By Nick Simonson
The trail camera season is upon us. Sweaty afternoons of hopping from camera to camera now in the heat of midsummer can pay off with dozens, if not hundreds, of pictures of velvet antlered bucks that will get the heart pumping when autumn rolls around and their summer covering has been shed. Utilizing attractants, such as mineral licks, where legal and prudent, are a great way of getting deer to pause for a time in front of the lens and help provide better photos for judging rack size and ultimately just to see what’s moving about in a given hunting area. What follows are some tips for placing these mineral stations and coordinating the best camera angle.
There are wide variety of mineral supplements to use when creating a lick station for deer in front of a trail camera. From powders to blocks to gels to rocks, the market is packed with options for hunters looking to attract animals and hold them in the area for a few extra seconds. For larger spaces and those hunters looking to put a little more work into the process, creating an area on the ground by clearing out grass and turning up a bit of dirt is ideal for spreading salt and other mineral powders. Smaller areas allow for the use of rocks and blocks that can be simply placed on the ground or on a tree stump, but note that these items can be easily knocked around and may have to be checked from time to time. Trail camera guru and creator of the Gack’s Tracks in the Wild email group, Chuck Gackstetter, relies on mineral licks and gels, and utilizes natural structures such as trees, to get the best deer pictures for his collection of field photos and his hunting purposes.
“For deer I use mineral licks and they usually start using them in April every year, and they use them all through the summer and they quit the first of September; I use the same spots every year,” Gackstetter advises, “I use a trace mineral and calcium combination and I use a lot of liquid flavored gels that have salt and sugar and apple flavoring, and I’ll pour that on the trees and the ground,” he continues.
Location & Timing
Mineral licks should be placed in an area that sports a number of attractive features. First, it should be near a frequently used deer trail, where animals are moving on a regular basis. These areas in midsummer are easily detectable in the taller grasses, when out establishing a new lick site, so follow them and look for bends, or places where they lead into areas of cover. Next, licks can be placed against structures near the trail such as the dirt around trees and tree stumps, or even adjacent to larger boulders on the ground. Finally, consider the backdrop against which the bucks will be seen for easier counting of tines and evaluation of rack size. A backdrop of brambles makes this task a bit harder, so having an open field or other more uniform scene behind the lick will help create a clearer picture of the herd members in a hunting area. Consider sun angle for the camera as well when setting up the site, with the area positioned ideally to the north of the camera, or alternatively to the south, so that the rising and setting sun does not wash out low-light photos when deer are most frequently traveling.
“I use a mineral lick to get a good look at fawns in the spring, and velvet pictures in the summer and see what bucks are local,” Gackstetter relates, noting that bucks that show up on camera before September are local and don’t move much, adding “in the fall I move my trail cameras to scrapes – old ones I’ve seen through the years and also new ones that I find that year,” he suggests, as antler growth has ended, deer have less of a need for minerals, and are more focused on reproduction as the autumn sets up.
From time to time, the addition of minerals – particularly for those stations set out in late spring or early summer – is necessary to keep deer coming back until the start of archery season. When pulling photos from cameras, remember to pack some supplemental salt, gel or an extra rock to freshen an area up. When things are dry, Gackstetter advises adding water regularly to mineral licks. Bring a bucket or port in a gallon of water to add moisture to the lick and recharge the ground. Stir the space up a bit with a stick or small hand trowel to keep deer coming back for more.
Be cognizant of restrictions on hunting over bait and attractants in a hunting area or unit or their use in general as they relate to chronic wasting disease or public lands. Consult regulations and be certain that these attractants have expired (typically two-to-four weeks after placement of powders) or remove salt rocks or supplement blocks before heading out hunting.
By finding the right supplements, placing them properly for the best photos, and managing these sites to attract deer and stay within the bounds of the law, hunters can get the most out of their late summer scouting. With these tips in mind, creation and management of mineral stations can also add to the depth of the hunting experience this fall by providing better pictures of the deer roaming an area.
Featured Photo: A buck in velvet comes in to inspect a lick in front of a trail camera. Simonson Photo.