Question: “I am interested in better whitetail hunting on my Texas property and always try to provide supplemental foods for deer. I typically plant food plots in the fall, but this year I tried turnips for food plots in the spring. I planted turnips in a very small area, about 1/2 acre in size. The ground was firm, but after preparing the soil, and some rain, the turnips look good. They look great, but the deer have not touched them. My question is, do whitetail usually eat the turnip bulb or stick to the leafy greens?”
Answer: When it comes to whitetail deer management, food plots are a good tool. They are not the only way to provide supplemental forage for whitetail, but they can work great over much of the whitetail’s range, including Texas. The eastern half of Texas has better soil for food plots, but good soils can be found over much of the state, even further west if they are located along creeks, rivers and other riparian areas.
Turnips can be planted in the spring, but they are better fall plots. Food plots for whitetail hunting are typically planted in early to mid-September. Though turnip food plots can grow great, deer do not always jump on them right away. It depends on the local habitat and forage situation, but whitetail deer usually will not eat the leaves until the turnip plant has gone through a freeze. A freeze will convert the starches found in the leaves into sugars, then the deer are more likely to consume them.
Some properties have a hard time getting whitetail to eat turnips, even after a hard freeze. A friend of mine once planted about 20 acres of turnips one year and the whitetail never touched them. Of course, if I recall correctly, his part of South-Central Texas experienced a mild winter, slow hunting season, and the deer had plenty to eat.
On another property in Central Texas the deer ate the turnip leaves the very first year following a freeze, but not the bulb. The following years the deer consumed all of the leaves, even before a hard freeze! Then they ate the bulbs following a good freeze. From what I have seen of turnip food plots, it usually takes several years of planting them to get white-tailed deer accustomed to using them. Turnips for food plots for deer are a good plant to go with. Whether in Texas or elsewhere in the whitetail’s range, turnips typically do well because deer will allow them to grow, not eating them until winter sets in.