So you want to attract a few deer but you don’t want to spend a lot of money doing it. There are many options available for people who want to just observe wildlife, or for those who want a population of deer to choose from during hunting season.
The good news is that whichever camp you find yourself in, there are many less expensive methods to attract deer.
Cheap Ways to attract deer
- Natural grass
- Cereal grain bait
- Commercial deer bait
- Fruit bait
- Jello bombs
- Dumpster diving
- Scavenging the neighborhood
The methods in this list vary in price and complexity, but we’ll delve into each one, give you an idea of how expensive it can be, and then proceed to the next item.
Natural grass ($20 / 500 square feet)[azonpress template=”widget” asin=”B08WJHP8ML”]
This is a classic case of time over money. If you spend a little more up front, the benefits will last a long time, and its just a one-time purchase, since grass grows back on its own perpetually.
You might see a few telltale signs of deer activity in those piles of raisin sized pellets they leave behind on your lawn, but deer prefer native grass to the lawn mix you’ve established along your driveway.
They’re genetically predisposed to eat western wheat grass, Kentucky bluegrass, brome, need and thread and even Indian rice grass. For umpteen generations, deer have fed and thrived on this diet and they’re not about to stop now.
Establishing native grass isn’t always easy if you’re near a suburban area. The humidity created by passing cars, and home heating alters the climate from the surrounding natural area, and can limit indigenous plant growth from too much moisture.
Native grass is more expensive than regular lawn mix since it must be harvested from mature grass that has gone to seed, but it isn’t prohibitively expensive, coming in around $6 to $8 per pound and a pound will cover hundreds of square feet.
Once you’ve done the work, and made the initial payment, the good news is that this grass will come back forever. You only have to make the purchase once.
You don’t necessarily need a food plot for this, you can plant these native varieties around your home to attract deer, and state and federal agencies are much more understanding if you tell them you want to replant a depleted area with native grass. Handled correctly, they’ll consider you a model citizen.
Vegetables ($2 for seed packets)[azonpress template=”widget” asin=”B08S7S98L2″]
My garden is raided almost every year by marauding mule deer. They head right for the ripe tomatoes, ripping the plant out of the ground, eating the red ripe tomatoes, and leaving the green ones while sometimes eating the entire plant. They’re even worse with carrots, cabbage and brussel sprouts.
Vegetables are easy to start from seed and one of the least expensive of all the deer attractants listed here. An even better aspect is that vegetables remain ripe during deer season in most states, a double whammy for good timing.
It doesn’t take a huge amount of ground to get deer moving in on a vegetable patch. Even small growing boxes will attract deer. They have an innate way of finding your choicest crops just when they’re ripe.
So plant them in your yard, or mix them in a food plot, either way the bucks will come.
Seeds are cheap, especially at the end of summer when big box stores and home centers often sell them 10 for a dollar.
Cereal grain bait ($8 for 50 pounds)[azonpress template=”widget” asin=”B08DGTJGZM”]
Deer love corn, wheat, barley, rye and oats. If you grow these grains they’ll come in on your property, but if you don’t you can just spill a few pounds on the ground near your home or hunting blind each day and they’ll get in the habit of moving in on the bait.
Baiting is a sticky area. In some states it’s totally legal, while in others you’ll end up paying fine and losing your hunting privileges if you’re caught. Check the regulations before you put out any type of wildlife bait.
Grain works well because it is inexpensive. You can purchase a 50 pound sack of oats, or barley from a local agricultural center for less than ten dollars, and if you use it judiciously you can have dozens of deer prancing onto the bait every morning and evening.
The only caveat with this method is that you’ll have to replant every year since cereal grains are annuals.
Commercial deer bait ($30 for 20 pound block)[azonpress template=”widget” asin=”B00U430J0E”]
Online shopping centers, sporting good stores and even your local ag center offer blocks of commercial deer bait. It’s usually in 20 pound blocks of molasses mixed with oats, wheat, corn and barley or a combination of all of them.
It works just like spreading grain on the ground except the compact nutrient rich block is damaged less by wind, rain and snow. The 20 pound block will have deer gathering all around it nibbling at the sweet contents during both morning and nighttime feedings.
This is one of the more expensive methods, but still comes in around $30 for a 20 pound block.
The mystery is gone in generating the right mix since these are produced by professionals to exacting specifications.
Fruit bait (Free)
Using fruit to attract deer is the oldest method known to man. A box of old apples spilled on the ground, or plums, crab apples or cherries will drive deer mad. Buying fresh fruit is expensive, but if you cut a deal with your local grocery store, they’ll probably be happy to sell you their old fruit rather than just toss it in the garbage.
This is an inexpensive, very effective method of getting deer in range.
Jello bombs ($6 for five pound mix)
It sounds strange, but fruit flavored Jello, mixed with sugar and maybe a little grain or fruit is a way to bring in deer via their sense of smell. Deer love sweet things, and nothing smells as sweet to the as grape, raspberry or strawberry Jello mixed with some rotting fruit and a generous supply of table sugar.
Mix the ingredients in a paper bag, shake vigorously and seal the bag shut. Place the “bomb” in a likely spot to draw in deer and let the aroma do its magic.
Dumpster diving (Free)
If your goal is to attract deer for free, not just cheap, the dumpster behind your local gardening center, big box store or home supply center can be your best friend.
Plants roll out of these places in the late spring and early summer, but by late June the market is depleted and the stores aren’t greenhouses. They’ll begin to get rid of plants rather than continuing to spend time and money in keeping them alive.
Vegetables, berries, and ornamental plants, ones that deer enjoy nibbling on are often cast aside once the early planting season passes.
Now is the time to strike for the industrious dumpster diver, looking for an easy way to attract deer at no cost. You’ll still have the labor of planting and watering these plants to get them going, but your wallet won’t feel it.
We don’t consider crab apples as a culinary delight with their hard, often bitter, seedy fruit, but deer love them. Crabs are common at stores selling potted and root stock. They’re cheap too, too cheap for the garden center to send them back or care for until the next spring.
The same is true of persimmon trees and paw paws if you live east of the Mississippi.
These regional trees aren’t as commonly discarded as crab apple trees are, but when you find one out back by the dumpster, they are a tremendous find.
These trees produce unique fruit that isn’t in the mainstream for people, but that deer actively seek. A persimmon can be the bitterest fruit you’ve ever taken a bite of in the early autumn, but once the frost comes in, they take on a wonderful flavor. Homesteaders learned this quickly, but deer knew it all along.
A ripe persimmon coincides with deer hunting season all over the Great Lakes and New England area and can extend as far south as the Carolinas, Arkansas and Tennessee. All these states are packed with whitetail deer and all of them love crab apples and persimmons.
The paw paws ripen a little sooner, but their custardy, banana flavor is a siren call to deer. Once they’ve fed in late summer on paw paws, they’re likely to hang around into the autumn of the year.
Scavenging the neighborhood (Free)
Apples are not native to the Americas, they’re a foreign plant arriving from Europe and Asia, but plums are as native as the bison, and they grow all over subdivisions from coast to coast. You’ll find plum trees in the arid west, and from Florida to Maine.
That’s where the scavenging comes in. Landscapers, developers and contractors are constantly removing trees for new construction. If you keep your eyes open you might see a few slated for destruction.
They’ll likely be dug up with a backhoe, and if you’re good at making deals, you can usually get the backhoe operator to dig the tree up around the roots, allowing it a chance to survive. If they do, get them to drop it into your pickup truck and take it home.
I have a couple of apple trees I’ve scavenged this way. Both survived the shock of transplanting and for the last 20 years have dropped hundreds of pounds of apples each autumn.
Plum trees are more durable than apples being native. You’ll have to dig a hole big enough to hold the root ball, but you’re only expense will be the gas to drive the tree home, and the physical effort to dig a hole in your location.
Native plums fall naturally to the ground and begin to decompose as the summer fades away. You’ll find deer nibbling at the ripening plums while they’re still in the tree, but more often, they’ll make a winter bed around that plum tree and feed on those soft, ripened plums.
You can spend a few bucks buying grain, fruit, marketed deer attractant or make your own special mix, or get rotten fruit for free from local trees or your local grocery store.
There are a lot of ways to attract deer, and many of them aren’t just cheap, they’re free with a little work and industriousness on your part.
Your area, and your budget will determine which of these methods works best for you.