By Glen Wunderlich
Member Professional Outdoor Media Association
It sure looks like the snow and cold weather have arrived in time to change what’s remains of deer season. The beans and corn are long gone and the legume plots are difficult to uncover under the snow layer. This is when the attraction of brassica food plots become magnets to not only the deer, but me, as well.
Forage rape and purple top turnips provide balanced protein and energy that will carry deer into spring. Winter stress can be minimized by the accessibility of the green vegetation and turnip meat, which is easily consumed under a foot of snow. One of my sites has subtle low areas that make viewing whitetails impossible; however, light, fluffy snow unnaturally being thrown into the wind is a dead giveaway that a hungry deer is working beneath for a turnip. And, if ever a stalk could be made easy, it’s when deer are throwing snow like a 2-cycle snowblower.
According to food plot expert, Ed Spinazzola, deer need more phosphorus than any other animal. Large-antlered, healthy deer need high levels of calcium and phosphorus and New Zealand forage rapes are where these essential minerals can be found in abundance. Turnips, also in the brassica family, provide energy by targeting potash. By planting destination fields that are large enough, so as not to be devoured before spring, deer are able to get a healthy jump start before things green up and food is readily available.
Deer management is the name of the game. We feed them; they feed us. And, for this reason, I save an antlerless tag for mid- to late-December hunting.
Tree stands are out. So too is the ghille suit that I used to perfection earlier in the season, as I lay prone behind my bipod-steadied crossbow among dozens of unsuspecting whitetails. Way beyond cool! But, the frigid weather is beyond cool, and lying still on the frozen ground is a good way to remain frozen to the ground.
Quiet propane heaters are now my close companions within the walls of strategically located shacks. They are positioned where they are for one reason: late season, game getting. Situated over 100 yards from the food sources, the blinds are ignored by deer on nutrition missions.
It takes a lot of hard work from spring to fall preparing for December hunts. And, when the cost of seed, fuel, lime, fertilizer, and labor is counted, it’s not cheap. But the payoff comes when a day like Saturday, December 11th arrives.
My friend, Joe and I spent several hours sighting in his new CVA muzzleloader. After we got it on target, we worked as a two-man team overlooking a 2-acre brassica plot in the blind nicknamed “The Chalet.” The first snow storm of the season was still one day away but we knew the local deer population had already made themselves routine visitors to the tender smörgåsbord of veggies before us.
At 4:55 pm, a button buck began feeding some 200 yards from our lookout. Within minutes, the field became occupied with a half dozen hungry mouths. An uncommonly small spike buck joined the foray and it was good to see a buck had made it through the regular firearms season. Then, the attention of the does centered on a trail leading to the brassicas, and sure enough, another buck came into view. He was a basket-racked six pointer, and once again, I could only imagine how he might develop next season. Another six-point buck joined the feeding frenzy, making 3 bucks in plain view!
I thought how few bucks are actually taken in muzzleloader season – only a scant 6 percent of the total – but, it made no difference to Joe and me to add to the statistics. These were clearly adolescents – no trophies by any stretch of braggadocio.
We turned our collective focus to a large, adult doe that had ranged to 143 yards from the new muzzleloader’s crown. Joe couldn’t get settled in on her, however, before she began moving farther away – far enough for us to wait for another opportunity and another day.
For some, success is defined by a kill; our success on the other hand had been sowed in preceding months, but on this day it was reaped with our eyes.