Grandpa Ray Food Plot Part 1 with John O’Brien

WTR GRP1 | Food Plot


At any time, anyone can post a photo of a deer in Facebook and say he used such a brand of seed mix for food plot that got him his deer. The truth is, wildlife and land management are not that simple. John O’Brien of Grandpa Ray Outdoors reveals how you can spot a sham bag of seeds. He emphasizes how each property is unique and how you can determine the best possible approach for your land.

Listen to the podcast here:

Grandpa Ray Food Plot Part 1 with John O’Brien

I’m with my good friend John O’Brion and he’s from snowy Madison, Wisconsin. This is the final segment of the spring series. We’ve been talking across the country with other people about land management and food plots. John and I had a lot of discussions, webinars and seminars about both food plot and land management. John’s going to start off with, “You think you know everything about food plot.” John, welcome to the show and let’s get rocking and rolling.

Thanks for having me again. I’m looking forward to bringing some ideas for everybody.

John, food plots exploded. When was the explosion of food plots?

WTR GRP1 | Food Plot


One of the first companies that start pushing us putting food plots in a program was in the early ‘90s. I’ve been involved with selling seeds since ‘92. I attended my first food plot of just turnips. Throughout the year, maybe ’93 or something like that, but the industry as a whole, I think that even though people have been doing it for the last 25 years, I would say about the last years is where things started ramping up with more people focusing on it. In general, the last years is where we see more of an explosion because so many areas across the United States, including in my area in Wisconsin, have restricted or banned the use of supplements and minerals. As people have been more educated, they are realizing that that’s the great and legal way to supplement your deer herd. If you’re not doing food plots and your neighbors are, people are being forced to do it because they don’t have deer on their property and they’re realizing, “I think I know why. I got to keep up with the neighbors. It drowns us.”

I was reading Deer & Deer Hunting and Brillion Manufacturing which is in Brillion, Wisconsin and they make farm implements. That’s what they did, agricultural implement for many years. Them and hundreds of other infamous dealers now have complete food plot lines to help farmers. Glad to see it’s just an unbelievable business. Forget about the tonnage of seed. All the business we’re driving, food plots is a huge business and any time you get a business like that, it’s like, “Do I sell my seeds? I’ll put Whitetail Rendezvous on this tag.” With the logo, you don’t have to do anything but sell it and I know nothing about it. I know very little. I am not a farmer. I have friends like John that know what the hell they’re talking about so we can go from there but so many people don’t even read the tag on the bag. Let’s talk about the bag tag and the importance for everybody that’s going to buy a bag of seed.

There’s a pro and a con in this industry. The pro is you get more selections to choose from. There’s more species that are being introduced. The con is everybody sees a window of opportunity. That’s the American way. It’s capitalism. They see a quick buck and they’re like, “I can make a quick buck. I’ll put a fancy bag together, put a deer on it, and maybe get a celebrity endorsement. I’m going to sell it and make some money.” My thing is I see so many poorly formulated products on the market that are not nutritionally sound. They’re not balanced mixes. Some mixes contain a bunch of cheap seeds that deer do not prefer to eat. Big profit margin, but what’s happened in this industry as a whole, so many people are confused. Some people don’t know what to buy.

Every property and every little area of land is unique with different solutions. Click To Tweet

Everybody’s got the best seed. Everybody’s got a great story. Marketing 101, the guy that helped was involved with one of the most famous marketing campaigns in the United States for beer manufacturer, “Will they appeal to the average consumer?” In the wildlife industry, it’s got a celebrity endorsement. “Why plant that next? How does that work?” Those are the things that people do not know. There are very few people in this industry that are willing to educate and that’s why I came into the industry using my background to try to educate people, to have them make a sound long-term, not short-term, investment with their wildlife management program.

Wildlife management, land management, everybody think they know everything about it. That’s tongue and cheek. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies because we’re sitting at this bar, we’re playing darts, pool and somebody says, “Look at the deer I killed.” Neither of them knows exactly what they got. We’re going to educate people. By educating people, then you’re going to say, “Listen to this series from Whitetail Rendezvous and we’ll go from there.” When you buy a bag of seed, here’s what I understand, especially from Big Box Store. On the tag, it says, “Inert matter and 25 pounds of seeds, living, breathing, germinating seed, 90% seed.” You don’t know what you have because a lot of that, 25%, 30% of the weight of that bag is nothing but that inert matter. It could be coating, weed seed. You just don’t know. How does a guy or girl know what the heck they’re buying?

WTR GRP1 | Food PlotThat’s one of those little things that I try to educate while on various social media sites. That’s the point I’m getting with Facebook and other online hunting related forum areas. I can use my education and show pictures, observations, teaching tools or how to calculate pure live seeds and things like that. The downside is you get people that post a picture of a nice deer like, “I used this seed mix. That’s all you got to do on your property.” It’s not so simple. Every property is unique. Your property is unique. Your farm property is unique. Your piece of land that’s on the opposite side of my piece of land, on the opposite side of the road where my mama goes, “Same farm, right?” is unique. Every little area of land is unique with different solutions.


Your curl life seed, your coating, very few people understand that most basic concept. I know we touched this in other segments in the past but let me put a disclaimer. There’s a time and a place for everything. Coating, there are some seeds that do have a benefit that have coating on them. In the industry, people are looking at profit margin, price point for the means to use it. Again, there is some advantages of coating, time and place for everything. Understand when they are, what you’re buying and make your own sound decision, “I know there’s coating in here but I don’t care. This is why I’m buying it.” As long as you ask for that or why, more power to you. At least you’re educated.

The other thing is when I look at the bag of seed, don’t even think about having a food plot unless you do the soil test, John.

I’m going to give you analogies I’ve used on occasion. You like to go hunting. You ever sight on your gun before opening day or you just go grab your gun and go hop on your deer stand. I’m thinking, “How many hunters don’t sight their guns?” Very few. Why would you not take a soil test? A guy asked, “Should we just use the average for my area with their soil survey?” Why do we want to take a soil test? We’re not gambling. 90% of the people across the United States are deficient in potassium. That means 90% of the people are not putting the right fertilizers down or enough of it. Everything’s just pH. That’s just about the now. It also can be a measuring tool to monitor your program and I recommend doing it every two years. Get a sample this year, then two years from now, work it with John. We’re supposed to be fertilizing.

The wildlife and land management industries are made up of people that have another job. Click To Tweet

Let’s monitor to see if we have been doing things right. Another factor that comes in the play why we also want a soil sample. You could use a generic recommendation. Put down 200 pounds of a triple fifteen fertilizer. What happens if we have a drought year? Don’t have much growth. We’ve built up our nutrient levels in the soil because the plants didn’t utilize it. Alternative side of it, what if we have super wet year with a lot of rain? Put a lot of that fertilizer that’s not utilized these with the correct zone, other factors that could come into play environmentally, people don’t think about it. That’s another reason why we want to take a soil test. Not just about the now, looking at the future and evaluating our own success in the past years.

I’m hearing soil test I got to have, but then Mother Nature jumps in and people out there who are farmers, the agri-people, they know that they can do everything positively right. They got satellite imaging, they know the moisture content of this section, they know everything. Mother Nature comes in and burns it up or drowns it out. You got standing crops then a tornado comes through. What did you do wrong? Absolutely nothing. That’s one thing I want to get through on the segment. You can do everything by the book and you still don’t get the result. Why? Mother Nature sometimes is a cruel master, she just is. You got to make allotments for that. In land management, micro plots, kill plots, staging plots, rest stops, call it what you want, these small little plots maybe will save your bacon in years when that happens. Your thoughts, John?

If I had to sum up what I recommend, my program for my customers is risk management. How do we reduce risk? We have multiple plots in different areas. How else do we reduce risk? Everything I sell that’s a premix blend has something that grows fast, which we want. Get a canopy to reduce wheat growth. We want to have something that tolerates dry. We want to have something that tolerates wet. In some years, especially in Wisconsin, we’ll see where it’s too wet and all of a sudden, a month from now, it’s too dry. You just plant a straight basic mix with two seeds or one seed. Plant oats in the fall. Plant a mix with chicory and a line of pulver. It works great when it’s hot, works great when it’s cold, works great when it’s dry, works great when it’s wet.

WTR GRP1 | Food Plot


My background which I’m bringing to the wildlife industry, I call it manage intensive nutrition. It’s risk management reduction. What we’re doing is whatever Mother Nature throws at us, we have a diversity of species. The rule of thumb with manage intensive nutrition is never plant less than three species on one block of land. In a lot of cases, we’re doing five and six. What we’re doing is we’re using multiple species that tolerates a variety of conditions. There might be a Nostradamus out there but even your local weatherman doesn’t know what the weather is going to do this year. Maybe you believe in the farmer’s Almanac. It’s not that simple and doesn’t happen that way. Mother Nature always comes into play and whatever she throws at us, what I’m working with people is not that we’re ever going to be perfect, which is impossible but we’re going to be prepared and flexible and offer multiple options to do a better job handling less than ideal situations.

That comes all the way back to land management. When you do your land management, “Where are the optimum locations for my food plot?” Once you have that laid out, those four or five places, it takes guessing out of it. You’re thinking through and you’re managing your property for one year to three years to twenty years, handed down to your kid. Sometimes I see people get so excited, me included, “What do you think I need on this trail, John?” “We’ll put in this and this, and do this, go out there and bounce around.” Water comes down the ridge and it poured last summer in Wisconsin so all my seed went away, every bit of it. I got to redo the whole thing. There are plenty of planting places to go that you can get insights, “I didn’t think about that,” because growing deer and shooting deer is supposed to be fun and interesting but we’re supposed to learn and we’re supposed to do it better.

Collectively, when you hand off that piece of land to the next person, you got to get something going on, that’s my two sense. In Madison, Wisconsin, we get deer and turkey expo. Throughout the country, they see expos for deer and turkey and it’s huge. When you go to those, take a notebook, go to seminars, take notes, seek out seminar speaker or go to guys that are selling stuff and check out what kind of pillar do you have here? What does your tag say? How do I read your tag? All those types of things, get smart because it’s your money. More than that, it’s your time.

Many people are even afraid to challenge some of these people. You hear it all the time. This celebrity says that it’s good, he’s known as being an expert in the industry. That’s all you got to worry about. In a lot of cases, that’s blind faith. What made that guy an expert? That expert has been pushing seed mix, that variety, is he an agronomist? Is he a nutritionist? What makes him an expert? People are afraid to challenge these people. For me, I love that. I thrive on it. I’d probably talk too much about it when somebody asks me questions. I’ve had other people that have came to me at these shows saying, “I was at this other booth and I asked them some questions. He didn’t have a great answer. That’s why I came to you. That’s why I’m buying from you.” That’s my gripe in the industry is there’s very few people that do it for a living 24/7, 365 days.

Industry is made up of people that have another job. They go to some shows, have plans that they put together based on either copying or using a lot of the same concepts from another company has done the same thing from another company and there’s very few. I’m one of the few companies out there that has multiple research and education on plots and areas of land. My point is even myself, which I believe that I am an expert in my field, not because I believe I’m all that smart. It’s because I’ve done this for so many years, so many repetitions. You can’t rest on your own morals. That’s why do research because what I know is one thing. What I don’t know, what I’m willing to learn, what research will tell me, truly that would make me even more of an expert this year, next year and in the future.

The same deal with anybody planting food plots. Guys might have done it for fifteen years and they think they know it all. They feel they’re very knowledgeable about what they do. They could be, but there are so many new technologies, different products that I’m bringing the industry to help people to do better. That makes it not just work, it could be fun. Let’s test things out, learn more, compare to what we did, but most of all, let the deer tell us a lot because the deer is truly the expert, not me, not Bruce Hutcheon, not the other guys, not the PhD. It all comes down to what does the deer tell us.

We’re going to end our segment with that thought because the deer will tell you everything you need to know, help them grow, increase their habitat and to hunt them. Many times, we don’t read the book. With that, we’re going to close section one of food plots with John O’Brion of Grandpa Ray Outdoors. John, how does somebody get a hold of you if they want to reach and challenge some of your concepts?

My phone number is (608) 235-0628. The best time is from Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Central Standard Time or you can email me I welcome questions and challenges. It helps keep my brain sharp and I can also learn from each of you guys.

Thanks, John.

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