Deer hunting and soil health [Ward Laboratories Inc.’s partnership with GrowingDeer]

Our recent partnership with GrowingDeer has introduced us to a whole new world outside of traditional agriculture, deer hunting and soil health!  I am learning about the relationship between hunting and soil health. Just like most things, you need to take it back to the source. How did this deer get into this place and why was this spot attractive to that deer?

The answer is in the soil.

Just like traditional agriculture, everything starts with healthy soil.  Food plotters grow specific vegetation on certain acres to ensure the deer are fed appropriately throughout the season, and to attract them back to that location for hunting.  No, this is not dumping a pile of corn on the ground when you are ready to hunt. This is true strategic, well planned growing seasons with specific cover crop mixes to not only provide nutrients for the deer and create the natural biomass to regenerate the soil.

Branson, Missouri

We have had the opportunity to travel to Branson several times to work with Grant Woods and the GrowingDeer team. “The Proving Grounds” lives up to the name by not only having breathtaking views and landscapes, but also the ability to grow lush, diverse, nutrient dense food plots.  This is no easy task considering the soil is about 75% rocks.

“Big antlers start in the dirt”.™

I sat down with Dr. Grant Woods to discuss our partnership and why our services matter to Food Plotters.

“We want to maximize production in our food plots.  To do this it requires new tools and understanding the existing and the needed nutrients to grow healthy plots, and Ward Laboratories is the expert in agriculture and applying this to food plots.” – Grant Woods

At Ward Laboratories, Inc. we typically run 3 different types of analysis depending on the growing season of the food plot.

1. S-4 Routine

S-4 routine is recommended for new food plotters. This test is the starting point for growers to understand the baseline and get accurate fertility recommendations. Fertility recommendations are based on the yield goals of each plot. S-4 analysis measurements include:

  • pH / buffer pH
  • Sum of cations (CEC)
  • Base saturation (%)
  • Soluble salts
  • Organic matter
  • Nitrate-nitrogen
  • Macro minerals: P, K, Ca, Na, S
  • Micro minerals: Zn, Fe, Mn, Cu

2. Plant Analysis

Plant analysis throughout the growing season helps growers know how effective their cover crop is at adding nutrient value to the soil. We measure the levels of key nutrients present in the cover crop, providing data growers need to build the healthiest soil possible. This analysis measures:

  • Nitrogen
  • Macro minerals: P, K, Ca, Na, S
  • Micro minerals: Zn, Fe, Mn, Cu, Mo, B
  • Total Carbon
  • Dry Matter (%)
  • Forage Yield (ton/ac)
  • Biomass Weight as Is.

GreenCover seed provides specific blends for food plot farmers creating the necessary diversity to help rebuild soil and grow nutritious food plots.  We know that deer thrive when they have a quality diverse diet, so the benefit to building up soil and soil health also impacts the deer themselves by creating high quality forage for food.” – Grant Woods

Along with the nutrients in the plant, biomass and forage yield are key measurements. Deer have an intake requirement. The healthier the soil, the more tons of quality feed a food plot can provide. The more quality feed available at the right time means big deer and larger antlers. Thus, completing the connection between deer hunting and soil health.

3. Soil Health Assessment

The Soil Health Assessment is the next phase of testing for food plotters. As they begin to measure soil health, being able see the measurable changes to the soil is key to manage fertility appropriately.

This test combines the traditional soil analysis and soil health testing to ensure both soil fertility and soil health are evaluated through a single test. Helping deer hunters measure and manage soil health without compromising productivity. Microbial activity and food are evaluated to provide data that enhances operations using methods widely accepted by land grant universities. Our Soil Health Assessment offers two biological, one chemical and one physical indicator of soil health.

“Hunters are focused on the seed and the food plot shape…none of that really matters without starting in the soil.  It’s truly the foundation for the roots and the water.  We need to know our foundation so we can take care of it and make sure we are doing the right things to grow healthy plots.” – Grant Woods

Ultimately, the goal is to attract deer to the plot at the right times of year and provide nutritious vegetation to grow them big with sizable antlers.  Just like any other goal in agriculture, we are finding ways to bring it back to healthy soil. We aim to equip growers to manage the land appropriately for their goals, in this case deer hunting and soil health.  With the help of passionate experts like Grant Woods and the GrowingDeer team we make a great impact.  Ward Laboratories, Inc. is committed to setting grower’s operations up for maximum profitability, regardless of the yield goal or crop being grown.  We can’t control every variable out there. However, we can ensure land managers of every kind have the scientific data to make smart, informed decisions.


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