The Story of Imperial Products - Tried & True Management Tools for Quality Whitetails

By Brad Herndon

 Some people are thinkers. Ray Scott is one such person. In the beginning, his mind revolved around big bass and how to catch them, so he formed the now-famous Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society (B.A.S.S.). Awhile later, his creative thoughts turned toward whitetail deer in addition to big bass. He wanted his Alabama whitetails to be healthier and produce bigger racks.
He made an obvious connection to nutrition and thus began his quest for the best forage product. A product specifically for deer. In 1986, Scott planted a food plot of wheat, rye and clover. Surprisingly, he discovered his whitetails loved the clover far better than wheat and rye. By doing some investigating, Scott discovered that Dr. Wiley Johnson, an agronomist and plant geneticist at nearby Auburn University, had developed the clover variety. Scott immediately hired Johnson as a consultant and assigned him a project: create a superior deer forage. In 1988, The Whitetail Institute of North America introduced Imperial Whitetail Clover. As the saying goes, the rest is history.


Although quality deer management was in its infancy in 1988, savvy deer hunters started latching onto the concept that the more quality forage deer consumed, the healthier they would be. Also, if bucks were allowed to reach 3.5 years or older, that added nutrition would result in more massive and higher scoring antlers. During the 1990s, more and more Imperial Whitetail Clover was planted, and eventually it became the norm among whitetail enthusiasts. Meanwhile, deer hunters started leasing or buying land — a trend that continues. Those hunters also started learning about strange terms such as pH, soil tests and more. Scott, by the way, was still observing, thinking and learning. There was always room for improvement. Soon, No-Plow was introduced for logging roads and other hard-to-access areas, and Alfa- Rack, a seed blend designed for good, well-drained soils, and nutritional supplements such as 30-06 and Cutting Edge hit the market. As I have documented, food plots using these nutritious products resulted in a significantly higher number of entries into the Pope & Young and Boone and Crocket record books. Even as that was occurring, though, other events troubled many food plot managers. For example, just because a quality-deer manager limed to get the best pH, used the proper type and amount of fertilizer, killed unwanted grass and weeds, and mowed his plots in a timely manner, it didn’t mean he would kill the deer he grew all summer. In fact, big roaming bucks were sometimes picked off by neighbors who had not invested any time or money.


 At this time, as QDM managers were studying options regarding protecting trophy bucks, they also faced another problem — an explosion of deer numbers during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Hunters who used to enjoy the sight of does and fawns — and never shot one — were faced with making an about face and shooting lots of them. Some hunters recognized the importance of keeping deer numbers in check, but sadly, many others did not. As a result, over-browsing of native habitat occurred in many regions. That, of course, put more pressure on food plots and added to the problem of bucks roaming more during the rut, post-rut and late seasons. About that time, many hunters recognized the importance of having a quality forage product that would serve as both a food source and attractant during the colder months of the year. This was doubly important because farming methods had changed, leaving little food in the fields after harvest. With fine tuned modern farm machinery, shelling a corn field leaves almost no corn on the cob. Actually, there are few kernels even left in the field. Soybean fields are equally devoid of food. One alternative was to pay a farmer to leave an acre or so of corn or soybeans to hold deer on a lease or hunting area. I did that with success a few years ago, but with corn at $4/bushel and soybeans at $12/bushel today, that's no longer a consideration for most of us.


Maybe you have encountered those problems. I have. Without question, as most of us have traveled the quality- deer-management road, we've found it to be a complex endeavor — one on which we must continue to change course, learning and experimenting. Well, the good news is that Scott is still thinking, and what he's added to the product line at Whitetail Institute can help solve several of those problems. Two recent products have helped reduce our roaming buck problem, and they also provide quality food sources for deer herds. I’m talking about Imperial Winter-Greens and Pure Attraction. Winter-Greens is a late-season brassica blend designed to hold and attract deer, especially during the late season. Deer will sometimes eat Winter-Greens before the first hard frost, but a hard frost triggers plant maturity, which results in even sweeter taste. As the late season progresses, a plot of Winter-Greens might look like a mine field. Deer love them. Pure Attraction, with its blend of oats, winter peas and brassicas, provides whitetails with a wide variety of food they can use from early fall until deer seasons end. Before frost hits, deer love to eat the winter peas and oats. When that first hard freeze occurs, they will also tear up the brassicas in the blend. Obviously, this food source serves as a holding location for whitetails, and you can pull in neighboring deer when the weather gets brutal and good food sources are scarce. It’s no wonder many deer managers have planted these products with such great success.


On our lease, we have used Winter-Greens and Pure Attraction a lot and with great success. Many other hunters in my area, and throughout the country, have done likewise with these and other Imperial annual blends. One reason is that they’re so versatile. Many managers who already have perennial plots in place also plant annuals to target the unique needs of specific times of the year. Imperial perennials are designed to last up to 5 years. Pure Attraction and Winter-Greens are annuals that can provide deer with even more new growth in the early fall and abundant, high-carbohydrate food during the colder months of winter. Others elect to plant only annual blends. This can also be a good solution, for example, if you know you won’t have time to perform perennial maintenance next spring. Fall annuals such as Winter-Greens and Pure Attraction can provide deer with the forage they need for fall and winter. Annuals such as No Plow and Secret Spot can also be a great option if you can’t access your plot sites with equipment, or if you have a year-to-year lease and don’t want to plant a perennial on property that you may not have to hunt next year. If you rely solely on annuals for the fall and winter, be sure you also plant a high-protein annual for spring. Otherwise, the deer you hunt in the fall may not be as healthy, large or have antlers as big as they might have Protein is critical during the spring and summer for antler growth, doe pregnancy, fawn growth and herd health. Some hunters figure that whitetails can find enough native food and waste grain throughout spring and summer to keep them fat and sassy. That reasoning is a big mistake, especially when you consider habitat destruction in many regions and clean farming methods. My in-depth studies reveal that you can’t beat having food plots that provide nutrition for deer most of the year. That keeps stress to a minimum, and can, at times, mean the difference between life and death. This past year in Indiana and several other states, epizootic hemorrhagic disease killed many deer. In southern Indiana, where I live, 75 percent to 80 percent of deer in some areas were killed by EHD. It is, incidentally, a disease some deer will survive, and I think a healthy whitetail has a greater chance of surviving than a nutritionally stressed deer. Likewise, Indiana hunters are finding that many of the older bucks they kill are crawling with ticks. Ten years ago in Indiana, that was unheard of. Again, when the deer herd explodes, and the quantity and quality of the food diminishes, whitetails are nutritionally weakened, resulting in an infestation of ticks. This has been fairly well documented but little understood by many hunters. So bite the bullet, and plant food plot products that will feed deer throughout the year.


On one of our leases, my wife, Carol, and I have three food plots planted for wildlife. These plots are about one-half mile apart, and each plot is located to let us enter and exit our stands without danger of detection. These plots are on the eastern side of our lease, and they can be hunted with most westerly winds. Some can he hunted with a south wind. Each plot is located in a Conservation Reserve Program field, and we can park on a road to the east and enter our stands by going through the CRP field — an area our deer rarely use. Usually, deer never know we have been there. We carefully planned these plot locations to give us every hunting advantage, and none of the plots can be seen by people driving down the nearby road. You might find it interesting that we hunt the plots exclusively out of ground blinds. These are left up year-around and are in the open CRP fields. Deer and turkeys pay no attention to them. Each blind is placed at the edge of each food plot so no deer entering the plots come into the CRP field behind us, where they could wind us. It’s a perfect setup for archers and gun-hunters. It’s especially ideal for children and our grandchildren. We keep about half of the plots planted in Imperial Whitetail Clover and Imperial Extreme. Extreme has worked extremely well in our region because the land is hilly, rocky and well-drained. This past year was one of the worst droughts in Indiana history, and Extreme lasted all summer and fall, yet you can see by some of the pictures with this article that the Imperial Whitetail Clover and Pure Attraction performed amazingly well too. We are limited in the number of deer we can kill out of these plots only by the precarious condition of my back.


We are very careful about how we design our plots. Explaining the various plot designs would take another article, but one design we tried for the first time was the “T” design. We used the T-design for bow-hunting, and it worked perfectly. Here is how it's laid out: Our Rocky Top food plot is at the southern edge of the top of a gully that runs east and west. Our blind is on the eastern side of the plot, and most deer usually come out of the gully at the northern edge of the plot to feed. On the southern end of this plot, I planted Pure Attraction. On the northern end, we have Extreme planted. That gives whitetails food for a long period. To make sure we got excellent bow shots as deer season progressed into fall and winter, we planted a strip of Pure Attraction about 10 feet wide that runs from the edge of the woods southward to the large Pure Attraction plot. I figured deer would come out of the woods to our north and feed south down the thin strip of Pure Attraction, which we located at 20 yards from the blind. The plan worked perfectly. Hourglass shapes also work well for food plots as do many other designs. Again, Imust caution that plot location will, to a large extent, determine your success while hunting food plots, especially if you’re a bow-bender. If you have a plot in the middle of a tract of timber and deer come into it from every direction, it’s a pretty good bet you’ll get busted sometimes when you hunt it. Conversely, a narrow tract of timber that leads from a large woods to one of your food plots would be a high-odds stand location during any hunting season. Each year, we should re-evaluate our food plot strategies. If we plant only products that provide deer nutrition during late spring, summer and early fall, we'll likely lose some of the bucks we grow to neighboring hunters. Planting additional plots in Winter-Greens or Pure Attraction will quickly solve most of that problem. To grow the healthiest deer with the largest possible racks, keep deer numbers in check, and provide them with food throughout the year. I can assure you that your hard work will pay off in the late hunting seasons, just as it has for countless other quality-deer managers. 

Tips for GoodManagement

Forage Selection: Your first step is to choose the correct forage for your specific intended application. Factors include whether or not you can perform ground tillage and spring maintenance, and the soil type and drainage of the plot site.

Planting: Planting Imperial forages is easy. Each step in the instructions is important. Don’t cut corners. Soil test to determine soil pH and nutrient levels. Add lime to raise the pH of soils with a pH lower than 6.5. Fertilize immediately before planting. If no soil test is available, follow the published instructions. Note that fertilizer requirements are not the same for all forages. Plant the forage seeds at the correct depth. Pure Attraction and Power Plant are “large-seed” blends, which should be covered under an inch or less of loose soil. All other Imperial forages are “small-seed,” blends which should never be covered when planted.

Brassicas and Alfalfas: Brassica has a tendency to become diseased with fungus or insect larvae if planted repeatedly in the same plot without a break. Disease is usually apparent through a general stand decline. To diagnose such problems, pull up some of the plants and look at the roots. They should appear firm and fleshy. Roots appearing spindly, soft or mushy may indicate disease. A new alfalfa planting should never be made into or immediately following a prior alfalfa crop due to alfalfa’s “autotoxicity” characteristic. Mature alfalfa plants drop a toxin from their leaves and crown to inhibit the growth of new alfalfa seedlings, a trait alfalfa developed as a low-moisture plant to prevent competition for water. If a new brassica or alfalfa planting is planned for a site already planted in the same forage, the soil should be cleaned out first. Remove the existing forage plants in spring. Then, the site can be tilled a few times during the spring and summer but left fallow until fall. Another option is to plant entirely different plant species in the site during the spring and summer. Imperial PowerPlant is an excellent rotation choice for both brassica and alfalfa.