THE ULTIMATE SMORGASBORD PLAN A Year-Round Guide to Outstanding Whitetail Nutrition

By Brad Herndon

Several years ago I was hunting a hilly region during the late December season. The land adjacent to where I was hunting had been in corn that fall and it had been picked in late October. Ears of corn were abundant on the ground among the stalk debris, making it fairly easy for a deer to get at the high-energy food source.
Despite this, each evening I watched as whitetails walked across that cornfield on the adjoining property to get to the standing cornfield where I was hunting. The reason? The standing corn provided a much easier food source for them. A week later, I ended up killing a dandy 10-point buck near this cornfield.

These days you won’t see the same situation in this area because farming methods have dramatically changed. With no-till farming and modern, updated farming equipment, it’s rare for any field to be unpicked in late December. Huge tires, and lots of them, allow modern harvesting equipment to literally float over wet fields, and the mechanisms on these combines are so fine tuned that when the harvesting is over one can hardly tell what type of crop had been there. Simply put, there is very little food left in the farm fields for the wildlife in the region.

Things have changed with farming in the area, and the same goes for the natural browse. A couple of years before the December hunts just mentioned above, I was scouting a point in the hills and found the ground covered with acorns that had fallen from the numerous white oak trees on the point. A snow was coming in and I suspected the deer in this region would key in on this nutritious oak point food source.

I talked my find over with a good friend who lived near this point and since my schedule didn’t allow me to hunt the spot any time soon, we agreed he should hunt the location the day after the snow came in. Early in the afternoon my friend trudged through the snow and erected a stand on the point and waited to see what would happen.

Although there weren’t many deer in the territory at the time, well before dark deer started pouring onto the point. Eventually there were three bucks among the doe munching acorns, presenting my friend with a crack at an excellent buck.


Today I lease the tract of land containing this oak point. Interestingly, we never hunt this location in December for you will never find an acorn there in the late season. This is true for several reasons.

First of all, the whitetails in this area were allowed to get overpopulated just before I leased the land and we’re still trying to get the deer numbers down to where they should be. Secondly, years ago there were few wild turkeys in the region, and now there are many — and they simply love the sweet, white oak acorn.

And finally, as I found out last November when I killed a 214-pound boar, wild hogs from an adjacent county have finally expanded into our region. They will root up every acorn around since they have good noses, so they have further depleted nature’s available resources.

By studying this section of our county, it’s easy for anyone to see a browse line in the woods, a stark indicator that the food smorgasbord found here only 15 years ago is long gone. It has affected the health of the deer in a negative way, and the drop in field-dressed body weights and gross antler scores point out this fact.


Our portion of Indiana is not the only place experiencing this problem. Since I talk to numerous deer managers, I see this happening in various other sections of our state and nation as well. That’s the bad news. The good news (and I like good news) is that deer hunters who are serious about quality deer management are picking up on the native browse, deer overpopulation, and other problems at a quicker rate. Moreover, they are starting to take the necessary steps to correct the situation, regardless of the cost.

The managers who are doing it right are reaping huge rewards in the form of great hunting and outstanding trophies. If you recognize that you have a diminished amount of food on your property compared to past years, in the following paragraphs I’ll share how to install a whitetail smorgasbord on your property that will result in both healthier deer, and higher-scoring bucks. Keep in mind at this point that even if you have your deer population under control, this advice is still beneficial to the health of your future whitetail herd.


Assuming farm fields are providing your local deer little nutrition in the fall, winter and early spring, and also assuming the nutritious native foods have been depleted to a large degree, the first steps to re-establishing a quality food supply are very obvious.

First, if you haven’t already done so, reduce the deer herd to the carrying capacity of your land. This may mean you will have to bring in family and friends to shoot doe, because killing, field-dressing and removing doe from your property can turn into quite a job. Once the deer herd is reduced, the next step is planting food plots with a variety of products that will supply your whitetail herd with proper nutrition throughout the year. Most likely this will mean increasing food plot size as well.

For example, 20 years ago when most deer herds were small and native foods were abundant, a deer hunter could plant a half-acre plot of ImperialWhitetail Clover and draw deer in quite easily. Now, however, if the farm fields are depleted in your region and native browse is slim, a half-acre plot of Imperial Clover can be browsed so heavily the clover hardly protrudes from the ground. Bigger plots is the name of the game.

This may mean your food plots will have to be one to five acres in size. We are increasing ours in size each year, and we now have our plots in three different locations on one 283-acre lease. I’m quite sure Imperial Whitetail Clover is the number-one selling deer seed in the United States, and there are reasons for this lofty ranking. It’s a great investment since a plot can last five years if properly taken care of. Secondly, it tastes great and provides whitetails with incredible amounts of protein they so badly need.

If you have good soil that holds moisture, by all means Imperial Whitetail Clover is my first planting choice for a whitetail smorgasbord. If your ground is a little questionable from a holding-moisture standpoint, try Imperial Whitetail Extreme. It’s high in protein and is a mix of evergreen forbs, hardy clover and chicory. I’ve had outstanding results with it on our hilly, welldrained sections. Extreme will also thrive in low pH situations found in many areas.

If your soil is on the borderline of being dry, Imperial Chicory Plus is a product you could try. It has the Imperial Clover in the blend, but it also contains WINA- 100 Brand Chicory. This mix was designed for climates where high summer heat and extended droughts can slow clover production.

Another great product for drier soil, such as sandy soil, is Alfa-Rack Plus. It is well known that alfalfa withstands heat and dry conditions much better than clover, while at the same time containing great nutrition for a variety of animals, including deer. While Alfa-Rack Plus does contain Imperial Clover (for possible moist areas) and chicory, its main ingredient is the breakthrough X-9 alfalfa blend. It’s also a great investment since it can last for several years.

The products I have discussed thus far are what I call the main course in the smorgasbord. Each product lasts a long time in a food plot, they are among the most nutritious of foods that deer prefer, and they provide food almost all year. Before going on, I do want to mention one other product that provides great food for whitetails, and that is Imperial PowerPlant.

PowerPlant is an annual consisting of a mixture of warm-season forages that work together and offer a high-protein food source. PowerPlant grows an astonishing tonnage per acre consisting of small amounts of sorghum and sunflowers, along with large quantities of beans and peas. It better withstands heavy browsing, and is designed to be a supplement to Imperial Clover, Alfa-Rack Plus, etc. It is not a substitute for these other previously mentioned products.


What I have mentioned thus far will feed your deer for approximately seven to nine months of the year. It could be longer than this in the South. This means we have to plant products to feed the deer during the harsh winter months, or provide them food in some other manner. This is where Winter-Greens, Pure Attraction and other products come into play. 

Winter-Greens is a brassica blend, designed specifically to feed — and attract — deer in late seasons. Typically, a hard frost triggers plant maturity which triggers a sweet taste. It’s at this time your food plot starts looking like someone has thrown hand grenades into it. This food is tasty to the deer and can be an important nutritional part of their diet in the winter months. Winter-Greens in my plots will last through all of December and part of January here in southern Indiana. I plant it in at least one-acre size plots.

Pure Attraction is also ideal to use as a food source during late fall and winter because it contains the same brassicas found in Winter-Greens, plus it also contains WINA Brand forage oats and winter peas. Again, this product will last well into January in many parts of our nation and the oats and winter peas are a great transition food for the time frame between clover and brassicas. Oats are especially sweet when compared to other similar products such as rye and wheat.

And if you want a neat way to do double duty with Imperial Clover and forage brassicas, then try one of the Whitetail Institute’s newest products — Double-Cross. This product gives you the benefit of clover early in the year, then brassicas in the later season. Of course the clover will also be good to go the next spring. 


Even with the use of the quality products I have thus far mentioned, even if they are in sizable plots — and they should be if your timber is over browsed — we still have a period of roughly two months that deer are not delivered nutritious food in the northern tiers of our country. We need to fill in that time period so the deer are as robust and healthy as they can be coming into the spring fawning and antler-growing periods. We can supply whitetails the needed nutrition for this time period in several ways.

Perhaps the easiest but most expensive manner of delivery is a feeding station. This way we can supply deer with needed nutrients via shelled corn, special blends of grain mixes or with Whitetail Institute’s new Results deer feed. As I said, this is expensive. If you can afford it, certainly this is a good option.

Another way to provide a complex carbohydrate, high-energy food source for this harsh winter period is to have a large food plot of corn planted. Five acres is the smallest size I would recommend if you have very many deer at all. Leave this corn standing and deer will
love it in late winter, plus the standing corn also provides cover and food for various other forms of wildlife. This manner of providing food for your deer is somewhat labor intensive, and expensive. Most of you know what the price of corn is nowadays.

Finally, I come to the perfect way to provide food for the whitetails, and that is through native vegetation. Remember, this is what whitetails lived on all winter before deer managers and farmers came along. If you own your own property and reduce the deer numbers, you can selectively harvest your land or do some tree stand improvement (TSI). This will allow new shoots that deer favor to emerge and grow. Study up on what might be on your land that shouldn’t be there and eradicate these items, whatever they might be. For instance, when deer destroy the native browse, black cherry, grasses and ferns often take over the understory of the forest, and they do not allow sprouts to emerge and grow like they should, if at all.

Plant other trees that are beneficial to deer, such as apple and pear. If your property is short of oaks, determine which type grows best on your particular type of soil and spend some time planting these acorns or seedlings in your woods. Seedlings can often be obtained either free, or at a small price from state tree nurseries. Along edges, small draws, and those types of places, sawtooth oak will do well; and the good news here is that they will be producing an abundance of acorns in seven to ten years. You can purchase them at various nursery sites found on the Web.

Even if you lease your land rather than own it, oftentimes the landowner will let you make native habitat improvement. I assisted one landowner I lease from by obtaining the services of a professional forester for him. This forester then advised the farmer how to selectively harvest his timber, and even gave him tax tips. It was a win-win situation for all of us.

The farmer I lease the 283 acres from has much of this tract in the Conservation Reserve Program. These acres were planted in tough, matted grass that did prevent erosion, but on the down side provided absolutely no value from a food or cover standpoint to any wildlife.

I tipped the landowner off to a new CRP program that gave him bonus points when it was time to re-bid his CRP acreage. Under this plan, the farmer goes in with Roundup and kills out strips of this grass each year and allows the strips to grow back up in native vegetation. It then is mowed once per year in late fall. 

It’s amazing what is growing in these strips after three years. A few of the species are: blackberry and dewberry vines; poison ivy; various saplings such as white ash, elm, poplar, and walnut; flowers and weeds like butterfly weed, Queen Anne’s lace, ironweed, and several other varieties.

For the first time in the eleven years I have leased the property, I see deer feeding in these CRP fields, and much of the food these strips provide are available to the deer during the months of January, February and March.

Each year we continue to reduce our deer herd. And each year we try to put extra money into increasing the size of our food plots. We also are trying to provide a smorgasbord of foods in our plots for the deer. With the addition of the CRP strips that provide native browse, last fall for the first time in three years we saw an increase in our bucks’ antler sizes. We are encouraged that we are back on the track to success in a region that was completely over browsed when we leased it. Sadly, it should never have gotten to this

If your property is still in good shape, be sure to keep it that way. If it has been over browsed, keep in mind that it will take lots of work and money to put the property you own or lease back into the type of habitat it should be. Despite this, I can assure you it will be well worth the effort to see a healthy forest and healthy deer when the job is complete.

And in closing, I do want to remind you that the Whitetail Institute has a staff that will be glad to help you create the perfect smorgasbord of deer food products for your specific region. Give them a call!

Read Deer Sign to Estimate Herd >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Be honest when evaluating whether you have too many deer or not. If you can see a visible browse line, you have too many whitetails. Consider, too, that you may have quantities of saplings in your timber that indicate the appearance of available browse, when in fact they may be varieties deer will not feed on. A pawpaw bush thicket is a good example of this. It’s important that you know the types of native browse that deer prefer.

Another indicator that will reveal you have too many deer on your property is the presence of ticks on your deer, especially the older bucks. You rarely read anything about the older buck/tick connection, but twenty years ago in a huge portion of North America the mature buck did not carry ticks into the fall months. This was true of my area here in Indiana.

Then about six years ago ticks started showing up on our mature bucks, and each time they were in regions where the deer herd had grown too large. With lower nutrition available to these bucks, and the stress factor they incur during the rut, their bodies simply were not able to fight off the ticks. I have talked to a noted deer biologist about this deer/tick connection and he agrees the deer overpopulation problem is the contributing factor to this tick infestation.

The figures for the deer-carrying capacity of the land vary depending on location, agriculture and food plot availability, type of soil, size of trees, types of browse, and other factors. Overall, though, the carrying capacity of a piece of land one square mile in size will normally be between 15 and 40 deer. Twenty deer per square mile is usually about right. A square mile is 640 acres, so you can see it takes a lot of acreage to properly support a few deer.

Closely study the understory of your forest. In regions that are heavily over browsed you may see an overabundance of ferns and grass. The disappearance of flowers such as trilliums and other varieties is also a tipoff, as is the abundance of certain types of trees, such as black cherry. There are many other signs in the woods that indicate you have major problems, and I hope to discuss them in future issues of this magazine.

Perhaps you don’t have too many deer at this time. Beware! Studies have shown a low-density deer herd can turn into a high-density deer herd in only seven years! You can do the math yourself on this and see how quickly it can happen. Better too few deer than too many deer is always the rule to follow in quality deer management.

If you’re uncertain as to what product will work best in a specific food plot, then experiment. In one of our food plots about 1-1/2 acres in size, I wasn’t sure what product would work best since it was somewhat well drained. I divided the plot into three equal parts and planted it in Imperial Whitetail Clover, Extreme and Alfa-Rack Plus. In this case Extreme worked best for me.

To kick your nutrition up a notch, consider using 30-06 Mineral/Vitamin and Plus Protein supplements at a feeding site. The exclusive flavor and scent enhancer assures quick and consistent use in the critical antlergrowing stage.

Fortunately, many of you reading this article do not have a wild hog problem. Not yet, anyway. However, since some people think it would be neat to hunt wild hogs, they “stock” some in their area. This is illegal in most states, and these people have no idea what they are doing is a recipe for disaster when it comes to most phases of wildlife, especially quality deer management. In Indiana you can kill wild hogs 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Turn in any one you hear of who is discussing turning loose wild hogs, and if you have wild hogs, by all means try to eradicate them as quickly as possible. This won’t be easy, by the way, since they have good noses and are quite intelligent.