Deer Management: Use Brassica’s to attract deer to your food plot in hunting season

Food plots are used extensively by deer management groups as well as hunters. There are two types of food plots. What determines the type is function.

Deer food plots used to attract deer for deer hunting are generally more secluded and smaller to provide deer with maximum sense of security. See our whitetail and mule deer stand location tips for deer food plots.

This added protection means the deer will use the food plot in the daylight. Generally good hunters do not hunt over the food plot itself. They usually hunt on the perimeter trails and travel routes leading to the plot or adjacent to the plot.

The cover of darkness:

Conversely, the deer plots used for deer management and to provide herd nutritional supplementation generally attract deer during the night. They are often larger in acreage and provide volumes of grazing forage. The deer love the forage here but they don’t feel safe except under the cover of darkness.

The advantage of food plots is far greater than just the ability to attract deer. They reduce grazing pressure on native vegetation. This allows for better forest and grassland regeneration. The deer plots also provide better nutritional value than native vegetation.

Most deer managers use brassica”s in their overall food plot plan. There are a large number of brassica species to choose from. The brassica crops that deer managers most commonly refer to are kale, rape, and turnips. As a group, these plants are generally seeded in the summer and yet they have the remarkable ability to provide good quality nutrition well into the fall and early winter.

The neatest thing about these plants is the fact that when the leaves are young they are bitter. Until they are aged and hit by a hard frost the deer are not too keen on them. This natural deer behavior gives the added advantage of excellent growth before the deer start to graze the leaves.

Once the brassica leaves have been hit by a heavy frost they are sweeter and more palatable due to conversion of starches in the leaves to sugar. This makes for great deer lure properties when other native grazing options have been decreased in the late fall and winter.

Whitetail deer food plots top image

The deer can even eat the leaves under the snow, where they are often noted to still be green in early winter. Also, this allows for excellent root growth and the deer will often be found digging out the roots under the snow even as late as early March.

I will discuss each of the three common brassica species used by deer management experts separately. Keep in mind, they are usually used in mixes so that maturation takes place on a different date and this spreads out the service of your deer plot. In general the brassica plants like soils with a pH of 6.8, although some range is acceptable.

Kale (brassica oleracea)
Brassica deer management iamge of kale

Kale (brassica oleracea): This plant has leaves that are very high in protein. It is best to choose the varieties with high leaf to stem ratios.

This one is slower growing than rape and less tolerant of heat. It grows best in areas where the summers are cool. There are two varieties stemmed and stemless.

The stemmed variety takes longer to mature (150-180days) than the stemless (90 days).

Both varieties can be planted in early spring, giving the stemless a maturation time frame of August through September. The stemmed variety will mature later, usually in October through December.

Turnips (Brassica rapa)
Brassica deer management image of turnip plant

Turnips: (Brassica rapa): This one grows well in Northern regions and peaks its growth in 90 days or so.

All parts of this plant are eaten by the deer. It can be late fall planted and the deer will eat the leaves first and then dig out the roots later.

If you choose a variety with a high proportion of leaves it will be a better deer attractant, as they tend to eat the leaves first.

They provide maximum nutrition generally about 6 weeks after planting.

Forage Rape (Brassica napus)
Brassica deer management image of forage rape

Forage Rape (Brassica napus): This variety of forage rape is very tolerant of a myriad of conditions.

It is tolerant of cold, heat and drought and matures in 30-90 days.

It is generally planted in mid to late July. The dwarf types are best when using them as deer lure for hunting plots.

They are more palatable earlier in the growth phase.

Brassica plants are a good choice for deer food plots.

They produce large amounts of quality deer food during the time of year when perennial forages and native plants are limited in both production and quality. The digestibility of brassica plants remains high for a longer period than most other plants. They can improve the carrying capacity of any plot from late August through December and even later in some areas.

Summer seeded bassica crops can provide good fall forage and attract deer late into the fall and early winter. This is good news for the deer management professional and the deer hunter.

Dr. Judy McFarlen Veterinarian, Alberta Rancher, and publisher of Deer Food Plots Made Easy, Dr. Judy McFarlen has helped a large number of novice and experienced deer food plotters establish and improve their whitetail deer food plots.

From deer food plot location strategies to seed selection, this text is a nuts and bolts kind of reading. It is guaranteed to make sense to even to the most inexperienced grower.