When Ray Scott, founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, decided he would get into the business of producing and selling seeds for hunters to plant for deer, one should have known big things would come from it.
They have. When Imperial Whitetail Clover was released that first year in 1988, it started a craze that has taken the nation by storm -- the food plot phenomenon. Instead of just going out to shoot a deer, now hunters study the animals they hunt year round. And if they have access to private land, they work on improving the habitat to help those animals stay healthy and develop to their full potential. One of the prime ways they do that is by planting small plots especially for the deer to eat.
Ray, now joined by his sons Steve and Wilson, has expanded the company dramatically as the food plot craze unfolded over the last 25 years. Called the Whitetail Institute of North America (WINA), it does extensive research often lasting half a decade on each new product before it unveils it to the general public.
They typically develop their own proprietary plants that deer find particularly palatable, tender and nutritious. But their latest product came about a different, more interesting way.
A scientific agricultural study was underway to develop new oat species for cattle. One plant was rejected because the deer in the area found it extremely attractive and ate too much of it, leaving less for the cattle or for harvesting.
WINA found that intriguing, since they want deer to eat their products. They obtained the rights for the seed, renamed it Whitetail Oats, and spent six more years testing it around the country and blending it with a few other winter-hardy cereal grains such as special types of wheat and triticale to increase the cold tolerance even further.
Tests showed that the new oat mixture, called Imperial Whitetail Oats Plus, had exceptionally high sugar content, helping the animals as they go into winter. It also was easy to establish and grew well throughout the country.
If you've always used wheat or rye for fall and winter plantings, you may want to check out this new offering, available from the Whitetail Institute, 800-688-3030, whitetailinstitute.com, or through retail outlets. I'm putting in a half-acre test plot myself this fall.
• As hunting seasons approach, with bow opener scheduled for Oct. 5, it's worth addressing an ailment that crops up among hunters at times during the bow and gun seasons.
It's a disease that every deer hunter knows the signs and symptoms of. Fortunately, the sickness does not last long.
While you are experiencing it, though, "buck fever" is something that's hard to control. It starts when a heavy-antlered animal steps into view in clean shooting range.
Palms start to sweat. Your arms and hands shake. Breathing becomes heavy and labored. A pins-and-needles tingling feeling wells up in your head and neck If you've really got a strong case of the fever, your whole body might shake. You seem unable to concentrate.
That's what heavy antlers and the fear of failure can do when a big buck steps into view. It's at once exhilarating and debilitating.
You've put in many hours, days, weeks, maybe years to get into range of this creature. The chance is there. You're both excited and glad to have it, and also scared witless of doing something wrong while raising your gun or bow and making the shot.
Personally, I have made every kind of mistake possible when gripped by buck fever. I have simply watched huge bucks walk by and out of range into cover, seemingly paralyzed and unable to lift my bow or gun. I've dropped things like my binoculars and spooked them. But the most common mistake, one I've made several times, is to simply try to jerk the gun up and shoot quickly, rather than move slowly and fluidly or wait until the animal's eyes are behind a tree.
Whatever mistake buck fever has caused you to make, it's a miserable feeling when you blow a shot at a deer because you became mentally unhinged. To conquer and control buck fever, the first step is to not try to hide from it. Instead, realize it could strike any time a big buck appears, or even a large bruin ("bear fever").
Prevention is actually the best cure. You need to will self-control over your mind and emotions. Using several specific strategies can help.
First off, don't look at the rack beyond simply deciding if it meets your minimum criteria. Instead, focus your thoughts on the steps you have to take to harvest the quarry -- adjusting your body position, raising gun or bow, drawing back, calculating where and when to shoot, squeezing and following through with the arrow release or trigger pull.
Concentrate on your aiming point. The more you focus on all the practical, mundane steps you need to take in the next few seconds, the less likely you'll panic and blow your chance.
There will be plenty of time to act crazy and jump for joy and marvel over the animal's headgear after the buck is on the ground.
Conquer your fever, will control over your emotions, and chances are that will be the positive outcome.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.