Everyone knows it. The worst thing about hunting season is that it ends. Luckily, you can start preparing for next season the very next day. In fact, you can be just as active in the off season–if not more.
Feeding your deer is the best way to form movement patterns you can rely on once the season comes around in the fall. It also helps you track your deer and keep them strong and healthy. A good feeder helps you do all that all while minimizing the hassle on your part so you can spend more time preparing for the season in other ways.
We’ve scoured the market and found three gravity feeders and four automated feeders that can help anyone make the most of the off season. If you want to know what makes a good feeder, read through our discussion of their features. Then look at our top picks to see for yourself.
Our Top Feeder Picks
- Moultrie Feed Station– “Chosen for its simple and effective design”
- Tree Hugger 80– “Its easy setup makes it an excellent option”
- Redneck Outdoors T-post– “Made our list for its durability”
- Moultrie Pro Hunter Quick Lock– “Great because of its low cost”
- American Hunter Five-Gallon Hanging Bucket– “It takes feed programming to the next level”
- Moultrie Deer Feeder Elite– “Four different models mean it works for any situation”
- American Hunter Sunslinger– “The quality of its design is hard to beat”
Deer feeders, the main features
Free-standing or hanging?
Feeders comes as either free standing or hanging. Free-standing feeders are supported by their own supports, like a tripod. Hanging feeders attach to a tree or post.
Of course, the benefit of free-standing feeders is that you have more choices where to put them. For example, you can still place one in an open feeding area even if there are no trees around. The downside is that they are more conspicuous, need more room and can be knocked over. Bears or other large animals are more likely to damage a free-standing feeder.
Hanging feeders require a tree or post to put up, but they’re much simpler. Sometimes they may just be one piece. Since you can hang them on trees, you can put them along game trails and easily lead deer to feeding areas.
Types – gravity feeders, casters and slingers
Deer feeders come in two main types: gravity feeders and automated feeders. The idea of both is to minimize the amount of work you have to do spreading feed.
Gravity feeders are the simpler option. Feed goes in the top and exits the bottom into a mouthpiece where the deer eat the feed. When they eat the feed, gravity pulls more down into the mouthpiece.
The advantage of gravity feeders is that they don’t take any maintenance. You don’t have to worry about them malfunctioning. Most don’t even have any moving parts.
The disadvantage of gravity feeders is there’s no way to restrict when the deer feed. They can come and go whenever they want which makes it harder to build habits. Still, if you want to put a lot of feeders out to track your deer’s natural movements, gravity feeders work well.
Automated feeders use electronic machines to disperse feed. They might feature broadcasters or slingers which disperse the feed at preset times by throwing it away from the mouthpiece of the feeder.
Automated feeders are great because you can program exactly when you want them to feed your deer. This lets you train deer to be in specific places at specific times, which helps you a lot come hunting season.
The problem with automated feeders is that they have a lot more moving parts. You have to check up on them to make sure they’re still working properly. If you have a specific place you want to hunt this year and want to get your deer used to feeding there, an automated feeder might be a better bet.
Your goal is to feed deer, but they aren’t going to be the only animals interested. Animals like squirrels and mice can be a big problem because they’re small enough to get up into the feeder. Varmint guards prevent this. If you live in an area with a lot of other wildlife, it might be wise to get a feeder with a varmint guard.
Programmability is one of the biggest advantages of modern professional feeders. One reason you’re probably using feeders is to form habits in your herd, and this is difficult if you can’t feed them at exactly the same time every day. Good feeders let you set exactly how often they release feed per day and how much. Some highly programmable feeders even let you program which days of the week they feed on.
How easy to transport and pack up
Feeders range from essentially light plastic sacks you can roll up to monstrous barrels you can’t get your arms around.
If you’re familiar with your herd and know exactly the feeding area you want to use, a large, stable feeder works fine. If you’re just starting to form habits with your deer and aren’t sure exactly where they’ll be and what spots work best, a lightweight feeder will be easier to move around and experiment with.
Stability vs wind and animals
A good feeder can be left alone for long periods. You shouldn’t have to go out to your feeding area every day to correct your feeder.
If you live in an area with bigger woodland animals like bears and raccoons, you need a feeder stable enough to fend them off. These animals are intelligent and can open lids, so you’ll need a strong one. You’ll also want to look for a feeder made of durable material that can withstand clawing.
Wind can ruin your feeding strategy too. It can blow feed around when you don’t want, and it can even clog up dispensers. A lot of modern feeders feature wind guards or wind-resistant spin plates. Look for these if you live in a windy area.
What do deer eat anyway?
Deer are herbivores which means they really only eat plants.
In the spring and summer when food and water are plentiful, they prefer food with high nutrient content as well as protein and fat. This means things like grass, nuts, acorns and soy.
By the time hunting season comes around and food is getting more scarce, deer start trying to build up their energy reserves for winter. This means they like calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate food like molasses, corn or other cereal grains like wheat, rice or oats.
They’re also partial to nutrients which are rare in their environment such as the salt found in mineral blocks and licks made specifically for deer.
There are actually a lot of different ways to put together a DIY deer feeder. Of course, they lack some of the more technological or specialized features of professional models, but for someone on a budget, they can be effective.
A common method for making a homemade feeder is using a large plastic barrel. You cut off the top to make a lid. Then you cut a small hole out near the bottom where you insert PVC pipe. You can make the base out of wood or plastic or whatever you prefer.
Gravity Feeder Reviews
Moultrie Feed Station
Really the most impressive thing about this feeder is that it gets the job done. Sometimes in the hunting world we overcomplicate things. The Moultrie Feed Station is simple and effective. Because of that it also comes at a great price. You won’t be paying for anything you don’t need.
The simple design also make this feeder incredibly light, only a couple of pounds. It’s no problem to haul out into deep woods with you. Plus, with a durable plastic lid and cover and a strong strap, you don’t have to worry about the elements or a lot of other animals getting to the feed.
We do wish the opening were bigger. If you have larger deer on your property or are going after that big buck this season, you might consider a bigger size. Still, the Moultrie Feed Station manages to hold 40 lbs and feeds deer for a long time.
Because of the low price, light weight and high durability, this makes an ideal feeder for any hunter with large tracts of property who wants to put up several feeders. It’s so easy to use, it’s no problem to put several up by several different feeding areas.
- Simple design
- Low price range
- Light weight
- Durable material
- Easy to use
- Small feed opening
Wildgame Innovations seems to land an item on almost all our lists. It’s no secret they’re a trusted brand, and their feeders are no exception.
One of the major draws of this feeder is its ease of use. You can set it up in less than two minutes thanks to integrated straps with buckles. It’s also lightweight, so you can move it easily. If you have a lot of land with multiple feeding plots, this could be your solution.
Plus, it holds up to 80 lbs of feed. You don’t have to refill it constantly, and it can handle a large herd. The top is a roll-top lid that along with the waterproof PVC material keeps the feed good for long periods of time. It’s great if you have a lot of deer.
That PVC material is super durable, but it does have a strong plastic smell right after manufacturing. It might be smart to keep it in a box with some pine needles or spray it down with some cover scent before setting it up. It comes in a nice bark pattern that conceals it against any tree to draw the least suspicion possible.
- Quick setup
- Holds up to 80 lbs
- Weather resistant
- Durable PVC material
- Bark camo pattern
- Strong plastic smell
Redneck Outdoors T-post
When it comes to gravity feeders, Redneck might take the gold when it comes to durability. This feeder features a thick plastic that protects the feed inside it from the elements. It also keeps other animals from chewing through it.
Where this feeder loses points is the setup. As the name suggests, it’s designed to hook onto a fence t-post. If you want to attach it to a tree, you’ll have to buy a ratchet strap, so either way you’ll need materials not included with the feeder. The t-post is probably a better bet anyway because if you attach it to a tree, racoons could take the lid off. You’d have to strap it down too.
It holds a good 80 lbs of feed and features a large 4” x 5” mouth that you can adjust to let out just the right amount of feed. This makes it great for herd management and building routines with your deer. You can feed them the right amount at the right time.
- Durable polyethylene material
- Holds up to 80 lbs
- Large mouth
- Great for herd management
- Complicated setup
Automated Feeder Reviews
Moultrie Pro Hunter Quick Lock
Moultrie’s Pro Hunter automated feeder comes with so many great features, you’ll be amazed by the low price. If you want a hands-off approach to your herd maintenance this year, this feeder is a great and convenient way to go. Just use the quick-lock adapter to mount it to whichever barrel or hopper you like.
The digital timer has an incredibly versatile range of programming. You can set it to feed up to six times per day from one to 20 seconds each time. You can personalize it exactly for the size of your herd and the habits you want to form. It also estimates the feed left so you know exactly how long you have until you need to service it again.
You do have to buy your own six-volt battery which might be a little harder to find than other batteries, so consider ordering them together. Like the feed level, the feeder displays the battery life remaining so you know how long till you have to buy the next one.
Finally, the Moultrie Pro Hunter comes with everything it needs to function effectively all on its own. The housing is made of durable ABS plastic, and the metal spin plate is wind resistant. It even has a varmint guard. If you’re going to be busy this off season and don’t want to have to micromanage your feeders, this could be the choice for you.
- Low price range
- Easy to attach
- Versatile programming options
- Durable housing
- Wind resistant spin plate
- Varmint guard
- Battery not included
American Hunter Five-Gallon Hanging Bucket
If you have complicated feeding plans, this might be your best bet. This American Hunter feeder is highly programmable. It can feed up to 16 times per day for up to 30 seconds. What’s more, it can be set to feed on different days of the week.
The durable plastic is weather resistant. You can probably expect it to last several seasons. The lid is difficult to snap on and take off, but at least you know raccoons won’t be getting into it. It also keeps the feed dry.
The bucket design might seem silly, but it actually makes it easy to carry and hang. It holds five gallons of feed or roughly 40 lbs, so you can leave it for extended periods of time without refilling. We really suggest this feeder for anyone who has a long-established herd that they’re familiar with. Because it can be programmed so precisely, it’s great for managing deer.
- Highly programmable
- Weather resistant
- Difficult for animals to open
- Easy to move
- Great for herd management
- Difficult for you to open
- Battery not included
If you were impressed with the Moultrie quick-lock system, you might consider getting the full feeder from them. Moultrie has four different options to choose from based on your personal needs.
The Unlimited model is the most technologically innovative of the group. It can sense clogs in the feeding system and change the spin to unclog it. It also has an electric varmint guard. If you’ve had a lot of trouble with other animals getting into your feeder, take a look at this one.
The Elite model is similar to the Unlimited but lacks the electric varmint guard and clog sensor. As a result it comes at a lower price while still featuring the same effective metal spin plate and funnel. If you need a quality feeder but are on a budget, this could be a good option. Like the Unlimited, the legs are also adjustable for height.
The Pro model lowers the price even more by using a plastic but durable spin plate and funnel. It uses the same plastic quick-lock hopper.
The Standard model is the most basic and the least expensive. It’s only programmable up to four times a day unlike the other models which can feed six times a day. A benefit of the basic design is that it uses four AA batteries instead of the usual six-volt. These will be easier to find and replace. Anyone who doesn’t need much from their feeder besides reliable daily automatic feeding might consider this one.
Except for the Standard model, all Moultrie tripods feature battery level indicators and feed level estimators. They’re all made of the same durable ABS plastic housing that’s weather resistant and keeps feed good for long periods. They all come on three legs and are stand alone. These make great feeders for anyone who wants an advanced and specialized automatic feeder without too much hassle or necessary know-how.
- Four different options
- Programmable feeding
- Durable plastic housing
- Weather resistant
- Stand alone
- Batteries not included
American Hunter Sunslinger
The Sunslinger is a great kit to consider if you’ve had trouble with automated feeders before. It functions great on its own, and you don’t have to check on it too much. It has four hanging legs that you can adjust to mount it just how you want to any barrel or hopper. It might cost a little more, but it comes with reliability that’s hard to beat.
This feeder kit is unique on our list in that it features a solar charger for the battery. This means you can leave it out on your property for longer without maintenance. If you have a large property and a lot of feeders, this really frees up your time to focus on other things like tracking.
The Sunslinger is highly programmable as well. The time of feeding can be set up to 30 seconds, and you can even program specific days of the week. With all this versatility, it’s still easy to program. It only has four buttons.
More than anything this kit makes our list for its quality design. It’s tough, sturdy and dependable. If you’ve gone with budget feeder options in the past and had bad luck, take a look at this one.
- Adjustable mounting
- Reliable design
- Solar battery charger
- Versatile programming
- Easy programming
- Quality materials
- Higher price range