The ubiquitous whitetailed deer is the most popular big game animal in North America. And given the time, energy, and resources expended annually on deer hunting, it’s somewhat surprising how many hunters consider whitetail nutrition a no-go zone.
By Jay Anglin
Enhancing the general health of whitetails 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.
I recently spoke with Jason Campbell about the finer points of whitetail nutrition. Jason started planting food plots with his father in Mississippi and Louisiana when he was eight years old, so he’s been cognizant of the benefits of improving deer health with better nutrition for a long time. Holding a degree in Agricultural Business Management from LSU, Jason is Brand Manager for Plano Synergy’s Evolved Harvest and Evolved Habitats brands, and is dedicated to developing some of the finest food plot blends and attractant products available.
Anglin: Tell me a little bit about Evolved and what goes on behind the scenes.
Campbell: We work with numerous universities around the country to test and perfect food plot blends. Only the best varieties are selected based on germination rate, pH, heat and drought tolerance, as well as nutrient content, forage output and browsing resilience. Ordinary crop seeds are designed to grow and produce more seeds, but the forage varieties utilized in Evolved blends are specifically selected to maximize forage output. Essentially, they can be eaten and regrow over and over again all-season long. Our number one priority is helping hunters establish the very best food plots possible.
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 some sweat equity. What is the easiest way for an average Joe to get started?
Campbell: Mineral supplementation is a great and 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. Products containing ample amounts of phosphorous, magnesium and calcium are most effective. My personal favorite is Evolved Habitats Rack-Up Trophy Class.
Anglin: Given proper execution and maintenance, what are some reasonable expectations of nutritional supplementation?
Campbell: There is no magic formula that will transform a two-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: Wildlife managers spend a lot of time and money on deer annually, but most average 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: With a shovel and a premium mineral product, creating a mineral site couldn’t be easier. It takes about fifteen minutes, and it only needs to be refreshed every 4-6 weeks. Establishing a quality food plot takes a bit more 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 6×6 post on each end dragged behind an ATV will adequately prepare a seedbed. Hunters without access to equipment should consider a no-till food plot blend like Evolved Harvest’s 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: During the spring and summer, I would choose a high-quality mineral like Rack-Up Trophy Class. Mineral sites are my favorite locations for trail cameras. 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: Our products are really affordable. 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. A few mineral sites and quality food sources go a long way and are highly effective methods of attracting and holding deer in your area. 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: 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 the stressful rut and fawn-rearing periods. A healthier herd means more deer are likely to reach maturity – which for bucks is typically four or five years – and grow substantially larger racks. Most people would be pleasantly surprised at the results that proper nutrition and maturity can create with just average genetics.
Anglin: In some parts of the country, agricultural activity is fairly limited, so food plots really stand out to wildlife. But other regions are densely cropped with corn, soybeans and hayfields like alfalfa, leading many hunters living in farm country to conclude that food plot are a waste of time. Many 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 lbs. 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% 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. Using the Gulf Coast as an example, the risk of drought or heat damage is substantially less during mid-September than mid-August. Food plots are most vulnerable the first few weeks, so getting them in the ground at the correct time is critical. 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. A high-quality perennial clover blend like Evolved ProVide Clover is the gold standard for food plots, but requires more ground preparation than easier-to-establish blends like WinterPZ or AlphaPlot, which contain forage oats, triticale and red clover.
Anglin: Last but not least, what are the best-selling products offered by Evolved?
Campbell: Great question. Our number-one-selling seed blend is 7 Card Stud. In the no-till variety, the Throw & Gro line is extremely popular.