By P.J. Reilly
It’s good to have a game plan, but better to hunt a hot stand.
There it was again, the deep, amorous grunt of a whitetail. The morning had not lightened enough to show me the buck I knew was close, but the eastern sky was becoming alive with color, so I tightened the grip on my 60-pound longbow and waited impatiently. I knew where the buck was headed, and I was all but guaranteed a shot if he didn’t slip past before legal shooting.
My ladder stand was set up in a narrow finger of trees leading from a much larger Minnesota woodlot out to a food plot I had planted only a few weeks earlier — a food plot now lush and green and loaded with whitetail sign.
Although this was my first experience with brassicas, the nutrient-rich broadleaf plants were spectacular. I had planted in early August, and the forage brassicas were more than a foot tall by mid-September and were getting hammered every evening by whitetails, including several decent bucks.
By the time bow season opened, the trail leading out of the heavy cover and into the field was worn down to dirt. There was little doubt as to where I’d be set up during a favorable wind.
The early season offered dozens of shot opportunities, but I held out for one of the trophy bucks I knew visited the field. By the time the rut started, the brassicas were eaten down to black dirt. Still, the deer visited every day.
Shadows grudgingly became trees, bushes and rocks, and it wasn’t long before movement caught my eye coming slowly down the trail.
Easing my binoculars slowly into position, I clearly saw eight long points jutting skyward as the buck scent-checked the trail. I prepared for the impending point-blank shot as my heart threatened to jackhammer its way out of my chest.
Just about every hunter who has access to a piece of land is planting food plots these days.
Early on, hunters who wanted to manage their land and plant food for deer were pretty much limited to the corn, beans or alfalfa that was available from the local elevator. Companies today offer specialized seeds engineered specifically for use in food plots, and specifically to help grow big, healthy deer.
One of the best all-around plants to attract, hold and grow big deer are brassicas, and they’re especially handy as harvest plots — the kind of plot designed to fill your freezer with venison.
The term brassica actually covers a large group of broadleaf plants including radishes, turnips, rutabagas, cabbages, cauliflower, canola, rape and kale. For food plot and hunting purposes, it is the turnips, rape and kale that are most often used.
Brassicas are cool-season annuals that are high in protein and highly digestible. A properly planted and maintained plot can yield as much as 8 tons of forage per acre. Generally, deer will ignore brassicas until cold weather when, especially after the first frost, the plants start to produce sugars that make them sweeter and more palatable. Once deer start feeding on them, it’s almost impossible to keep them away.
Another plus in planting brassicas is they tend to stand upright and stay green even under heavy snow, making them especially attractive in northern climates where pretty much everything else is dead and brown in late fall.
I’ve seen deer dig through early snowfalls in Minnesota to feed on both the leaves and roots of my brassicas, while walking right through or past fields of corn and beans. This makes brassicas an ideal choice for hunting plots, because they are at their best and most attractive to the deer when other food sources are gone or less attractive. No matter what your preference for hunting whitetails, a field or two of brassicas can be your ticket to success.
Last season was my first experience with brassicas. Every time I bowhunted near my plot, I had deer in range. The only problem was the field was so attractive, the deer wiped it out before the cold and snow arrived, which is when I intended to hunt over it. Still, during the late November muzzleloader season, I arrowed a big doe with my longbow. She was digging through the snow to find the last few morsels of green.
You’ve heard it before, and it’s true: When the rut kicks in, hunt where the does are. A field full of brassicas where two dozen does are feeding every evening is just that kind of place.
Minnesota’s 2009 hunting season was tough. Heavy rain delayed the harvest, and corn was standing everywhere all through bow, muzzleloader and gun seasons. In fact, I still had several hundred acres of corn standing around my property well into January and February.
Deer sightings were below normal, and hunting was difficult. However, until the whitetails completely wiped out my field of forage brassicas, there were deer there every evening. The two biggest bucks I saw all year, a 130-inch 8-pointer and a 150-inch 10, harassed does in that field on several occasions. Unfortunately, I was hunting elsewhere because of unfavorable wind.
Kids often have a difficult time sitting quietly for long periods, especially with no activity. A field of brassicas can be the perfect place to take a youngster hunting.
I can’t think of a single evening I’ve watched a brassica plot and not seen deer, and usually multiple deer. My 10-year-old son, Ryan, and I have had several enjoyable bowhunts near brassicas. There’s always activity, which keeps him interested and excited.
This past September, Ryan and I were set up on the ground along a turnip field, watching several does and fawns feed just out of range of my longbow. A pack of coyotes began to sing in the standing corn at our backs, pushing the deer into the trees.
Since it was almost sunset, we relaxed and talked quietly about the evening. Ryan took off his facemask, which is exactly when a big doe decided to come back into the field.
She immediately saw him and started head-bobbing and foot-stomping. I didn’t want to shoot at an alert deer, even one that close, so I just watched as she postured for a few minutes before walking back into the heavy cover. I looked back at my son, who was shaking so badly I had to help him stand up so we could head back home. A field of brassicas is an exciting and action filled spot to introduce any youngster to hunting.
But I almost forgot about the big 8-pointer from the opening story!
As the buck closed the distance, I turned slightly to shoot where he would pass my ladder at about 10 yards. At 15 yards, he stopped to test the air currents before punishing a small poplar sapling. He then resumed his stealthy approach to the brassica plot where a handful of does were already feeding.
As he walked slowly by my tree, I concentrated on the crease behind his shoulder. I was just about to send an arrow through his ribcage when I realized he wasn’t the bigger 8-pointer I was after. I relaxed the tension on my bowstring and let the deer cruise out into the field to harass the does. After all, I knew I would have more opportunities ahead, because I was hunting my Field of Greens.
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• Picking Pockets: Small isolated cover areas can produce big results. This article was published in the October 2011 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.