It’s a common question asked by many hunters interested in white-tailed deer hunting and management, “When should I feed protein to white-tailed deer?” Being it’s late winter, I figured it’s a good time to address this issue. First, any food that is intended to be a true supplement needs to be there when natural food supplies are low. So, when are food supplies the lowest? You guessed it, late winter. A particularly dry summer also qualifies.
“Once the rut is over, whitetail bucks lose such a large percentage of their body weight,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department South Texas biologist Blaise Korzekwa, “they need help recovering. Natural vegetation is great, but protein pellets and other supplements with at least 16-percent protein are good — 22 percent is optimal.” Korzekwa said if deer hunters have reached their harvest goal, put the protein out immediately, but hold off on feeding if they still need to harvest deer. “Those remaining deer will become more nocturnal once free-choice feed is available,” he said. “If deer harvest numbers are met, get supplemental feeds for deer out there now to help.”
It’s not uncommon to find dead bucks this time of year, and that’s because the rut is tough on bucks. This is especially true of deer that enter the rut in less than optimal condition. This is why habitat management is important. Proper harvest is also key for maintaining habitat and providing enough natural food for deer on your property. But supplements have their place, and after the rut is when you want to feed protein for deer on your property. This is the best time of year to get supplemental feed to your herd.
“Those bucks get so rundown,” said feed consultant Lance Cote, “that ranchers want to go with something that has a 16-percent protein content and 3-percent fat. Feed that until antler growth begins in the spring, then switch over to 20-percent protein.” Bobby Deeds, a wildlife specialist for Record Rack, said don’t get enamored with protein percentages.
“Protein wise, a lot of people get locked in on percentages,” he said. “What we’ve found is 16-percent protein works year round. We’ve got ranches that go back 40 years, and they were feeding 20 percent. We bumped them down to 16 percent protein with 4 percent fat. The fat level will put weight on the deer — it’s all about energy.” The faster whitetail bucks get weight back on, the faster their reserves can go toward antler size.
And it’s true. Many hunters have that 20 percent protein level etched into their brains. You do not have to pay up for more protein when all deer require is 16 percent protein. The additional fat is really what helps get bucks back into shape following a long, hard rut. So, when considering when to feed supplemental protein pellets for deer on your property, go with at least 16 percent and make sure the feed is a high energy, low starch feed. This helps bucks with body condition, improved antler growth. Does benefit as well and have higher fawn survival. You benefit from a healthy herd and good white-tailed deer hunting.