Nutrition that Kills

Getting The Most From A Property: Nutrition That Kills

By Steve Bartylla


Catching a glimpse of movement, I poked my cameraman’s foot and pointed to the approaching buck. Knowing Craig was burning tape, I engaged myself in debate on whether he was a shooter. At first glance, his rack didn’t overly impress me. The profile view displayed respectable mass and high main beams, but his tines were relatively short. Turning to face me, the internal debate ended swiftly upon seeing the 20 inch plus inside spread. This was most definitely a 3.5 year old animal, and I wanted him.

As he continued to down the funnel, I positioned myself for the shot and waited for his head on approach to change. That’s when things began going wrong.

Reaching 5 yards, I began drawing my Outback. Unfortunately, I’d forgot that I hung Craig’s filming stand directly above me. While drawing, I clanked the top wheel of the bow on the bottom of the stand just above my head.

As the buck skipped twenty yards away, I still believed that I could make the shot. Chances were good that the steady, light rains would cause the mature buck to doubt his ears. All his senses had told him was that he’d heard an odd noise in a woods filled with the sounds of water hitting all around him. At about 30 yards out, I drew and settled my knuckle behind my ear. As he now calmly walked straight away, all I needed was him to make a slight turn.

Luckily, by the time he reached 35 yards out, he had forgotten all about the phantom noise. Coming to a stop, he paused to scan the creek bottom for does. Turning just a bit as he did, I let the arrow fly. With the Snyper burrowing into his vitals, the buck exploded for the creek bottom. Just as he neared the bank, he crumpled to the ground. The mature 9 point was mine.

The previous year,  HYPERLINK “” had contracted me as a consultant to help setup The Sanctuary Farm. From a personal standpoint, this buck was the culmination of many hours scouting, instituting an advanced food plot plan and pegging over 30 stand sites.

In this, the first of a two part series, we will delve into the advanced food plot strategies we put in place on The Sanctuary Farm. In the next issue, we will cover scouting, marking stand locations for each phase of season and selecting low impact routes. Best of all, this seldom seen inside look at a premier outfitter’s approach can be applied to any whitetail hunting land, allowing the reader to get the most from their properties.


Year Round Nutrition

To truly reach a property’s potential, one must first ensure that adequate levels of high quality year round nutrition is available. Having plots that draw and hold deer during season is also important, but deer simply can’t meet their own genetic potential unless adequate nutrition is provide for 365 days a year. If quality food sources are lacking during any one season the resident deer’s reproduction rates, body size, antler size and overall health will suffer.

Furthermore, drawing and holding deer on  HYPERLINK “’s”’s property has obvious benefits. The more time deer spends on their properties, the better they can protect the local herd from other hunters and poachers. This allows young bucks to grow old and increase their hunter’s odds of harvesting what they helped to produce.

Before we could do any of this, we first needed to identify what nutrition the deer required. Much like people, deer need to consume fats, carbohydrates and protein.

Foods high in fats and carbs are great for building fat reserves and supplying energy. When deer are preparing for and enduring winter, this can be critical, particularly in the Upper Midwest and points further north. It’s also equally important for southern deer that must endure drought induced food shortages.

Though seldom mentioned, fats and carbs also indirectly play a significant role in antler development. When a buck comes into spring, the first thing that’s addressed is building their bodies back up from the toll that both the rut and winter took on them. The more wore down their bodies are the fewer energies they can focus towards developing their antlers. Because diets high in fats and carbs help build and maintain fat, they create potential energy reserves for when deer must endure a negative energy balance. Therefore, late fall and winter diets that provide this allow a buck to focus more energies towards their developing antlers.

On the flip side, the important role that protein plays in antler development is well documented. A buck requires diets consisting of 20% or more protein to produce its best rack. Recent studies have shown that this level is needed even before velvet antler begin to form. To get maximum antler production, these levels should be provided from mid winter on through the shedding of velvet.

Furthermore, protein levels are also important for fetus development, milk production, muscle development and overall health. Though certain vitamins and minerals are also important, satisfying the whitetail’s needs for fats, carbs and proteins is a great place to begin.

Holding Plots

Therefore, that is where I began my efforts on  HYPERLINK “’s”’s Sanctuary Farm. Where ever I am addressing these needs, my first task is always to ensure that the property has enough nutrition to draw and hold deer.

In doing this, I want my holding plots to be centrally located on the property. Firstly, that positioning makes it much harder for neighboring hunters to take advantage of my efforts. Secondly, it helps inspire more deer to bed on the managed property.

Finally, it provides the hunter with much lower impact routes to and from the stands. All too often prime food sources either dot or surrounds the outer edges of hunting properties. When that is the case, the hunter is often forced to kick deer while crossing them. Furthermore, it becomes much more difficult for the hunter to slip in to stands between bedding and feeding for morning hunts. Centrally placed holding plots address all of these issues.

Size is another concern for holding plots. Because they will be the backbone of our nutrition plan, holding plots must be large enough to produce the volume of forge that the resident deer will require. There is no set formula for determining this size requirement. It becomes a balance of other available forages, crop yield and deer density. When other feeding options are limited, our planting’s yield is low and deer density is high we must have larger holding plots than when the reverse is true. As a general rule of thumb, I never make holding plots of grains less than 5 acres and plots of greens less then 2 acres.

Luckily, The Sanctuary Farm already had hay, soybeans and cornfields centrally located. In this case, it was simply a matter of buying standing corn and beans from the farmer. Doing so ensured that adequate carbs and fats would be available. Furthermore, the hayfield would provide a start on supplying protein.


Harvest Plots

With a good start on holding plots, I shifted my attention to creating harvest plots that would further address the protein deficiency during late winter, spring and summer. Though harvest plots certainly can help address nutritional needs, they are also geared more towards effectively positioning deer to for a shot. To do so most effectively, they must contain the most highly desired food source in the area, provide a feeling of safety, be ideal located, and be shaped and sized for optimized shot opportunities.

Since harvest plots are meant to be hunted, it stands to reason they require plantings that are most effective at drawing deer. When selecting a crop, I most often go for greens. It has been my experience that deer will gravitate to certain greens for as long as they are in an ideal growth state. The only food source that I have found that can consistently draw better are acorns.

Because of this, I commonly plant a harvest plot in half clover or alfalfa and half Antler King’s Fall/Winter/Spring or Buck Forage Oats. Clovers and alfalfas can be counted on to be good draws until killing frosts sour them. Once that occurs, few native or planted greens are still very desirable.

However, Buck Forage Oats can survive and thrive in all but deep frosts, and Fall/Winter/Spring will bounce back from even them. Once that occurs, these plantings’ drawing power is very hard to beat. Splitting a harvest plot between clover or alfalfa and half Antler King’s Fall/Winter/Spring or Buck Forage Oats creates a location that will draw deer from the season’s opener on through the closing day.

To provide the feeling of safety, the harvest plot should either be tucked in remote corners of open fields or in their own 1 or 2 acre opening. Surrounding them as much as practical with escape cover encourages daylight feeding.

Achieving ideal location requires knowing the habitat and how deer use it. To put things in perspective, before I even began planning  HYPERLINK “’s”’s harvest plot locations I had already spent several days scouting in both the winter and spring. This was important to get an accurate picture of early and late season movement patterns. While scouting, I placed a premium on locating bedding areas and funnels.

These findings led me to select the locations for the harvest plots. By knowing where the bedding areas and funnels were, I could position the plots to force deer through funnels, while going to and returning from the food sources.

Furthermore, it’s occasionally possible to do that and also have the funnel separate two existing food sources. That was the case with the stand’s placement that I was in to begin this piece. By knowing the deer’s patterns before planning plot locations, I was able to encourage them through an already good funnel. Bucks traveling between feeding and bedding, as well as those cruising between food sources to check for does would likely pass this stand site. This was definitely a case where careful planning paid off well.

When funnels don’t exist, placing harvest plots between bedding areas and holding plots is a good option. Often, mature bucks aren’t willing to step into the larger holding plots until after dark. However, those same bucks commonly will engage in daylight feeding in the smaller, seemingly safer harvest plots. By positioning it between bedding and the holding plot, many deer that would otherwise go directly to the holding plots will first snack in the harvest plot.

Finally, the shape and size of these harvest plots can be molded to further maximize shot opportunities. Relatively narrow elbow or horseshoe shaped plots, between 1 and 2 acres in size, provide the ultimate in close encounters. When given the choice, deer prefer to be able to see the entire plot at once. To do this, they must feed at the point in the bend where they can see both ends. At the very least, the majority of bucks will walk through that point to investigate the other side.

In either case, stands positioned at the mid point of the plot, on both sides of the bend point, will provide shots at any of these animals. As a bonus, this placement also allows one of the two stands to be safely hunted with any wind direction. Something as seemingly little as the shape of our harvest plot can dramatically increase the number of deer harvested from these stands.



During the 2004 archery season,  HYPERLINK “’s”’s hunters took four trophy bucks and missed shot opportunities at 3 others on their 550 acre Sanctuary Farm. As importantly, trophy buck sightings continued throughout the entire season.

As you will see in the next part of this series, many factors played into this success. However, the well planned food plot strategy played a significant role. When a property possesses adequate protective cover, a combination of well placed holding and harvest plots will increase the health, quality and number of deer on a property, as well as make them easier to harvest. Instead of guessing where the deer will feed most, we can dictate to them where they want to be. That alone provides the hunter with a tremendous advantage. As almost any serious whitetail hunter would agree, we can use every ethical advantage we can get.

Planting Recommendations

Corn and soybeans are good choices for meeting the whitetail’s winter needs. Though not as high in carbs, the soybean hold an advantage due to their protein content and ability to produce deer forage during their entire growth cycle. Deer will feed on the green leafy growth and tops of the plant as it grows, as well as the mature beans. When left up until spring, they can be a continuous source of nutrition.

Buck Forage Oats and Antler King’s Fall/Winter/Spring are both plantings that I have used that can produce during late fall, winter and spring. In my experience, Buck Forage is better suited for planting in harvest plot, due to its high desirability for deer, yet comparatively lower nutritional value. Fall/Winter/Spring offers slightly less desirability, but provides much higher levels of protein. In late winter and early spring, during the time high protein levels are important for antler and fetus development, Fall/Winter/Spring is still providing 20% protein.

Of the summer and fall high protein seed blends I have used, the best producers have been Imperial Whitetail Clover, Imperial AlfaRack and Antler King’s Trophy Clover Blend. Tecomate, also sells a variety of clover blends and other legumes, many that are well suited for southern regions.

Along with that, Tecomate offers The Plotmaster. This do all workhorse is perfectly suited for preparing the soils for food plots. Its unique design allows for discing, plowing, seeding, dragging and cultipacking, all in one pass. It can be fitted to either a tractor or ATV.


Antler King Trophy Products


888 268 5371


Buck Forge Products


800 299 6287




888 629 4263


Whitetail Institute


800 688 3030


For an up close and personal view of the author’s work, you can book a hunt with  HYPERLINK “” Contact them at the following:

Jake & Justin Roach

Prime lands in both West-Central Illinois & Iowa