August 15, 2023
The modern food-plotting movement began in the 1930s, coinciding with whitetail restocking efforts across the nation. The early food plots were “wildlife openings” created by game managers in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. These openings were primarily dominated by monoculture stands of clover.
From a whitetails’ perspective, you could argue that food plots really didn’t change a whole lot for the next 90 years, as even today most plots consist of a single plant species. However, in more recent years there have been some dramatic and exciting changes, giving rise to a new paradigm known as regenerative food plotting. I believe this shift is a real game-changer for the benefit of deer and deer hunters, as it addresses the underlying causes of a whole host of problems caused by poor soil health.
Based on current trends, I feel confident saying that in the future, food plotting will look vastly different than it does today. That’s because — much like “modern” agriculture — conventional food-plot techniques have caused serious damage to ecosystems and deer health. Unless we change course, we will continue to degrade soil health, and that is the very foundation of growing giant whitetails. The microbiome (immune system) of the soil is directly linked to the health of the local whitetail herd. As I work with my land-management clients across the country, I continue to gain valuable, optimistic glimpses of the future, and in this column, I’d like to offer some insights into how you can begin future-proofing your own food plots right now.
In Nature’s Image
The future food plotter will first and foremost change how they see a food plot in their mind’s eye. The days of perfectly manicured, monoculture plots that are totally dependent on synthetic, chemically intensive fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides will fade simply because these practices degrade the ecosystem and fail to grow healthy whitetails. While many hunters inaccurately label the venison they eat as “organic” and “healthier than beef,” researchers have proven there are plenty of toxic agricultural and industrial chemicals found in whitetails. While we can’t control what deer eat when they venture off our properties, we can present nutrient dense, toxin-free plants on the properties we hunt.
Regarding change, it has been said that if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change. The food plotter of the future will look at the soil as the foundation of whitetail health and once again realize that by nourishing the soil, healthy, mature bucks are a guaranteed byproduct. In fact, prior to the advent of chemical agriculture, this is how our ancestors and farmers of the era looked at agriculture: the health of the soil is the foundation of all health on earth! Food plotters of the future will worry less about how their food plots look and more about managing soil health for nutrient-dense plantscapes.
We all need a food-plot “cookbook” outlining the ingredients and a series of major steps or we will lose sight of the end goal. While there is no official user’s manual for future-proof food plotting (or farming), there are some basic principles that must be followed. If a user’s manual was available, it would likely be titled, “Food Plotting in Nature’s Image,” and the tools and techniques described would be based on mirroring the way nature does things. Food-plotting practices would be geared toward increased plant diversity, maintaining a year-round, living plant community with healthy roots and above-ground plant biomass that armors the soil from wind and water erosion.
Future-proof food plotters won’t concern themselves with using genetically modified plants so that toxic, manmade chemicals can be sprayed to eliminate hundreds of plants (aka “weeds”) whitetails use for nourishment and self-medication. Instead, older varieties such as the ancient and heritage grains will become more popular. The fact is, many of the herbicides food plotters commonly use are patented as antibiotics, and while many doctors avoid overprescribing antibiotics to humans, more than 300 million pounds of one popular weed killer that also works as an antibiotic is sprayed on farms, lawns and golf courses each year! This must stop.
The future-proof farmer will have a better understand of what farming practices degrade soil and whitetail health and what practices promote and attract healthy whitetails. If we truly desire healthy whitetails, all life-killing chemicals must become a last resort. The truth is, these chemicals disrupt physiological and biological systems and lead to disease. As many common herbicides and pesticides are banned and/or exposed for what they truly do to living organisms of all kinds, the future-proof food plotter better learn how to successfully work without them!
Maximize the Good
Food plotting for the future requires a better understanding of what whitetails lack in their diets. If we truly want to turn the tide with problems such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), we must address the toxic and nutrient-lacking agricultural and food-plotting strategies we use currently. We are adding an excess of the bad and not enough of the good! As a society, our agronomic practices have focused far too much on growing three main crops: corn, soybeans and wheat. While there are many reasons for this, food plotters must realize whitetails have evolved to rely on hundreds of different plants for their nutritional and medicinal needs; not merely the big three.
Our human food supply is woefully lacking in nutrient density and has been the true, underlying cause of most, if not all, of our diseases. The food-plot industry once focused primarily on clover and one or two other small grains. Even today, with so many diverse cover crop species available, most food plotters still ignore their enormous benefits to both soil health and whitetail health. Just as the answer to addressing human disease and malnutrition will be through using our food as medicine, the future-proof food plotter will use plants, and their powerful phytochemicals, to fight disease and optimize health and antler size.
Food plots for whitetails are written about extensively because they work! Anyone who has incorporated food plots into their whitetail-management program knows they are a game-changer when it comes to maximizing deer utilization of a small piece of property and putting more antlers on the wall and delicious food in the freezer. The future of food plotting excites me, and if you want to remain on the cutting edge of food plotting, you better future-proof your plots by changing how you plant them today.
Next month, I’ll explain how many cutting-edge food plotters are looking to regenerative wildlife agriculture to attract and nourish whitetails. We’ll look at some of the strategies that will dominate the playbook of the future-proof food plotter. I’ll also lay out how you can get started in your own regenerative food-plotting journey, no matter how large or small your food-plot plan is, so you too will end up on the right side of food-plotting history!