Choose the Right Tool for the Right Task

By Jon Cooner

Let’s say you’re looking for a tool to help you perform a specific job. Which would you rather have: something generic or something designed to do what you want? Obviously, a tool that’s built from the ground up for the purpose you intend will certainly be more effective at helping you obtain an optimum result. That’s why Whitetail Institute forage products have led the industry since 1988: They’re specifically designed for food plots for whitetail deer.

Keep the Job in Mind

As when selecting the right tool for a task, you must keep the nature of the job in mind. As deer hunters and managers, the main jobs we want food plot plantings to accomplish are attracting and holding more deer and improving deer quality. Many types of plantings can provide some level of improvement in deer quality and numbers. However, the biggest gains will likely come from tools specifically designed to do those things.

Generic Versus Specific Tools

To explain, I’ll draw an analogy between two tools I frequently use: my video camera and still camera. Both will shoot still photos, and in some cases, both will do so with acceptable quality. Even so, I use my still camera to take photographs whenever possible because I can produce better quality photos with it. My still camera has a greater range of general and detail controls related to photography performance than my video camera does. In other words, my still camera is designed with photography as its primary job. Like my cameras, most food plot plantings for deer are also designed for primary jobs. Farm crops and pasture crops, for example, are designed to produce maximum yields for harvest or grazing by cattle. As such, they’re like my video camera as a tool for taking photographs.

The Importance of Specific Tool Characteristics

By characteristics, I mean distinctive qualities that separate one tool from other tools for performing a job. In the context of food plot plantings for deer, these characteristics are referred to as traits. Just as my still camera is designed with a greater range of general and detail controls for taking photographs, Whitetail Institute forage products are purpose-built with traits the company considers uniquely important for any forage, the primary role of which is to serve as a food plot planting for deer. The most important of those is attractiveness to deer. Unlike cattle, which as grazing animals can use tougher, stemmier food, whitetails are selective browsers with a digestive system that requires that they seek the most tender forages. You’ll start to see why the Whitetail Institute considers attractiveness to whitetails such an important trait when you consider that it’s a unique requirement not designed into farm and pasture crops. Other traits the Whitetail Institute considers critical in food plots for deer include how quickly the planting can establish and grow in a wide variety of climates, even when conditions are less than optimum. These include disease resistance, early seedling vigor, and tolerance of heat, drought and cold. The Whitetail Institute’s dedication to accuracy in research, development and testing has been a hallmark of the company since it was founded in 1988. Nowhere is that more visible than in the consistency of its process for breeding new plant varieties for food plots for whitetails.

The Scientific Method: Whitetail Institute Forages

The scientific method is considered by scientists to be the exclusive process for reaching reliable conclusions. Reliability is assured by the scientist carefully controlling and replicating tests, and collecting and analyzing data from the tests purely as an observer. By following the scientific method in all phases of development and testing, the Whitetail Institute ensures that its results are extremely reliable. And that’s true whether you’re talking about the Whitetail Institute’s selection of existing forage components or its development of new forage varieties such as Tall Tine Tubers. The best example of the Whitetail Institute’s consistent adherence to the scientific method is Imperial Whitetail Clover, the only clover product that contains clover varieties scientifically developed specifically for food plots for whitetails. If you’re a longtime Whitetail Institute customer, you might already know the story of how Imperial Whitetail Clover came about. In 1988, the Whitetail Institute’s founder, Ray Scott, charged the Whitetail Institute’s first director of forage research, Dr. Wiley Johnson, with the job of scientifically designing a clover product specifically for deer. Dr. Johnson gathered more than 100 clover varieties from the United States, Europe and the Middle East and evaluated them for the specific traits mentioned earlier: rapid growth, disease resistance, early seedling vigor, attractiveness to whitetails, and tolerance of heat, drought and cold. The clovers that best exhibited those traits were then crossbred with the help of bees. The offspring were evaluated for the same traits, and the best went on for additional testing. Through years of this repetitive process, Imperial Whitetail Clover was improved and continues to be made even better. Dr. Wayne Hanna, who joined the Whitetail Institute as director of forage research after Dr. Johnson passed away, recently completed development of additional new clover varieties that are now part of the backbone of Imperial Whitetail Clover. This process has continued through the years since the Whitetail Institute developed its first proprietary clover varieties. As Dr. Hanna explained, the Whitetail Institute’s process of developing new forage varieties continues to emphasize reliability through the use of the scientific method. “Our initial focus as we set out to develop the new Whitetail Institute clover varieties was to select hardy clover plants that had stood the test of time from around the United States to use in our crossbreeding program,” he said. “We searched from Colorado to Pennsylvania, and from Wisconsin to Florida to be sure the candidates represented a broad range of different environments. At this early stage, we were searching for clovers that natural selection had already shown were superior in ability to flourish in their environment. An example is a clover we obtained from an old farm in Texas. The landowner had planted the clover in 1960. After so many years, only spots of the clover remained. We selected clover from one of those spots because it had survived so long even with all sorts of stresses, abuse and overgrazing. Nature had already done that part of the plant breeding for us.” “Once we had selected the candidate clovers, the next step was to subject the seeds to real-world stresses to see which best exhibited the growth and resiliency traits we were looking for. We planted them next to each other and then monitored them for two years. By then, we could visually identify those that best exhibited vigorous growth, drought and cold tolerance and disease resistance. We started with about 30,000 clover plants in the first stage of testing, and from that we selected only about 50 to go on for further research.” “The next stage was to isolate the selected clovers and allow bees to cross-pollinate them to combine drought tolerance, cold tolerance and disease resistance. The process continued for several years until we reached the replicated-trial stage in which the clovers were planted in different soil types and conditions, from heavy clay to well-drained soil. We then selected the clovers that consistently showed the characteristics we were looking for. The whole development process took several years.” The level of attention to scientific detail Dr. Hanna describes is difficult and time-consuming, but it’s necessary to obtain dependable research results. Is all that time and effort worth it? Only to folks who won’t settle for anything less than products painstakingly developed for the specific job of attracting, holding and growing bigger and better deer.