A Very Personal Look at Chicory Plus

By Matt Harper

When a new product from the Whitetail Institute comes on the market, you can bet that it has been growing on my farm as well as up to a hundred others across the country for at least three to four years.
Actually, one of the fringe benefits of heading up new product development for the Whitetail Institute is that I get to try a multitude of different experimental food plots. In fact, if you saw my farm in Iowa, you would see that it is literally a cornucopia of deer forages. The Institute has a very strict research protocol, and many products never make it to the market. But when we develop a product that passes the gauntlet of testing and becomes part of our product line, I already know from personal experience the benefits it can pro-vide. The 2005 hunting season was a perfect example of what I am talking about.

We first began working with the new Chicory PLUS product five years ago. That’s when I planted my first test field and knew right away we were on to something big. The blend of chicory and Imperial Whitetail Clover made a product that had some very interesting advantages. Chicory is a highly drought-tolerant plant that does well in conditions that range from drier, well-drained soils to slightly-draining soils. On the other hand, Imperial Whitetail Clover performs best in heavier, moisture-holding soils. Combined together, the result was a food plot that was ideal for “transition” or “variable” soil conditions.

When planting food plots in locations that included well-drained and level, moisture-holding areas – plots with varying topography – the blend of chicory and Imperial Whitetail Clover was ideal. Also, we found that Chicory PLUS was perfectly suited for food plots that had varying soil types, both well-drained (sandy, for example) and heavy soils. In these food plots, the chicory performed well in the porous soils and the Imperial Whitetail Clover performed best in the heavier soils. In the “transitional” areas of the plots, both forage types performed equally well.

Chicory PLUS also worked well in food plots that were fairly moist at certain times of the year but tended to dry out later in the summer. It was especially productive in food plots planted in areas where excessive summer heat and drought temporarily slowed clover growth. In short, Chicory PLUS was a food plot planting that was extraordinarily versatile and could literally metamorphose itself to match the soil conditions.

The key to Chicory PLUS was the development of the Whitetail Institute’s exclusive WINA-100 Brand Chicory. We wanted to develop the most attractive chicory on the market, so we began specific selection of chicory focusing on attractiveness. The selection process eventually lead to a chicory type that in cafeteria tests proved far more attractive than other chicory types. The key to this attraction was in the characteristics of the leaf. Chicory normally has a waxy, leathery leaf structure that is high in hard-to-digest fibrous material. WINA-100 Chicory has a soft, non-waxy leaf making it much more attractive than other chicory types. When we combined WINA-100 Chicory with Imperial Whitetail Clover, we knew we had a winner.

In 2004, I planted a new version of the chicory/Imperial Clover test blend that would prove to be the exact blend used in Chicory PLUS. It was a 1/2- acre plot in a small creek bottom, consisting of fairly well-drained, soil. Because the terrain was flat, the soil held moisture most of the year. However, during late summer and periods of extended dry weather, the soil would get rather dry due to its sandy nature. It was an ideal place to plant the Chicory PLUS test plot.

The plot sits in the flat bottom area at the end of a long, sloping crop field. All along the western side of the plot runs a wooded draw that is approximately 80 yards wide and separates the crop field on the east from an alfalfa field on the west. As you can imagine, there are a lot of food choices for the deer in the area; but from camera observations and personally viewing the field, I noticed most of the feeding activity occurred in the Chicory PLUS food plot. Over time, the overall configuration of the food plot began to adapt to the soil moisture conditions.

Through most of the year, the food plot would be a good mixture of WINA-100 Chicory and Imperial Clover. During the months of August and September however, when heat and drier conditions prevailed, the food plot began to change in appearance. Along the western side of the field where the food plot was sheltered from afternoon sun, the food plot remained as it had early in the summer – a combination of chicory and clover. In the middle and eastern side of the plot, where it received full sun and thus experienced drier soil conditions, the chicory became the most prevalent forage type. Later, in early fall, when moisture and cooler temperatures returned, the clover came back as before. The Chicory PLUS food plot performed exactly how it was designed to perform.

Now let’s visit the 2005 Iowa archery season. Using cameras to monitor deer usage was part of the overall testing procedure. I captured several good bucks on camera, but the 10-pointer that walked in front of my camera in early July was an exceptionally good buck. I only got the buck on camera that one time, but it was enough to know that he was in the area and was most likely using the food plot as part of his home range.

In early September, I hung a stand about 25 feet up an old walnut in the wooded draw bordering the western edge of the food plot. The stand location was about 60 yards off the food plot, overlooking an intersection of two major trails that ended up dumping into the plot. The stand was located in an area dominated by mature walnuts and oaks, but farther north up the draw, the trees give way to brush and tall grass, making an ideal deer bedding area. The site made a perfect ambush spot between a bedding area and feeding area. I thought there would be a good chance that during the rut, bucks would be cruising the draw, checking trails for a hint of a receptive doe on her way to feed in the plot. This search would ultimately lead the bucks to the intersection underneath my stand.

On Nov. 6, I left my house at 4:45 a.m. and headed to my farm with a couple of friends that were going to be hunting with me that morning. I was actually not going to hunt that morning because I had to leave early for a business trip. My plan was to take my hunting partners out and then go back home. At the last minute I decided to grab my bow and sit a couple hours in the stand closest to where I would park my truck. It just so happened this stand was the one set up in the draw next to the Chicory PLUS test plot.

I thought if nothing else, I could scout a little from the stand, as I had not yet sat in it that hunting season. It was a beautiful and quiet morning. There was little activity until around 7:30 a.m. when a doe walked out into the Chicory PLUS food plot and began to feed. She seemed a little nervous and was constantly looking over her shoulder at the thick brush across the plot from where I sat. As we all know, this will get you a little excited as her body language indicated there was probably another deer in the brush that had not yet come out onto the field. But no other deer showed up. I was going to get down and sneak back to the truck at 8 a.m. It was now 7:50 a.m.

I was messing around with my pack, trying to get my equipment packed up to leave. I heard a commotion out in the food plot and looked up to see the doe bolt toward my direction. Then I knew there was a buck. I grabbed my bow and waited. Seconds later a buck exploded onto the field in hot pursuit of the doe. Unfortunately, it was a 7-point 1-1/2-year old that appeared to be insane with passion for the fleeing doe. I turned to hang my bow back up when I noticed the doe was heading directly for my tree. I didn’t want to have my stand location busted, so I froze and waited to see how things would play out.

The doe sped past the stand with the young buck making tracks across the food plot after her. When the buck neared the edge of the draw, he suddenly slammed on the breaks, throwing mud and leaves everywhere. The buck stared straight past me up the trail that meandered deeper into the draw. As love-sick as this young deer was, I knew it had to be something substantial to spook him this bad. I slowly craned my neck to the right and standing 30 yards away was the 10-pointer I had captured on my trail camera earlier that summer. Even though I had never seen the buck alive and in person and had only gotten one picture of him, I knew it was him. He was wide and very symmetrical, but what gave him away was his slightly split brow tines.

The two bucks where in a stare-down so neither noticed as I stood and came to full draw. The big buck’s vitals were blocked by a big oak tree, so I had to wait until he bristled, laid back his ears and began stiff-legging toward the young buck. Finally, at 21 yards, he stepped into my shooting lane and gave me a perfect broadside pose. I triggered my release and sent my arrow cleanly through both lungs and out the other side, coming to rest deeply sunk into the muddy bank on the other side. The buck only made it about 50 yards before expiring. Needless to say, I was glad I decided to hunt that morning.

I have been working with the Whitetail Institute now for nearly seven years and have been planting test products on my farm since the first week I started. It is still a working farm as it was before we started putting in test food plots. The quality and quantity of deer on my farm has increased dramatically, even though I live in the middle of farm country with some of the best whitetail genetics in the country. I immensely enjoy the research behind test plots, but I have to admit, the end result of harvesting a great whitetail buck is the icing on the cake.