soil with a shovel....I don't get crazy here, I simply loosen up the top few inches. Once the soil is worked and loose, I pour 20lbs of mineral product on to the site and proceed to mix it in with the soil. After that is thoroughly mixed I pour another 20lbs of product on top of the site. Next, I top it with 50lbs of shelled corn and gently mix that together. I always top a new site with shelled corn as I want to make sure deer find it and start consuming it routinely ASAP. I find myself using one of three products when building and using mineral sites...100% stock salt, Real World Wildlife Products Maximer Mineral, or a DIY mix of stock salt/di-cal/trace minerals.
Brian Halbleit from the Habitat Podcast says "I like to use solid rock/block type mineral, specifically Trophy Rock. I place them on a stump or make my own stump from something like a firewood log. They last a lot longer being elevated off the damp ground, that seems to dissolve them faster."
With variables like deer density, soil type, and even the product you use there is no shoe box answer for how long "X" lbs of minerals will last. Every product will have some type of recommendation to reapply mineral but a good rule is every 45-60 days.
STRATEGIC CAMERA SETUP
No mineral site is complete without a trail camera! Just like the thought efforts in where to place the mineral site, the same efforts should be put towards where to hang your trail camera.
Don't place the camera too close - Once whitetails begin using the mineral site the last thing you want is a trail camera in their face as a deterrent from coming back regularly. We like to stay back 20'-25' from the site. This distance is close enough to provide solid photos and videos while also being far enough removed to stay discrete.
Avoid harsh lighting - This isn't super critical but it will definitely help with photo quality. There's nothing more irritating than going through the process of building a mineral site to capture photos and videos and then have them come out terrible.
Run a longer trigger delay - Mineral sites are what we classify as a "static environment". Whitetails will spend a decent amount of time at the mineral site and should visit it often. Thus, there is no need to run a short trigger delay and end up with thousands of photos of the same group of does. You're just being inefficient with batteries and SD card space. Over the years we've refined our setups to a 60-90 second trigger delay.
We hope you're as excited about #velvetfest and growing velvet whitetail bucks as we are. The excitement is far from the level of hunting season but with each passing day the anticipation grows and velvet racks get bigger!