As noted in "Right Seeds for Your Soil," there are hundreds of different soil types. Each, though, is unique in its own way. Need proof? A few years back, a Wisconsin hunter with prior game violations claimed he killed a trophy buck in Michigan. By analyzing antlers from Wisconsin and Michigan for their strontium isotope—a trace element in bone-like structures—a geophysist was able to prove the deer lived in Wisconsin. The soils in Michigan didn't contain the minerals found in the deer's antlers, but the Wisconsin soils did. The poacher was convicted.
For years now my wife and I have maintained a database of all white-tailed deer entries into the Pope and Young Club and Boone and Crockett Club record books. An astonishing number of big bucks come from the major river systems throughout the United States, especially those in the Midwest.
Even into the southern part of our nation, the counties bordering the Mississippi River produce a higher rate of “book bucks.” Certainly the fertility of these river systems, and the minerals and lime contained in the soil in these areas is a factor in the growth of these huge bucks. Some people believe the rich soils being carried down from the Midwest are responsible for growing trophy whitetails along the Mississippi River in Louisiana and Mississippi. It makes sense to me.
This is why you should do everything you can to build up the soil on your hunting land—it'll make a big difference in the crops you can grow. Consider Indiana for example. During the early 1900s, the average corn yield per acre was only 40 bushels. In 1950 it was 50 bushels per acre.
By the year 2000, however, the average yield per acre had jumped to an amazing 147 bushels—a direct result of improved farming methods, lime, fertilizer and other special applications. You can do the same with your small food plots.
HOW TO CONDUCT A SOIL SAMPLE
When conducting a soil sample, take dirt from 10 or 15 places within one field and use soil that's free of vegetation. Once this is done, mix all the samples together and place about a pint of the mix in the soil test bag. Never mix soils from two different food plots. You want one soil analysis for each plot. Be sure to put the name of the plot on the bag and list the product you expect to plant in this site.
The results of a soil test will give recommendations needed to bring your soil up to high fertility levels. It'll indicate the pH level of the soil (acidity and alkalinity) and also give nutrient values. From these results, lime and nutrient requirements can be determined. Basically, there are 17 essential nutrient elements. Most hunters are familiar with some of them, such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus.
Some of the trace elements, on the other hand, are more of a mystery, but each is important to the plants growing in the soil. Trace elements include manganese, zinc, copper and cobalt, among others.
One family I know in Kentucky farms approximately 5,000 acres. Now consider this: They take a soil sample of each of these 5,000 acres. Using these soil sample results, they rely on GPS units and specially equipped farm implements to apply seeds, fertilizer and other soil nutrients in varying rates on each acre.
By doing this, they've increased their annual income per acre by $30. Take that number times 5,000 acres and it amounts to $150,000 in additional income. The intriguing thing about this example is an increase in the application of zinc increased the yield more than any other factor.
I foresee the future of food plots will increasingly involve fine-tuned applications of nutrients that will build the soil up, which in turn will produce more nutritious food plots—and bigger bucks!