PART I of III
In the fall of 1986 a friend recommended that Scott try some clover in his testing. Scott took some home and planted three small plots on a 1-1/2 acre field: wheat, rye and clover. In the weeks to follow he watched in amazement as the deer walked through the other plantings to get to the clover. If it was that attractive, Scott thought, maybe it could be made even better for whitetails.
Scott contacted a certified private wildlife consultant in Auburn named Randall Rogers. Rogers researched the clover and to his surprise, discovered Dr. Wiley Johnson Ph.D., an agronomist and plant geneticist in his own backyard, Auburn University, had developed the variety.
Scott immediately hired Johnson as a consultant and assigned a project: create a superior deer forage; building on the best qualities of the clover he had originally tested. Johnson's ultimate mission would be to breed a new forage variety specifically and exclusively for whitetail deer.
As far as Scott was concerned, the wheels were in motion. He knew there was a strong niche market for a superior forage planting. He knew other avid hunters also wanted to plant the best forage, not only to attract more deer but to potentially grow bigger deer and larger racks as well.
With no business plan in hand and only a desire to know more, Scott purchased a piece of property adjoining his own land consisting of a residence, a big horse barn and 50 acres. It wasn't long before computers; phone lines and office furniture filled the house. Enclosures were built. A greenhouse appeared and test plots were neatly cultivated.
Along with Dr. Johnson, Randall Rogers, foreman Andy Dixon and new employee William Cousins, Scott was determined to come up with the best food plot planting possible for hunters. Because they were dedicated to truly scientific research and they wanted to benefit all hunters on the continent, Scott dubbed his facility, the Whitetail Institute of North America.
Scott was on a crusade. He had hunted in the North and admired the big-bodied, heavy-racked bucks and taken his share. Deer had made a comeback in the South but they were on the scrawny side and seemed no match for their northern cousins at the time.
I knew I couldn't control genetics, but by golly I could control harvesting," Scott said. "And I could control nutrition on my hunting land. And I could choose that nutrition. I was on a quest for the best deer forage possible."
Scott became so intrigued with the effects of good nutrition; he decided to conduct a test for his own satisfaction. He obtained permits to transport 19 fawns from Montana and Alberta, Canada and areas famous for big whitetail. With the help of Delta Airlines, the fawns were transported in large dog carriers to Montgomery and placed in small pens and bottle-fed. When they were old enough to eat on their own, they were ear tagged and combined with an equal number of tagged Alabama fawns.
The fawns ate the very same forage, including free-range browse and a variety of other plantings as well as the experimental clover blend. It was observed immediately that the clover formula was the preferred planting.
Every fall, the deer were weighed and the antlers removed and measured. In the first year, the northern deer were notably larger and the antlers larger and heavier. "We were shocked and astonished that the gap closed dramatically the next year," says Scott. This trend continued each year.
The experience proved to Scott once and for all that deer needed not only good nutrition to improve body mass and antler size, but age as well. "The old wisdom, 'once a spike, always a spike' was baloney", says Scott. "You've got to let them age and you do that with your trigger finger."
In the meantime, research continued on the clover formula to make it better. Scott knew he needed a forage that would supply high protein levels - - at least 16 percent to 18 percent and not just for a season but all through the year, especially in the critical antler growing and fawning period. The clover needed to flourish in a wide variety of soils and climates. And he wanted it to last not just for a year, but also for at least three to five seasons
As Dr. Johnson worked on the formula, it was tested in small one to two-acre pens where animals could be contained. The testing was then continued in larger fenced areas such as the 100-acre enclosure at the Institute. Finally, the formula was tested on wild deer on a 1,600-acre area in Alabama and several other test facilities as far North as Canada.
When the test clover made it through the first three stages with good results, it was moved on to the toughest test. Field testers from all over the country planted the experimental forage and reported the results back to the Institute. These field testers showed how well the product worked in varied climates and in real-life situations.
Some of the first field testers were famous bass fishermen like Hank Parker, Larry Nixon, Ken Cook and Bill Schroeder. As Scott traveled the country conducting bass tournaments, he would load up unmarked bags and give them to the fisherman - - all avid hunters. He would mark "Formula X" in a heavy black marker on the bags.
"Lay it on the line", said Scott. "Tell me how it works or doesn't work next to your other planting."
Finally in 1988 after years of research and testing, the small staff knew they had a product worthy of the Whitetail Institute. Randall Rogers named it Imperial Whitetail Clover. The new Imperial would change the hit-or-miss deer nutrition business forever.
It was the product the Institute team had dreamed of, providing critical protein levels all year long, up to an impressive 30-35 percent. In addition, deer preferred the Imperial formula by as much as 5:1 over competitive plots, so that it both attracted and held deer in specific areas. Plus, a single planting could last up to five years and sometimes longer without reseeding. As a matter of fact, one test plot Ray planted in Ontario, Canada is still going strong after eight years and some field-testers have reported fields lasting 12 years.
Dr. Johnson further customized the formula in regional blends, which made it appropriate for soils from Canada to Florida. A little later, an additional clover was added called Golden Jumpstart. This new addition allows the Imperial blend to establish much quicker, attracting the deer while the other varieties in the formula take root.
Scott recalls with a smile that a big seed industry executive told him that with a lot of advertising and marketing he'd be lucky to sell 100,000 pounds the first year.
After the first season," says Scott, "We'd sold more than one million pounds".
As use of the Imperial Clover spread across the country, it became more and more obvious to Scott that hunters were starving for nutritional information and that education would be critical in growing bigger and better deer and in improving the hunting experience for outdoorsmen everywhere. So in 1991 the Institute published the first edition of Whitetail News, a 12-page annual journal. Today the Whitetail News is published three times a year and averages 72 or more pages.
In the Whitetail News, the Institute could inform hunters and wildlife managers not only about using Imperial Clover but other available plantings as well. The Institute could also put forth responsible and highly effective deer management techniques, including articles about selective harvesting, which included letting young bucks walk and harvesting does.
A 20-minute how-to video on producing trophy bucks was also created and offered to the public for only shipping and handling expenses. Since then, the first video has been revised and updated several times and now runs nearly a full hour.
The business was exploding and Imperial Whitetail Clover bags filled the warehouses. The small staff couldn't handle the volume of business and requests for information. It was make-or-break time. The Institute could grow or stand still. In 1990 Scott had invited his two older sons to invest in the business. Both were outdoorsmen, both had business degrees and years of marketing experience under their belt.
Fortunately for Scott, they were ready, willing and able to step up to the plate. The business more than doubled in the first three years under the Scott brothers.
I couldn't have done it without them," says the elder Scott. "And that's not just father's talk. They put their heart and souls into the business and built a reputation in the deer nutrition business that is second to none."
More consultants were added to man the phone lines. There was one requirement - they were all deer hunters who understood the product and understood what deer hunters wanted and needed. The consultants relayed information from one customer to another and kept up with the field testers. They built their own database of what worked best and where and when.
An amazing network of knowledge was created. The feedback from America's hunters and wildlife managers was fast and furious. The Institute had discovered the best Research and Development Department possible - their own customers and field testers.
Meanwhile back in the greenhouse and on the test fields, Dr. Johnson accomplished the goal Ray Scott had set seven years earlier: a completely new forage variety and to this day, the only food plot forage genetically developed specifically for wild, free-ranging whitetail deer. The new forage became the main component in the Imperial Clover blend. The new Imperial formula now worked better than ever, even more finely tuned to the unique nutritional needs of the whitetail deer.
After 1991 with the Whitetail News preaching the gospel of nutrition and responsible management, Steve and Wilson in place, and knowledgeable consultants on the phone, communication with hunters exploded. With their fingers on the pulse of America's hunters, the Scott boys had their own mission defined in no uncertain terms by their own customers: more nutrition products for more specific circumstances.
The interest in nutrition and good management was amazing," says Scott. "There were hunters all over the country who were totally ready to go the extra mile for good deer herds and good hunting. They were willing to invest time, effort and money to improve their hunting environment."
Not surprisingly some of the loudest voices were from the many recreational hunters who did not have enough land, time and equipment to engage in "farming."
They needed what was essentially a 'quick 'n easy' seed forage," says veteran hunter Steve Scott. "And I can understand it. Many of our customers have very small hunting areas and no access to tractors and farming equipment. We needed to formulate a good seed blend that could literally be 'thrown on the ground' and still provide a good quality forage."
After several years of intense research and testing, Imperial No-Plow Wildlife Seed Blend was ready for the market. And it scored big with the hunters for both whitetail and turkey.
We really filled a need," says Steve Scott. "And we found a great added benefit as well. Now hunters could plant hard-to-get-to and hard-to-plant areas like logging trails, pond dams and small clearings. It added a whole new dimension to hunting strategies."
Steve continues, " We also were hearing from guys who had soils that were drier which made perennial plots harder to establish. So we went to work again and after six years of research and a lot of testing, we developed Imperial Alfa-Rack. It's a unique alfalfa-clover blend developed specifically for dry upland soils and well-drained hillsides and hilltops."
While the first seed products were being painstakingly developed, equal attention was being devoted to mineral and vitamin supplements with the help of animal nutrition specialist Brent Camp who had over 25 years of experience in the feed and supplement business for both livestock and whitetail.
With the addition of Camp, the Institute soon learned that the so-called vitamin and mineral supplements then available were nothing more than glorified salt licks and did little to enhance the health of whitetail deer.
Scott explains, "Salt by itself has little to no nutritional value and can possibly do more harm than good. Too much salt can force deer to drink more water and fill their stomachs so they don't eat as much of the important protein-based forage."
Convinced by the many dramatic studies on the importance of minerals and vitamins in the antler-growing and fawn-rearing process in particular, the Institute researched and tested various combinations of supplements that would not only attract whitetail but provide the most critical nutrients as well.
It was this research that led to the introduction of Imperial 30-06 Mineral/Vitamin Supplement in 1991 and in 1995, Imperial 30-06 Plus Protein.
In 1999 the Institute pushed the envelope with a revolutionary Seasonal Supplement System appropriately called Cutting Edge. It was the brainchild of Steve Scott and new staff member and nutrition specialist Matt Harper.
The system provided three different formulations of nutritional supplements designed to match the specific nutrition needs of whitetail at different times of the year.
Deer really go through stressful times at different times of the year," explains Harper. "They have unique needs in the winter, the rut, the antler-growing months or in gestation and fawn raising. One size definitely does not fit all."
It was really the ultimate in nutrition fine-tuning and even Ray Scott wondered how far hunters would go to improve their deer herd even though the case for varying supplementation was strong.
But as always, the Institute hunters were eager to try the Cutting Edge products and began reporting back news of healthier deer, heavier body weights and bigger racks. The Institute had another winner for deer hunters and managers.
As the Whitetail Institute of North America enters the new year, it can do so with much pride about the effect it has had on the improved quality of deer herds and hunting nationwide. It can also do so with the satisfaction of having solid proof of improved whitetail.
After educating hunters about good management and by providing deer with a high-protein diet and nutritional supplements, the results have shown up in the record books. As a matter of fact, it has been documented by Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young records that since 1991 the annual, average number of record-book bucks entered has more than quadrupled.
Ray Scott thinks the facts speak for themselves. "Ask yourself," he says "is it just coincidence that about 15 years ago we launched the food plot revolution with Imperial Whitetail Clover and started preaching responsible herd management to hunters and landowners? I don't think so."
And the Institute is not about to rest on its laurels. "We're still pouring the dollars to research and development," says Scott. "Everyday we learn something new or do something a little better. I'll be curious to see the record-book figures five years from now. There's a new breed of hunters and land managers out there and they're doing one heck of a job. Our job is to continue to provide them the best deer nutrition products possible."