BUST 'EM IN BRASSICAS Bucks and Brassicas: Like Money In The Bank

By Brad Herndon

 Money is an interesting subject; one in which we all have at least some interest. The stock market attracts attention because of the returns it can yield. For example, if you had put $10,000 in the Standard & Poor 500 Index Fund at the beginning of 2006, you would have had $11,579 dollars at the end of the year — a return of 15.79 percent.

On the down side, if you had invested $10,000 in that fund at the beginning of 2002, you would have had only $7,790 at the end of the year; a decrease of 22.10 percent. Although that’s a great loss, at least you didn’t lose all your money. In fact, it’s been proven that staying in the market for the long haul always provides good returns. Your setback was only temporary.


That’s a good question. Although some of you reading this article might be retired, most of you are still working and saving for retirement. Certainly none of you are so careless as to invest in something that would risk your hard-earned money. Sure, you might try some higher-risk investments, but overall, you’ll put your money in something with a good payback without high risk. The same strategies should be used for deer hunting. Most deer hunters invest money in their sport by leasing or buying land. On top of that, part of their income might be spent on equipment, seed, fertilizer, lime and weed control products to provide nutritious food plots. These are good investments. Whitetails are sleek and fat, and the nutritious plots crank out bucks with dandy racks. However, danger is lurking, and it can bankrupt you when it comes to killing trophy whitetails.


Although most deer hunters use a variety of products in their food plots, Imperial Whitetail Clover is the crop used most often. That makes sense because an Imperial Whitetail Clover plot can last for several years, and it provides unsurpassed nutrition for months. Other commonly used products include Alfa-Rack, Extreme and Imperial Chicory Plus. All of these are fine products, but each has a drawback: When the temperatures drop out of sight, and snow starts to accumulate, each of these has diminished ability to produce forage. In addition, the forage they produce is difficult to reach if the snow depth is substantial. During this time —usually November or December, depending on the region — deer will seek a more accessible food source. Sadly, a more accessible food source is often available, and it can come in various forms. Another deer hunter who has more accessible food plots might put his tag on a great buck you've spent years growing. Or perhaps because of weather, Farmer Frank hasn’t harvested fields of corn or soybeans. Deer pour into these high-energy food sources, and the guys who have permission to hunt Farmer Frank’s land will be mighty happy when your trophy whitetails show up. Actually, because I can’t plant food plots on some property I lease, I have twice paid farmers to leave corn and soybeans in the field. I just pay for an acre or so, and the cost isn’t too high for my pocketbook. The results have been outstanding. For example, in one field where the farmer left standing corn, I sat on stand and watched deer come off the hillside of an adjoining property. Many deer walked across a picked field that was littered with ears of corn and came right to my standing corn. They did so because six inches of snow covered the fields, and my standing corn was easy pickings. I killed a dandy 10-pointer during the late-January archery season at that spot, and an even bigger 10-pointer was with the deer I shot. Standing soybeans will attract deer in a similar fashion during November, December and January. Obviously, with normal food-plot plantings, the money you've invested in growing trophy bucks is in a high-risk situation. I’m not a financial advisor, but I'd like to share a low-risk, high return deer investment strategy that will result in big bucks—the kind you're after.


Winter-Greens, from the Whitetail Institute of North America, was introduced in 2006. Much field testing was conducted before it was brought to market. Fall 2006 marked the first time the product became available nationwide. The results have been impressive. Winter-Greens is a brassica blend designed to attract deer in November, December and January. As noted, bucks were often pulled away by more accessible food plots on adjacent land, or nearby unpicked corn or soybean fields. If you plant Winter-Greens, that's no longer true. Brassicas grow and produce lush vegetation, making you wonder why deer don't eat them when they're small. Interestingly, this works out perfectly when it comes to killing deer — especially big bucks. When the first frost or two hits, the starches in Winter-Greens turn to sugar, and that's when whitetails start tearing them up. Depending on the region, this can occur from October to December. In that situation, Winter-Greens is an incredible deer attractant during the rut or post-rut, which are top times to kill mature bucks. I was curious how Winter-Greens fared in various regions. First, I talked to Matthew Royal of North Carolina. “I got my Winter-Greens out late, but I did everything right regarding soil test, fertilizer and lime,” he said. “Within six weeks, the forage must have been 18 inches high, and then an early frost hit. That’s when the deer literally mowed the Winter-Greens down. I killed mature 8- and 10-point bucks out of the plot before they eradicated the forage. I’ll definitely be planting even more of them again.” Later, I discussed Winter-Greens with Larry Woodward, host of Outdoors In The Heartland TV show. His plots were planted on each side of the Mississippi River in Illinois and Missouri. “We had a very dry fall in our area last year,” he said. “We kept waiting for rain, but it never came, so finally, we were forced to plant our plots the second week of September, which is a little late. On the Missouri side, we planted Winter-Greens in some low spots. Since it was dry, and we were planting an annual forage, we decided to go with this location because it is rich ground. “We did everything right. That meant we had to put quantities of lime and fertilizer on our side plots in Illinois, where the soil had a low pH. After we planted them, I was gone out of state hunting for three weeks. When I returned, every plot was a carpet of green because we had some timely rains. “Bob Richardson, my co-host in Outdoors In The Heartland, killed a 185-inch-gross buck out of one Missouri plot of Winter-Greens in late season at 2:30 p.m. He also killed a dandy 150-plus-inch 10-pointer out of one of our Illinois plots, and I killed a 175-inch-gross buck off to the side of one of the Illinois plots. Winter-Greens certainly worked for us.”


All soils are not created equal. In upper Michigan, where Curt Krajniak planted his Winter-Greens, he must constantly battle poor soils and low pH. It can take a lot of time to get the pH to an acceptable number. In addition, brief growing seasons are the norm in the Upper Peninsula, and a “northerner” can blow in at any time in fall. Still, Krajniak had an interesting season. “It’s a struggle to grow great food plots in the UP climate and soil conditions," he said. "I’m sure my Winter- Greens weren’t as tall and impressive as those found in the fertile farm belt of the Midwest or even in southern Michigan. We really have to pour the lime and fertilizer to our soils.” Still, things worked out. “I shouldn’t complain,” Krajniak said. “I killed a 135- inch 9-pointer out of one of the plots, and that’s the biggest buck I’ve ever killed in northern Michigan.”


However, some folks are still making mistakes with farming food plots properly. Although a Winter-Greens plot in north-central Illinois will probably be much better than one in a scrubby hilltop in Kentucky. If they are planted the same, the plot in Kentucky can still attract the best deer in the area from mid-November and later, if done correctly. That means investing time, money and hard work. With clovers and alfalfa products, you need little or no nitrogen because they produce their own nitrogen. Because so many deer managers plant these excellent products, they are used to buying fertilizer with little or no nitrogen. For example, if no soil test has been done, Whitetail Institute recommends using 6-24-24 fertilizer. It also says Imperial Whitetail Clover does best in moist soil. Deer managers have become so accustomed to planting this type of product that many want to "do it like they did before" because it always worked. However, Winter-Greens has different needs. Winter-Greens does well in various soils, but it excels in well-drained soils. It also needs nitrogen (N, the first number on a fertilizer bag) phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Those are the second and third numbers. Each product is important to a successful food plot. Nitrogen produces green, upward growth. At 14 inches high, Winter-Greens leaves will stand above a 10-inch snow. Six inches of foliage won’t be as easy for whitetails to reach. Phosphorus is devoted to root growth and flower and fruit production, and the last number, potassium, is an overall building block that benefits all parts of the plant. An easy way to remember what nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium do is to say "up, down, all around." The general fertilizer requirements Whitetail Institute recommends for Winter-Greens are 400 pounds of 20-20- 20 per acre. However, it’s best to take a soil test and get the exact fertilizer requirements. Winter-Greens does best at a pH of 7. It will still grow a good crop with a pH of 6.0, but a soil test will tell you how much lime to apply to attain a 7.0 pH. Lime is relatively cheap and a great investment for your dollar.


A big mistake some managers make is not determining exact plot size. Guessing at plot size is inaccurate, resulting in applications of too little or too much lime, fertilizer and seed. You can step off or use a tape measure to obtain plot dimensions, but a laser range-finder is hard to beat. A square acre contains 43,560 square feet and is about 209 by 209 feet. If you want to kick the forage growth up a notch, food-plot guru William Cousins at Whitetail Institute recommends letting the plot grow for three or four weeks. At that point, go back in on a dry day, and apply 100 pounds per acre of 34-0-0. That extra shot of fertilizer will send the Winter-Greens toward the sky rapidly. Last, remember the importance of food-plot location. Obviously, plots should be kept out of sight of roads. They should also be where prevailing wind directions can be used in your favor. The plot should be as close as possible to thick cover. If you're hunting hilly land, plots on higher hills work best. If you place your plots in hollows, you will constantly be dealing with switching wind directions, and deer will pick you off regularly. When hunting food plots, you don’t have to use a tree stand. Ground blinds work great. In fact, we leave three ground blinds out year-round, and people are amazed that one of them is in an open Conservation Reserve Program field at the edge of a food plot. However, because the blind is there year-round, deer pay no attention to it. With the right wind, we slip over a slight rise in the field that hides the food plot from the road, and we're good to go. We’ve killed a lot of deer out of that plot. On Dec. 23, the last day of Indiana’s 2006 muzzleloader season, my sister, Margy Pogue, killed a deer out of the plot, and her husband, Jim, killed his second-best buck ever out of another plot about a half-mile away. By investing your time, work and money in Winter- Greens, you will get a great return on your deer hunting investment, year after year.