How to Attract Deer

by Ben Team
Deer in bushes.

Deer in bushes.

Attracting deer is often a simple matter of providing them with safe access to a source of food, water or salt. You must place these items in the proper habitats, though, to expect success. As always, be sure to comply with all local, state and federal laws in your area; most states place restrictions on techniques used to attract deer.

Habitat and Location

You will not be successful attracting deer unless you place resources in areas that allow the deer to feel comfortable. Deer are often fond of habitat edges, such as where forests sit alongside fields or agricultural areas. This is especially true if other resources, such as natural food sources or water, are nearby. Look for trails used by the deer to discern their normal patterns, and place your attractants in places that the deer are likely to notice them.

Food Plots

Adding food-bearing plants to your land is one of the most effective ways of attracting deer. It is not necessary to plant a significant portion of your land, either. According to the American Forest Foundation, even food plots that only represent 1 percent of the total land area improve the health of local deer herds; accordingly, they recommend only supplementing 3 to 5 percent of the land with food-bearing species. Include both annuals and perennials among the mix, and include both native species such as oaks, green briars and crabapples, and agricultural plants such as corn or soy.

Baits and Salts

Salt licks and food placed in the habitat specifically for the purpose of baiting deer for hunting are very effective ways of attracting deer. In fact, they are so successful that many states strongly regulate their use or ban them outright. In some places, automated feeders are legal, while the authorities in other areas require the food to be placed directly on the ground. Salt helps deer to acquire enough sodium and calcium to ensure proper growth and health. However, some experts, including Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences veterinarian David Wolfgang, have raised concerns over the disease-spreading potential of baits and salt licks. Wolfgang and many of his colleagues have called for the banning of salt licks and baits to prevent disease such as chronic wasting disease.

Artificial Water Sources

Although deer obtain a considerable portion of their water from their food, they do require drinking water. You can take advantage of this need and attract deer by digging out small depressions, which will fill with rainwater and become temporary puddles. Clay-heavy soils are best suited for this purpose, as sandy soils will not retain water long enough to represent a quality water source for the deer. Their need for drinking water fluctuates throughout the year. In the spring, when rain is plentiful and their diet is rich in water-laden vegetation, deer need relatively little drinking water. When the weather is dry, and the local deer are foraging for bark, twigs or acorns, their water needs are at their peak.

Cover Your Tracks

A common mistake among those who set out elaborate baits or other attractants is they fail to cover their own scent before leaving the area. For example, you may place a top-of-the-line feeder, full of premium corn, in the perfect location; but fail to attract any deer because the entire area – meaning everywhere you stepped, placed your hand or sweated – now reeks of the most dangerous predator the deer know. Some avoid this problem by wearing boots, clothes and gloves that have been treated with a masking agent of some kind. Others prefer to wash their clothes and bodies with baking soda to get rid of the human scent. Fox- or raccoon-based scents are popular masking agents among some hunters, while others prefer scents that mimic acorns or dirt. Still others prefer deer urine scents, which may work as attractants themselves.

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