Enhancing the general health of white-tailed deer while attracting and holding them on or near a hunting property has never been easier. Nor has it been more economically feasible. A range of affordable products is available, specifically designed for any project scenario or scope.
Seed mixes for food plots as well as mineral supplements are available at retail stores around La Porte County, but choosing which ones to use can be a bit confusing.
Recently I had an in-depth discussion with whitetail nutrition specialist Jason Campbell of Evolved Harvest and Evolved Habitats brands about which products are best for a variety of circumstances …
Anglin: For many of us, whitetail nutrition seems complicated, but the long-term benefits of enhancing the health and quality of deer on your hunting ground seem well worth it. What is the easiest way for an average Joe to get started?
Campbell: Mineral supplementation is a simple way to enhance and support a deer herd in both the short and long terms. Fawns, does and bucks will all benefit from the creation of quality mineral sites and all you need is a shovel. Products containing ample amounts of phosphorous, magnesium and calcium are most effective. My personal favorite is Evolved Habitats Rack-Up Trophy Class. (Note: In Indiana, it is illegal to hunt over mineral sites and they must be removed at least 30 days prior to hunting activity or located far enough away that the deer being hunted are not within the “area of influence”).
Anglin: Given proper execution and maintenance, what are some reasonable expectations of nutritional supplementation?
Campbell: There is no magic formula that will transform a 2-year-old six-pointer into a three-year old Booner … it just doesn’t happen that way. But proper mineral supplementation and the availability of nutrient-dense food plots will help the herd’s overall health and allow deer to reach their genetic potential. Even with fantastic genetics, a poorly nourished animal will never reach its full potential.
Anglin: Related to that, is it possible to boost the quality of deer genetically over the course of several generations by simply improving their nutrition and general health?
Campbell: Boosting nutrients and the availability of high quality food sources will certainly create a healthier herd, which helps deer survive long winters and stressful rut periods. A healthier herd means more deer are likely to reach maturity — which for bucks it typically four or five years — and grow substantially larger racks. Most people would be pleasantly surprised at the results that average genetics, proper nutrition and maturity can create.
Anglin: Wildlife managers spend a lot of time and money on deer annually, but most hunters don’t have a lot of time or resources to tackle projects with the same vigor. What products have streamlined the process and made it simple and affordable for hunters to enhance the nutrition of the whitetail herd they enjoy hunting every season?
Campbell: Establishing a quality food plot takes some time and preparation, but it’s well worth it once hunting season rolls around. Harrows drags are available at most farm stores, but a six-foot section of chain link fence with a 6x6 post on each end dragged behind an ATV will adequately prepare a seedbed. Hunters without access to tractors or an ATV with a harrow or disc should consider a no-till food plot blend like Evolved Harvest Throw & Grow Radish, which requires nothing but sunlight and some rain to quickly establish a ready-to-hunt food plot.
Anglin: If you could pick one product to utilize what would it be?
Campbell: Mineral sites are my favorite locations for trail cameras during spring and summer. You can watch a buck’s rack develop several inches of new growth per week — it’s amazing. During fall I recommend a quality food plot blend like ProVide Clover or 7 Card Stud. Lots of native browse dies during winter, so providing high quality forage all season long is critical for attracting and holding deer in your area.
Anglin: As far as investment goes, anything is better than nothing. Do you have any thoughts on how much money somebody just getting started should expect to spend?
Campbell: It’s more affordable than most people realize. First time hunters and seasoned veterans alike can greatly improve their odds with a few days of work and a quick trip to the local sporting goods store. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars or hunt huge tracts of land to harvest quality deer. Big deer are going to be where there are quality food sources, dense bedding areas and, during the rut, does in heat. This trifecta of attraction all but guarantees a successful season.
Anglin: Many hunters in farm country conclude that food plots are a waste of time and simply leave well enough alone. What advice do you have for individuals who don’t bother enhancing available forage?
Campbell: One of the key reasons deer in the Midwest can weigh nearly 300 pounds and have massive racks is their proximity to high quality food sources for most of the year — key word “most.” Farmers have typically harvested 99 percent of their crops by the time winter rolls around, and deer are scrambling for scraps. Deer near agricultural areas go from feast to relative famine in just a few weeks. They will travel for miles in search of food during the winter months. Hunters with an abundance of high quality forage in the area will reap the benefits. I would hunt a five-acre parcel loaded with turnips and clover over a 500-acre barren cornfield, without question. For these areas, an extremely high forage output per acre is needed. The Brassica’s in Evolved Harvest Shot Plot, which can grow over 24 inches in just 45 days, are a perfect example.
Anglin: If you were planting food plots with the least amount of work and investment in mind, when would do it and what would you plant?
Campbell: The challenging part about spring and summer plots is dealing with the weeds and grasses. Spraying herbicide such as glyphosate 41 to prep an area will greatly alleviate the issue. This can be done with a backpack or pump sprayer. For early spring and into summer, a blend of soybeans, lablab and cowpeas like Evolved Mean Bean Crush is as good as it gets. This blend establishes quickly and all three cultivars are loaded with protein and remain resistant to substantial browsing pressure. The fall food plot mistake I see most often is planting too early. It’s far better to plant a little late than too early. Food plots are most vulnerable the first few weeks, so getting them in the ground at the correct time is critical. Avoid hot dry weather when sprouts can succumb to heat damage, always plant food plots when you’re positive it will rain within a few days and be sure to cover the seeds to improve germination. Covering seeds with soil dramatically improves food plot results.