Imperial Whitetail Clover Key to Family "Trifecta"

By Cody Altizer

I remember the afternoon surely and clearly. It was one all deer hunters and managers dream about. Temperatures were cool and cloudy with perhaps a light drizzle, but considering the time of year, weather made no difference in my game plan.

My approach was slow and methodical, and it was going to take some serious time to accomplish my goal. I was working two fields separated only by a thin finger ridge littered with white oaks. Creatively called the Upper Field and Lower Field, these overgrown fields were located in the center of our property and downwind of a giant sanctuary. They were the secret to my success. I worked the fields back and forth, slowly, but confidently. It took some time, well into the night in fact. However, as I made my last pass down the Upper Field, the headlights on my neighbor’s borrowed tractor were synonymous with our property’s bright future. Later that year, I would be planting two acres of Imperial Whitetail Clover.

Damage Control

Four years ago, my family owned a 260-acre piece of property in the mountains of Bath County, Va. that provided little substance for deer and wildlife. Our deer lived in marginal habitat, so consequently our hunting opportunities suffered. Mature buck sightings were sporadic at best, mainly taking place during the chase phase of the rut. Simply spotting a mature buck at a distance chasing a doe through the woods was cause for celebration.

Further, quality deer management and herd health indicators — including fawn recruitment rate, field-dressed weight of harvested animals and rack scores — were well below the genetic potential of our local deer herd. Additionally, our property’s year-long carrying capacity suffered, which in turn made it difficult to locate and target bucks for the hunting season. Our property had one glaring weakness. It lacked a consistent, sustainable food source. Enter Whitetail Institute.

Fortunately, we had two overgrown fields, the Upper and Lower Fields, which were more than an acre that would make for ideal food plot locations. Both fields were in the center of our property downwind of primary buck bedding areas. This meant we could refine our hunting strategies to effectively hunt these properties. This was a bonus to the added nutrition the Imperial Whitetail Clover would provide, the primary reason for our planting.

Of our property’s 260 acres only about five acres of ground are tillable. Naturally, we didn’t have the necessary equipment to efficiently work up two acres of dirt fit for a food plot. Thankfully, our neighbor lent us his 40-horsepower tractor, which made plowing the fields a much more manageable task.

We plowed the fields in late winter, and routinely disked and sprayed the plots with Roundup throughout the summer to prepare a clean seedbed. We’ve had tremendous success on our property planting during fall, and we decided again that was our best option. We seeded the Upper and Lower Fields with Imperial Clover. We overseeded with oats as well to serve as a cover crop. With a high deer density, we wanted to protect the clover during fall and allow it to establish a strong root system and come back strong the next spring. We had done the dirty work, literally and figuratively, now it was up to Mother Nature to do her part.

New Beginnings

In perfect Mother Nature’s form, she did not disappoint. In March, I frost-seeded the plots. By May, the white blooms contrasted so beautifully with spring splendor it looked like a late spring snowfall. Without a weed in sight, the clover had reached 17 inches in height and was providing literally tons of nutritious food for our deer herd.

The whitetails welcomed the Imperial Clover and the nutrition it immediately provided. The new high-protein food source lead to higher lactation rates among does, thus producing healthier fawns. Moreover, the added protein, we would later learn, would result in bigger-bodied bucks sporting higher-scoring racks. The clover plots didn’t just help the deer either; we quickly saw an increase in the number of turkeys using our property as well.

As any deer manger and food plotter knows, proper planting and maintenance of the plot is what will ultimately determine its success. We wanted to keep our plots in their most attractive, nutritious and palatable state. This meant taking the simple, albeit necessary steps needed to ensure the overall health of the plot.

Maintenance and Weed Control

As lush and beautiful as the clover looked at 17 inches, it wasn’t in its most suitable state for deer. To keep the clover young and tender, mowing was essential. Throughout spring and summer, when adequate moisture was available, we would mow our clover down to six to eight inches. This helps ensure that the clover’s protein level remains, not peaks, as high as possible.

In addition to mowing, we would spray our plots with Arrest herbicide to help control grasses. Arrest controls competing grasses in a clover or alfalfa plot without harming the clover. Coupled with properly timed mowing, our plots looked like a lush green carpet of deer food throughout the summer, despite the record heat and drought. When the Whitetail Institute said its seed blends were drought tolerant, it wasn’t kidding.

Persistence Pays

After a year of maintaining the Upper and Lower Fields, the following fall was time to implement our new plots into our hunting strategies. The Upper and Lower Fields are located downwind of a 15-acre sanctuary that is home to many of the mature bucks that live on and around our property.

Our strategy was going to be very simple: Hunt close to the plots to catch deer on their feet during the daylight in the afternoons on their way to feed, and hunt closer to bedding areas in the morning to intercept the deer on their way back to bed coming off the food plots.

Fortunately, we had reason to be excited about the upcoming season. During winter, two bucks that fed heavily on our Imperial clover plots in January and February caught our attention. The larger of the two bucks was a busted-racked three-year-old that would have likely scored in the lower 130s. The second buck, a two-year-old, was easily identifiable with his high and tight brow tines. These bucks were at the top of our wish list. The two bucks avoided our trail cameras for the most part during summer. The bigger of the two bucks made a brief appearance at one of our mineral stations in June, but it was tough to tell how big he was. I wasn’t worried, though. I knew that come fall, both bucks would take a strong interest in our plots again, especially in the does that were feeding in them every afternoon.

Oct. 1 marked the opening day of Virginia’s bow season, and after an uneventful morning, I decided to check a trail camera I had positioned on the Upper Field. Low and behold, the night prior, the big bodied buck from winter was in the plot feeding and posturing the younger bucks. He had blown up into a true giant that I guessed would score in the 140s. He was a main-frame 10-pointer with a long sweeping right main beam that earned him the nickname “Clyde” (See Clint Eastwood’s movie “Every Which Way but Loose”). However, what was most impressive about this buck was his body size. He had surely benefitted from our Imperial Clover.

As October slowly turned to November, I began to hunt Clyde relentlessly. We had gotten several trail camera photos of him around our food plots at night and going back to bed in the morning. It seemed every night a giant rub or massive scrape would pop up on the trails between our food plots and the sanctuary. Unfortunately, however, he was strictly nocturnal.

That all changed on the morning of Nov. 12. We had gotten the first hard frost of the hunting season, and it kept Clyde up on his feet a little longer than normal going back to bed. My brother shot him with his muzzleloader just after 7 a.m. at 60 yards between the Upper Field and his bedding area. To our surprise, Clyde was much bigger than we had first thought. He was a main-frame 10-pointer with five scorable kickers that allowed him to gross 148-6/8. The bruiser buck weighed 220 pounds on the hoof; he was a true Virginia giant. After field dressing Clyde, I cut open his stomach, curious what he had been eating on the night before — Imperial Whitetail Clover, if there was ever any doubt. I had been so immersed in trying to harvest Clyde, I had forgotten about his winter running mate, High ‘n’ Tight. I continued to hunt hard throughout the rest of November, as new mature bucks started showing up on our trail cameras. This was proof that Clyde truly was the dominant buck on our property. Still, High ‘n’ Tight remained a ghost. With the rut winding down Nov. 25, I climbed into one of my favorite stands hoping to tag a doe with my rifle. Just after sunrise, I noticed movement to my east. I quickly threw up my binoculars and could tell it was a good buck. I determined he was a shooter and grabbed my rifle to prepare myself for a shot. Within seconds, he was in my 60-yard shooting lane and with my cross-hairs behind his shoulder, I pulled the trigger. I knew I made a good hit, but I didn’t see the buck go down. I texted my brother and let him know it was me who shot and that I was pretty sure I’d just killed a good buck. It took him less than 20 minutes to make it to the base of my tree, waiting to pick up the blood trail, like a puppy ready for his afternoon walk. We picked up the blood trail and after a quick tracking job we recovered the buck. It was a dandy buck all right; an 11-pointer in the 130-inch range. After looking him over, I immediately identified him as High ‘n’ Tight. His tall, jagged brow tines were a dead giveaway. Like Clyde, we cut open High ‘n’ Tight’s stomach to find it full of clover after a night of feeding in the Lower Field, his favorite food plot during winter. Dad completed the family trifecta the next day by harvesting a 5- 1/2-year-old warrior buck, his oldest and biggest to date. Like Clyde and High ‘n’ Tight, this buck was harvested in the morning going back to bed on a trail between our Imperial clover plots and the sanctuary.


Prior to planting Imperial Whitetail Clover, we suffered through marginal hunting and deer management success. However, in the last two seasons alone, we’ve harvested three of our property’s biggest bucks ever. To me, the correlation is simple — Imperial Whitetail Clover food plots have made us more successful hunters. However, more than just bucks on the ground, Imperial Whitetail Clover has strengthened our passion to be better land stewards and conservationists; a reward far greater than any mount on the wall.