Thinking of hunting usually evokes strong imagery in our heads. We’ve all seen this in the movies: thick woods, long rifles, a spectacular shot, and then a victorious return with a bag full of game. The reality of it, while equally exciting, is not quite the same as what the media portraits.
Hunting is a sport where patience and preparation are the two main keys to success. The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to score a big kill. On the other hand, one wrong move might set you back and scare all the animals away.
The same applies to simply observing wildlife. Even if you’re a pacifist with no interest in hunting, you certainly know the feeling of inevitable disappointment when that pack of deer you were taking photos of suddenly runs off.
Good news — whether you’re an avid hunter or a fan of seeing wildlife up close, one way to work towards success is to get a deer feeder. Such a tool, if used correctly, will make deer much more likely to appear where you need them to be. What’s perhaps more important is that they will keep coming back to that same spot.
What is a deer feeder? How to use one to its full advantage? How to pick one that will work best for your particular needs? We’re here to answer those questions, and many more. Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about deer feeders.
What is a deer feeder?
A deer feeder is a tool used to supplement the feeding of deer. There are several types of deer feeders that vary by look and design, but the main purpose is simple — keeping your deer healthy and strong.
Most deer feeders are large, weather-resistant contraptions that stand on three or four legs. Hanging feeders are a different variant — those usually hang off a tree branch or attach to a tree trunk.
Between these two main categories, there are several different kinds of feeders, but they all have some things in common. Every feeder will have a reservoir that holds the feed. Some feeders are absolutely massive, holding up to 1,000 pounds of feed, while some are small and have a capacity of 30-40 pounds of feed.
Feeders are often made out of galvanized steel or another kind of metal. This is because they’re meant to withstand the elements and deal with even harsh weather. Lighter models may be made out of wood or UV-resistant plastic, but those rarely have the same kind of capacity that metal can provide.
Mechanisms used in deer feeders
The most common mechanisms found in deer feeders include a spin plate — a spinning motor that disperses feed outwards; a basket or wire mesh that distributes feed while acting as varmint guard, or a tube or reservoir that simply lets the feed out at all times.
Feeders that feature a spin plate or a slinger are usually battery-powered or utilize solar panels to run. They can be programmed to distribute feed at certain times of the day. Simpler feeders are called free-choice feeders. Those provide a steady supply of feed without giving you any control over its distribution.
If you want some more in-depth information about the different types of feeders, check out our dedicated section below.
Why are deer feeders worth using?
Deer feeders are worth using because, unsurprisingly, they keep deer well-fed. However, beyond this very basic answer lie several reasons why many people choose to install a deer feeder. Let’s cover some of the most common uses for deer feeders.
For regular hunters, a deer feeder can be a great way to make the season that much more exciting and worthwhile. Hunters often set up deer feeders during the off-season months. Then, when the leaves begin to fall and the hunting season begins, they reap the benefits of their decision.
If your deer are given enough time to get used to the feeder, they will develop movement patterns. Much like a water pond in a dry area attracts all local wildlife, your deer feeder is going to do the same to the deer. The animals learn that the feeder is a reliable source of food. This makes them come back again and again, each time feeling more secure and relaxed in the area.
Once such movement patterns are formed, you can benefit from them by scoring several deer without having to stalk them through the woods. The remaining animals are also likely to return later on, drawn by the promise of easily obtainable feed. Simply put, using a deer feeder creates a hot spot for you to find game waiting for you.
The ability to predict where deer will hang out is one thing, but the state of said deer is another thing entirely. Keeping deer well fed throughout the winter makes them strong and keeps them in good shape. Nutrition also plays a key role in the state of a deer’s antlers.
Choosing the right feed and ensuring that your local deer have enough of it throughout the year will greatly affect the size of the antlers. Studies have shown that bucks grow antlers up to 20 inches higher when they receive proper nutrition all year round.
While hunters appreciate deer feeders, these tools are equally useful for people who simply like to stand back and watch. If you enjoy observing wildlife, there is no better way to do it than from the comfort of your own home or yard. Placing a deer feeder on your own grounds allows you to see these animals every single day of the year.
Wildlife observation is made much easier thanks to the movement patterns we talked about above. Once your local population of deer becomes acquainted with the area and learns to trust the feeder, they will be your frequent guests.
Deer are generally docile animals and using a feeder combined with some extra snacks on hand may allow you to pet them. However, keep in mind that while timid, deer are not domesticated. It’s better to take it slow and think twice before attempting to pet one, even if it is right there in your yard.
Helping local wildlife
The truth is, as long as the feed is accessible to deer, it’s accessible to all kinds of other animals too. Some feeders have preventative measures that make it less likely, but it’s bound to happen at some point or another.
While this might sound like a nuisance, it’s actually great. Keeping other local animals well-fed ensures that the ecosystem will remain active and teeming with life. New species may appear in the area if the animals that live there are thriving.
This is beneficial both for hunting and wildlife watching. You’ll have an easier time hunting different animals during the season when your feeding area will stay busy every single day.
If this is not something you want, don’t fret — many brands offer varmint guard as part of their deer feeders, such as this pretty decked-out automated feeder by GSM Outdoors.
Wildlife photographers often turn to deer feeders in order to take their best photos. Deer are easily startled, so it’s difficult to catch them feeding if you’re walking around and making noise. With a deer feeder set up, you’ll be able to attract deer, hide, and remain almost motionless while snapping beautiful pictures.
You’d be hard-pressed to find deer standing still for that long if they’re not feeding, so combining your hobby or profession with a deer feeder is a good strategy.
Giving your local deer steady access to food is one of the best ways to manage their population. This is a method often employed by deer managers and local wildlife experts. Simply put, if the animals are fed and healthy, they will continue breeding and growing in numbers.
If the deer population is booming, there are benefits both for you and for the ecosystem. Hunters will appreciate the steady stream of animals to hunt. With a large enough population, you’ll never run out of game. The ecosystem, on the other hand, will be kept active and local predators will be able to feed too.
Types of deer feeders
When looking for a deer feeder to suit your needs, you’ll run into several different types. They differ by the style of feed distribution — be it once a day or in unlimited amounts, but also by design and technique.
We’ll cover all the kinds of game feeders below.
A gravity feeder is a rather simple, large reservoir that is often made out of metal or another weather-resistant and UV-resistant material.
Some of these are hanging feeders. One outstanding example is the Moultrie Feed Station, but there are plenty of them on the market. These types of feeders can be attached to a tree or any kind of steady structure. Gravity feeders also come in variants that simply stand on the ground, supported by a tripod, such as the Boss Buck All In Gravity Feeder.
Gravity feeders are as simple as it gets and usually don’t have any moving parts. The feed goes in at the top of the gravity feeder and is made available to the deer at the bottom. Once your local deer eat enough, more feed will come through from the top. This ensures that there’s always enough food available at any given time.
A gravity feeder is great for keeping deer well-fed throughout the day. They’re helpful in teaching the animals to keep coming back to that same spot. However, you can’t really predict when exactly the deer will show up, as the feed is always available. This might make planning a hunt a little trickier.
While perhaps not always a favorite with hunters, gravity feeders are great for observing and tracking the natural movements of your local deer population. You’ll be able to see them come and go when they’re hungry. Over time, you’re likely to see a pattern and pick the best time for hunting or taking pictures.
Automated feeders, also known as spin feeders or timed feeders, are much more complex devices that can be programmed to distribute feed at a certain time. This is done through the use of a digital timer.
They rely on electronics to disperse feed through the use of broadcasters, spinners, or slingers, simply throwing it away from the feeder.
Automated feeders with spinning mechanisms, such as a metal spin plate, feature a built-in motor that projects the feed outwards in a circular area around the device. Slingers, on the other hand, simply eject the feed forwards in front of the feeder — this is sometimes called a directional feeder mechanism.
They’re often powered by solar panels, making them a sustainable option that doesn’t require a lot of upkeep. However, certain automatic feeders will require a different source of energy, such as batteries.
Some automated deer feeders can be programmed to disperse feed once a day. This will often suffice, but if you like to have a bit of wiggle room, look for a feeder that will release feed multiple times a day.
A good example is this tripod deer feeder by Wildgame Innovations. If you prefer a hanging automated feeder, Wildgame Innovations also has this fancy camouflaged model that you can hang off a tree and program to your liking.
When it comes to automated feeders, they have one distinct benefit over their gravity-based counterparts — they help you train your deer. Your local game may not know how to read time, but animals rely on their instinct a lot more than we do. They will know when it’s time to eat.
If you set your automated feeder to disperse feed at the same times every day, you can bet that given time, animals will show up like clockwork. Hunters often prefer automated feeders for that exact reason. If you set one up during the off-season, your deer will be trained by the time you head out on your first hunt.
The one downside of automated feeders is that they rely on electronics and moving parts. Weather conditions, wear-and-tear, and even certain animals may contribute to the feeder breaking down. It’s best if you check up on the feeder frequently and make sure it works properly.
Tripod feeders vs hanging feeders
Now that you know of the differences between automated and gravity feeders, making your choice should be a little simpler. However, you might be uncertain as to whether you should be picking a tripod (standing) feeder or a hanging feeder. Let’s go over the basics to clear your doubts.
Hanging deer feeders
- Hanging feeders are less obtrusive. Deer might have an easier time getting used to a hanging feeder because it’s not an unfamiliar object. Often somewhat concealed by trees, these feeders blend in quite well — especially if you go with a camouflage feeder.
- These feeders can get really heavy when filled with feed, so if you’re hanging one off a tree, you have to make sure it’s an extremely sturdy branch.
- On the upside, a hanging game feeder is usually concealed from harsh weather and as a result, it might be sturdier.
Tripod/standing deer feeders
- A tripod deer feeder typically stands closer to the ground and disperses feed in a more predictable area. The higher you hang a hanging deer feeder, the larger the area affected.
- Tripods are easier to overturn and may be knocked down by wild animals — not necessarily deer, but wild boars, for example, might knock yours down.
- Standing feeders will be easier for you to access and can be moved if you decide to feed your deer in a different area.
- Some tripods come with a built-in ladder that makes it much easier to manage refills. This is a feature that’s worth looking out for.
All in all, both types have their pros and cons. If you live in a windy area with a lot of wildlife, a hanging deer feeder might be a safer bet. On the other hand, tripods are often easier to manage and you don’t have to attach them to anything.
Which is the best deer feeder for you?
This is quite a lot of information to absorb, so if you want a quick summary, here’s an easy guide to picking the best deer feeder in a nutshell.
- An automatic deer feeder helps you train game to appear at certain times in the day. They also allow you to program how much feed is distributed at any given time. They are good for hunters and wildlife observers who enjoy the element of predictability that comes with knowing when deer will be there.
- Gravity deer feeders disperse more feed as soon as deer eat what is currently available. They require next to no upkeep and are normally sturdy enough to withstand harsh weather. They’re an easier option for hunters, photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts who don’t need the deer to show up at a specific time.
There’s also a third option worth considering — setting up both types of feeders at the same time. That way, you can put different kinds of feed in each and attract deer even more efficiently, ensuring that they will stay in the area and keep coming back.
As mentioned above, deer are not the only animals that will be interested in your feed once you put up a feeder. You should expect to see all manner of wildlife, such as squirrels, mice, raccoons, rats, and even birds.
You’d be surprised how clever these little animals can get when food is involved. Squirrels might climb up the feeder and manually disperse feed at any given time. Just like deer learn to tell the time, varmint learns how to get food when it’s within reach.
Feeding other animals has its benefits, but if you’d like to make sure that your feeder is only used by deer, look for a model with varmint protection. The best deer feeders will usually have some form of it. Some brands make varmint-proof feeders, such as this one by Wildgame Innovations.
In this model, as well as many others, a special anti-varmint mechanism protects the spinner plate that disperses feed. Hidden beneath a mounting bracket or inside a cage, the mechanism is inaccessible to critters.
If you’ve got your heart set on a game feeder with no varmint guard, you can always get creative and install one yourself. This usually involves setting up a cage around the feeding mechanism. Here's the kind you should be looking for — something sturdy and easy to install on most feeders.
What to keep in mind when buying a deer feeder?
While deer feeders vary wildly in price, finding the best deer feeder shouldn’t be a choice guided solely by your budget. A lot depends on choosing the right product to fit your particular needs. Now that we’ve covered all the best deer feeders by type and design, we’re going to take a look at some of the features you should keep in mind when shopping.
This is an obvious thing to consider. Given that your deer feeder is only ever going to be sheltered by trees, you need to look at weather-resistant options in order to avoid rust and corrosion.
Galvanized steel and other metals are all good picks, but UV-resistant plastic, such as heavy-duty polyethylene, is also a safe bet. Wood, if left out in the rain for too long, may not withstand the weather conditions all that well.
An example of a fully waterproof tripod deer feeder is this Wildgame Innovations automatic feeder with a galvanized steel spinner plate.
If you’re getting yourself an automatic deer feeder with a digital timer, you might want to consider getting a solar panel deer feeder. These models are sustainable, eco-friendly, and don’t require a lot of upkeep beyond the regular checkups.
Sometimes, such as in this Moultrie Pro Magnum feeder, you will find that a solar panel can be attached to the device, but it is sold separately. This is not a problem. A solar panel charger is easy to find and cheap to buy.
Tight locking lid
If water gets into your feed reservoir, the entirety of the feed will be good for nothing. You only want your deer to eat what’s good for them — moldy food will not do. A locking lid keeps your feed safe from the rain, but also from local critters. The ability to lock your feeder makes it more varmint-proof.
While it might seem that more capacity is always a good thing, that might not be the case for you. Ask yourself how big a population of deer you want to feed and explore the purpose of the feeding. If you can see yourself wanting to do this for a long time, a large feeder is going to be better.
We can recommend the Moultrie Feed Station, as this particular model has a capacity for 200 pounds of feed. There’s also this Moultrie Pro Hunter feeder that lets you pick between a modest 6.5-gallon capacity and 30 gallons.
The 6.5-gallon model is perfect for backyard observation but will not suffice for hunters. Any pro hunter will likely choose the 30-gallon model that can house an enormous amount of feed.
Another capacity-related thing to keep in mind in your game feeder is the feed level estimator. A feed level estimator is a handy feature that alerts you when the amount of feed in the reservoir is getting low. You don’t want your animal friends to run out of food, so this is always worth a check.
Corn feeder vs protein feeder
Corn pellets and protein feed are not typically placed in the same feeders. Protein is usually favored by hunters who own a gravity feeder, whereas corn is typically found in spin feeders.
Some models, such as the can convert between the two. This is a good idea if you’ll be feeding your deer all year round.
If you get yourself a massive deer feeder, you might struggle with refilling it. This is why some deer feeders come with a built-in stool or ladder. If you can’t find one like that, factor that into your positioning — you’ll need some extra room to climb up.
If you’re not looking for game feeders powered by the sun, the other type of deer feeder available to you is battery-powered. In those cases, it’s important to look into a heavy-duty model with long battery life. You don’t want to be forced to visit the feeder all too often, so the longer it can run without a battery change, the better.
Be it a tripod deer feeder or a gravity deer feeder, you want your device to be as durable as it can be. A tripod feeder should stand on sturdy legs that can be steadily mounted onto the ground. A gravity deer feeder needs to be made of strong components and easy to install.
Look for features such as a well-shielded digital timer, a metal spin plate or a steel spinner plate, a steady hunter tripod, and some form of varmint protection. If you’re going with a plastic feeder, make sure it’s made out of durable plastic that can withstand the weather.
What to feed your local deer?
Deer are herbivores and will only eat plant-based feed. When left to their own devices, deer will change their diet based on the season. In the spring and summer, you will see them turn to highly nutritious foods with a high protein and fat count. They will eat nuts, acorns, soy, grass, berries, seeds, and corn.
In the fall and in the winter, deer instinctively prepare for the colder months and try to eat foods that are rich in calories. Corn, molasses, grains, rice, oats, and other herbivore-friendly high-calorie foods are all good in the winter season.
As you can imagine, the food deer seek out by themselves differs from the kinds of feed you will be using in your deer feeder.
Some of the most common types of deer feed include:
- Corn pellets. Relatively inexpensive and nutritious, corn is high in calories and loved by animals. You can find bags of it on Amazon.
- Pea pellets are another good option, although they don’t often come in large bags.
- Protein pellets are amongst the most common feed options for deer. Protein maximizes antler growth. A diet consisting of 16-20% protein feed will let your local deer grow healthy, massive antlers.
- Other types of seeds or grains will work as deer feed.
- Deer also enjoy mineral salt licks. You can’t put them inside your feeder, but it’s never a bad idea to leave a few hanging in that area.
- Lastly, if you want to be more successful at bringing deer into your vicinity, consider using something like this Wildgame Innovations Persimmon Crush Attractant. It’s especially handy in the off-season when deer may be scarce.
Where can you use deer feeders?
Before making your purchase, you should make sure that you’re able to use a deer feeder in your area. Local state or country laws and regulations can be found online and will help you in figuring out whether deer feeders are safe to use where you live. Some states with extremely dense populations of deer do not allow any type of feeders, while others let you feed deer whenever you please.
You will find that some places have unexpected regulations. As an example, the state of Illinois forbids feeding and baiting deer in any shape or form. Louisiana, on the other hand, lets you feed and bait deer on private property as long as you don’t use sweet potatoes. New Jersey allows both feeding and baiting without restrictions.
With such a diverse list of laws, it’s important to check and make sure before you ever set up your feeder. Once that’s done, it’s time to think about the placement of your deer feeder.
Deer feeder placement
If you’re here, reading up on deer feeders, you likely already have a spot in mind when it comes to placing the contraption. Many people place feeders on their property, even including their very own backyard.
The problem with deer feeders is that it’s shockingly easy to pick the wrong spot. If you’ve used one in the past with little success, chances are that the area was not optimized for feeding (and hunting) deer. A lot of thought has to be put into the whole process when you choose where to put up your feeder.
Tips for choosing the best place for your deer feeder:
- Secluded area: You don’t want to place your feeder in a place that deer won’t want to go to. Anywhere near a road, an open field that attracts campers or picnickers, and within close vicinity to human hubs is not a good spot for deer feeding.
- Close to bedding and water: You should look for a place near the natural habitat of your local deer. Animals need peace and quiet to rest, and they also need a reliable water source. With that in mind, choose a spot that they will easily stumble upon, near river banks, outdoors, in a secluded place.
- High traffic area: Obviously we’re not referring to road traffic — that’s a big no-no. What you want to keep in mind is whether the area is normally filled with deer. It’s unlikely that deer will migrate from far away just to use your feeder. As such, you should do some scouting first and place the feeder in a place where you’ve already seen deer before.
- Hunting opportunities: If you’re a hunter, you need a bit more than just the feeder itself. Consider setting up your hunting stand or hunting blind ahead of time. This will make it easier for you to put up the feeder in the best possible spot.
Picking the best spot for your deer feeder
With all the above tips in mind, you’ve certainly got an idea of what to look for. Here’s a quick step-by-step to further guide you to your success.
Pick up a map of your property.
Search for a place close to the water that also has plenty of deer bedding opportunities. Some examples include drainage areas, creek and river beds, ditches, and other secluded places.
The ideal deer bedding is a place with a lot of headwinds and sunshine. Don’t bother with the hills and look for depressions in the land. Mark the places that seem plausible and pack up.
Locate deer trails and follow them.
You will be able to locate rest areas by keeping an eye out for oval depressions in the grass. Deer like a lot of foliage and will look for places that allow them to rest while remaining concealed from predators.
You want to look for a place where you’ll see a cluster of several possible beds, indicating a family or a herd of deer instead of a lone buck.
Set up your gear.
Once you’re happy with your choice, set up the feeder itself and fill it up with feed. Program it if it’s an automated feeder. Set up your hunting stand in a fitting position.
Lastly, you should consider getting a trail camera to keep an eye on the place when you’re not around.
Leave and don’t return for a few weeks.
No matter how careful you are, your mere presence will be a disturbance to the local wildlife. It will also take the deer some time to get used to the feeder itself.
If you check on the operation in person, you’ll be spooking game each and every time you visit, prolonging the whole process. Give it a few weeks and simply check your camera to see the results.
If the place doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to move on.
Trailing animals is no easy feat. If you’ve waited for a few weeks and haven’t seen any deer in the area, it might be time to pack up and try out a new spot.
Are deer feeders worth it?
No matter if you’re hunting down that big buck and scoring the antlers or you simply love the presence of wildlife, deer feeders can help you achieve both. All animals in the wild are primarily guided by food and water. Providing your local deer with high-quality feed is sure to lure them close to you.
Given time and patience, most hunters and wildlife enthusiasts say that deer feeders are definitely worth it. There’s no better, safer, and more convenient way to draw whitetails in.
Do gravity feeders work for deer?
Gravity feeders and automatic feeders are both successful in luring deer. While gravity feeders do not help you build a pattern (the food is available at all times), they keep deer interested, well-fed, and most of all, eager to return. You may not know the time, but you certainly know the place.
What time are deer most active?
If you’re using a gravity feeder, you can still somewhat predict when to head out on your hunt. This is done by figuring out the peak activity times for your local deer.
For the majority of deer, the most active time of day is at dawn and at dusk. As deer are rather anxious animals, they often spend the day in hiding and then peek out when the world is quieter. You may also see them out at night when they’ll be feeding or changing locations.
Do deer get scared of feeders?
Initially, you may find that your deer are scared of the feeder. Even a camouflaged deer feeder, such as this American Hunter hanging feeder, is a change in the environment the animals are used to. Deer are docile by nature and therefore not very brave by default. Putting two and two together — yes, they do get scared of feeders.
However, if you give them enough time, their hunger and natural curiosity will win over the fear and they will come closer to inspect it. Once they start eating from the feeder, each day is going to put them more at ease. This is why it’s important not to interfere with the feeding, especially in the first few weeks after setting up the feeder.
The best deer feeder is the one that works for YOU
Deer feeders are useful tools that serve millions of people on a daily basis. Using one (or several) of them is a great way to up your game, no matter your hobby. Whether you’re a skilled hunter, a photographer, a wildlife lover, or an activist looking to help the local fauna, you’ll find some use for a deer feeder.
Depending on what you need one for, there are many factors that come into play when choosing the best deer feeder. This is why the best deer feeders are the ones that work for you and fall in line with your expectations.
We hope that our comprehensive guide to the best deer feeder helped you find your way around these outstanding devices. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out — and most of all, happy hunting!
- 1 What is a deer feeder?
- 2 Why are deer feeders worth using?
- 3 Types of deer feeders
- 4 Which is the best deer feeder for you?
- 5 Varmint protection
- 6 What to keep in mind when buying a deer feeder?
- 7 What to feed your local deer?
- 8 Where can you use deer feeders?
- 8.1 Deer feeder placement
- 8.2 Picking the best spot for your deer feeder
- 8.3 Are deer feeders worth it?
- 8.4 Do gravity feeders work for deer?
- 8.5 What time are deer most active?
- 8.6 Do deer get scared of feeders?
- 9 The best deer feeder is the one that works for YOU