For the last 17 years or so I have raised a small herd of captive whitetails as a way to learn more about the species that I love. I have been particularly interested in whitetail genetics and nutrition. Thus I have done a lot of experimenting with various feed ingredients and have artificially bred my does for the past 11 years to a wide range of whitetail bucks, from the biggest nontypicals to the cleanest typicals.
By Don Higgins
These “real world” experiences have given me insight into issues related to whitetails that most hunters, and even most experts, simply don’t have. I don’t say this to brag but instead I throw it out because I disagree with so many of the ideas being promoted in the whitetail hunting industry today. I want you to know where my ideas come from and how I developed them. With all of this said, I want to share an experience that proved to me just how important it is for a deer herd to have an early spring food source that is of the highest possible value.
A few years ago I had two pens containing whitetail bucks within my research facility. Both groups had always been fed an identical diet. When spring arrived, one group was in a pen with a lush growth of clover. The other group was in a pen that had been overstocked during the winter and was lacking the new clover. Keep in mind that bucks both pens received all of the high-quality feed they cared to consume. The only difference in the environment or the care from one group to the other was that one group was in a pen with lots of new clover while the other was not.
By mid-May the difference in the two groups of bucks was shocking. The bucks in the pen that had the early clover to supplement their diet were showing advanced antler growth, significant weight gain and a healthier hair coat versus the pen that did not receive the benefit of the clover.
I had long realized that clover is one of the first plants to green up in the early spring. But until I saw for myself what a difference it made in my study herd, I didn’t appreciate just what a huge impact it can have in our efforts as land managers to have the healthiest whitetails on our properties.
Today clover is a major part of my overall food plot program. While I appreciate its ability to attract deer during the hunting season, I think the real benefit comes from having such a high-quality food-source available early in the spring.
Being a good steward is much more than just attracting deer to your property during hunting season. It means having a well-rounded program in place that provides food and cover on a year ‘round basis. Clover certainly helps me do this.
Don Higgins has gained a respected reputation for his knowledge about hunting mature whitetail bucks and for his work in creating quality whitetail habitat. His weekly blog posts, Real World Whitetail Management with Don Higgins, will appear each Wednesday. Higgins can be reached through his website: www.higginsoutdoors.com