Some Issues to Consider When Feeding Whitetail Deer
Feeding whitetail deer is a controversial topic, but feeding, (or supplementation), is very popular in many areas. The negative side of the argument points out that the practice encourages deer to congregate regularly, in relatively small areas, which may encourage the spread of disease and possibly parasites. In many areas of the United States, where Chronic Wasting Disease, (CWD), is present, this may be a very valid concern, at least in the short term. In the long term, though, I suspect that nature will deal with the CWD issue in it's own way, regardless of how we try to influence it, due to the difficulty of trying to manage a wild population. Be that as it may, in many jurisdictions, game feeding, (or baiting), is illegal. In areas where it is not illegal, the annual tonnage of feed that goes to supplementing whitetail diets is climbing to almost unbelievable levels.
Aside from the problems of socially transmitted diseases, supplementation can definitely provide benefits as far as individual and herd health are concerned. As with most any other species, an adequate level in the diet, of protein, minerals, vitamins, etc., especially during certain periods of the year, seems to be the key to realizing maximum potential in whitetail deer, (along with the selective culling of individuals with undesirable traits, of course, and population control, so that the demands of the herd do not exceed the carrying capacity of the habitat).
Many hunters, and even ranchers and game managers, used to think that only does and fawns would come to a feeder, especially during hunting season. These days, though, so many deer have learned to come to feeders as fawns, that as long as they are not programmed to avoid it , (by some adverse event, or events), they will continue to come as adults, and it is quite commonplace to see outstanding trophy bucks at feeders, even outside the timeframe of the rut, (assuming that the feeding program is properly managed).
Supplemental feeding is not baiting, it is a year-round project, and it can become quite expensive, in the long run. Therefore one has to weigh the benefits, versus the cost, in order to make informed decisions about a feeding program. In some locations, for example, just spending a small amount of money to make sure that the deer have an adequate supply of the proper minerals when they need them, can provide a lot of benefit for very little cost. A good game manager will consider all the facts, and all the limitations, before making decisions about a supplemental feeding program.
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