PowerPlant Racing Fuel for Antler Growth

By Jon Cooner
Make no mistake about it: Antler growth is a race. Given that the antler-growing of each spring and summer only lasts about 200 days, it’s no wonder that antlers are the fastest growing animal tissue on earth. If you want to win that race by helping your deer  grow the largest antlers they can by fall, you’ll need a special high-protein racing fuel. That fuel is Imperial Whitetail PowerPlant.


When managing free-range deer to maximize antler size, the specific goal is to make it possible for bucks to realize as much of their genetic potential for antler size as they can. Your management approach should be designed to achieve that goal as fully, quickly, and directly as possible. The three main factors influencing rack size are age, genetics and nutrition.

Each factor presents management hurdles that can’t be completely eliminated in most free-range situations, but they can be managed to varying degrees. As NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt once said, “In life there are some hurdles you get over and some you don’t," and although he was referring to auto racing, the same is equally true of managing free-range bucks toward larger antlers. The key is to identify the hurdles, and address them in a way that offers the greatest potential to maximize antler size as quickly and directly as possible.

Age. One rule in deer management that can’t be changed is the role of age in antler size: a buck cannot grow the biggest set of antlers he has the genetic potential to grow until he’s mature (about 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 years old). Accordingly, any manager whose goal is to maximize antler size should allow his bucks to mature before harvest. In a free-range situation, the effect of age-based harvest restrictions might be limited to some degree by the generally high mortality rate of young bucks from non-hunting related causes and the tendency of bucks that live longer to sometimes relocate. Even so, a management plan that allows bucks to be harvested before maturity will never yield full benefits in antler size. Put simply, you have to let them grow up.

Genetics. Another common feature of many management plans is culling — removing mature bucks exhibiting inferior racks from the herd to keep them from breeding and passing on their genes. Over time,culling bucks with inferior genetics can reduce the number of malformed racks (a well-formed antler on one side, and a stunted antler on the other) and even racks that are well-formed but structurally smaller than the manager desires (removing 6- or 8-pointers so that only bucks with more points do the breeding) can improve genetics. However, culling can carry practical limitations, especially in freerange situations.

Absent scientific testing, the manager has to rely on observation alone to judge the quality of a buck’s genetics, and in some cases observation alone may be an uncertain gauge. A buck whose rack appears to show sub-standard genetics may have simply injured his velvet antlers, which might return to full form the next year.

Moreover, even when bucks with inferior genetics are accurately identified, improvement in the herd’s average rack size due to their removal may take a while to show up. Does pass on their genes to their offspring, and you can’t tell much about a doe’s genes by observation. Also, in free-range situations bucks from outside the property  may move onto the property, bringing their genes (good or bad) with them. Either may delay or dilute the benefits of culling. In many free-range cases, managing only to improve genetics may not yield larger rack sizes at all. Inferior genetics is a much less common problem in most free-range situations than you might think. Bucks in almost all areas have the genetic potential to grow far bigger antlers than they ever actually grow because they are nutritionally limited by the food Mother Nature provides, die before reaching maturity, or both.

Nutrition. Unlike age and genetics, limitations inherent in natural food sources can be largely overcome — and virtually immediately, barring unforeseen weather catastrophes. Accordingly, the smart manager will do what he can with age and genetics, and focus hard on supplementing nutrition. To see why, put yourself in the following situation, and then ask, “What would Dale do?” Let’s say you’re a race car driver who’s nearing the end of a race. You know it will take you one full tank of fuel to finish, but your gas tank is almost empty so you make a pit stop to take on more fuel. Which of the following actions during your pit stop offers the fastest, most direct results: (A) installing a larger gas tank in your car or (B) filling the tank that’s already on the car? Obviously, (B) will get you to your immediate goal with the shortest delay. If you want to extend your car’s range for future races, then certainly install the larger tank. But do that next; for now, filling the existing tank will get you to the finish line, and with as little delay as possible.


And when you’re filling the tank, whether for a NASCAR race or an antler-growth race, remember that it will take racing fuel to get full performance. Like a race car engine tuned for racing fuel, the nutritional aspects of antler growth are also specific and narrow, and you won’t get full performance if you rely on low-octane pump gas. Let’s break it down. Protein. Entire books have been written about the nutrients involved in antler growth, and explaining their complex interaction is beyond the scope of this article. For our purposes, we’ll narrow it down to this: the main nutrients involved in antler development are protein, minerals and vitamins, and of these, protein is king. Antler growth starts with the velvet antler, which is 80 percent collagen (a protein), and a hardened antler is still about 45 percent protein. When you take into account that the antlergrowing window only lasts for about 200 days, you can see how important it is that deer have access to lots of protein if they are to have an opportunity to max-out on antler size.


Protein. Just as a race car’s engine likely won’t run well on low-octane gas, deer usually can’t get anywhere near the protein they need to maximize antler size just from what Mother Nature provides. Generally, deer need about 16 percent to 18 percent dietary protein. Natural food sources, though, generally offer 10 percent protein or less (usually less).

Palatability. After spring green-up, some natural forages can quickly become too tough and stemmy for deer to effectively utilize. Like cattle, deer are ruminant animals that can utilize a wide variety of natural forages. Unlike cattle, though, deer are small-ruminants, meaning that they can only utilize specific parts of plants within a very narrow palatability range. You don’t have to be a scientist to see that deer are built to process only the most tender forages. Just compare a cow’s muzzle and mouth to a deer’s. As grazers, cattle can digest tough, stemmy forages, and they have a wide, flat mouth well suited to mowing off pretty much anything they come across. Deer, though, are “browsers” or “concentrate selectors,” meaning that they select only the most tender parts of plants, and their narrow, sharply pointed muzzle, long tongue, and front of their mouths (incisors only on the bottom, and a hard pallet on top) are suited to nipping off carefully selected parts of a plant.

Availability. Consider that right when a buck is well into growing his early (velvet) antler, Mother Nature’s gas station may not even be open. In many parts of the country (especially the further North you go), natural forages can take a while to present themselves in substantial quantities when the antler-growing process begins, and they can be exhausted or of low palatability well before it ends. In most cases, natural food sources are of sufficient nutritional content and availability for deer to grow antlers and live normal lives. Trying to maximize antler size on natural food sources alone, though, is like trying to win NASCAR race when all you have is low-octane fuel—and you don’t have enough of it to even get the car to the finish line. The solution is equally clear: get racing fuel in sufficient amounts for us to cross the finish line as quickly as possible.


If you want to get “full performance” from the antler-growing engine, then you’ve got to give your bucks the racing fuel it was designed for, and enough of it. When you’re racing to maximize the size of the antlers your bucks will be carrying next fall, fuel them with PowerPlant. It’s designed to get more antler-building protein into your bucks than any other annual forage product the Whitetail Institute has tested.

Protein. First, No other competing product the Whitetail Institute has tested produces as much tonnage of high-protein forage during the 200 days of spring/summer antler growth as PowerPlant. Period.

Palatability. Second, PowerPlant is specifically designed to be highly palatable to deer and stay that way—even after it establishes and matures. The key lies in the type of legumes included in the blend: they’re true “forage” varieties. Certainly deer will eat agricultural soybeans and can benefit from them nutritionally, but like a race car you’ll be able to push antler growth as high as possible if you provide your bucks with a forage specifically designed for the unique needs of deer. The forage-type legumes in PowerPlant (soybeans, Lablab and peas) are quite different from their agricultural cousins. At PowerPlant’s heart is a forage soybean, which is superior to agricultural-type soybeans in a number of ways when used as a deer forage. For example, unlike agricultural soybeans, which grow a trunk that becomes stemmy with lignin as it matures (making it much less palatable to deer), the forage soybeans in PowerPlant grow as vines, which stay more tender and highly palatable to deer. Also unlike agricultural soybean varieties, once PowerPlant is established, it can regenerate as deer feed on it. The addition of small amounts of sorghum and sunflowers to PowerPlant maximizes the growth rate and foliage production of the vining legumes by allowing them to climb instead of running along the ground. As a result, PowerPlant grows into a thick “jungle” of succulent, protein-rich forage that deer will often bed in as well as prefer as a forage.

Availability. Third, PowerPlant establishes and grows quickly, providing the huge amounts of protein bucks need during formation of the velvet antler and later to help maximize the size of their antlers. And PowerPlant is designed to keep on producing tons of high protein—even into the fall in most areas.


Order Early. Each year, the Whitetail Institute prepares its spring PowerPlant supply based on demand forecasts. Sometimes the Institute forecasts demand pretty well. In three out of the last four years, though, demand has exceeded expectations, and some customers who wanted PowerPlant but delayed ordering went without. So, be sure to order PowerPlant early. You’ll find early-ordering discounts here in Whitetail News (Page 62). Take advantage of them now.

Planting Dates. The recommended planting window for PowerPlant in your area is shown on the back of the product bags. Planting maps are also available on-line at http://www.whitetailinstitute.com/ under the Products link. Be sure you wait to plant PowerPlant until soil temperatures reach a constant temperature, day and night, of at least 65 degrees. If you’re not sure when that is in your area, then contact your County Agent or a local farm-supply store to find out when farmers will be planting their agricultural soybean crops this spring. Then, plant your PowerPlant at the same time, or even a week or two later.

Weed Control. Weed competition is rarely a problem with PowerPlant once it matures because by then its foliage is so thick that virtually no sunlight can reach the ground. Even in its early growth stages, PowerPlant usually grows quickly enough that weeds usually don’t present a significant problem. If you plan to plant fallow ground that’s heavily infested with grass or other weeds, or you’re otherwise concerned that grass or other weeds may compete heavily with PowerPlant during its early growth stages, then you might consider including a Roundup-type herbicide into the planting instructions (available on the product bags and also at http://www.whitetailinstitute.com/). Here’s how: Before spring green-up, add any lime recommended by your soil test (if a soil test isn’t available, then add one ton of lime per acre), and disk or till the lime into the top few inches of the seedbed. Then, wait until grass and weeds have emerged and are actively growing again. Once weeds are actively growing again, spray the site with a Roundup-type glyphosate herbicide solution. (Tip: Adding Surefire Seed Oil to the spray solution can help the herbicide work even better. Surefire is available from the Whitetail Institute.)

After you spray, wait until both of the following have occurred before you plant: (A) at least two weeks have passed since you sprayed, and (B) soil temperatures have reached a constant temperature of at least 65 degrees (F). Once both have occurred, go ahead and fertilize and plant according to the Whitetail Institute’s published planting instructions. When you plant you’ll be disturbing the top inch or so of the seedbed to cover the PowerPlant seed with a light layer of loose soil. Even so, it’s highly unlikely that disturbing just the top inch or two of soil will bring enough dormant weed seed to the surface to compromise the performance of PowerPlant.

Order your PowerPlant now, and give the bucks on your hunting ground the best opportunity to grow the biggest antlers they can. You’ll be glad you did next fall and winter.

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