Soil is the foundation that a food plot stands on, so it’s important to know how solid that foundation really is. A soil sample is a quick and easy tool that can help you maximize your food plot’s yield and save you time and money when it comes to fertilizing. Taking the sample is simple and only takes a few minutes to collect. All you need is a shovel or a soil probe, a bucket and some plastic bags.
Your local extension office can test the soil for you, or you can choose to use a private lab. We use Waters Agricultural Laboratories because of their quick service and we want our plots tested for maximum yield instead of the most economic yield, which is what most extension offices provide.
By taking a soil sample for every food plot, you can determine exactly how much fertilizer or lime is necessary for each plot to produce quality forage. This saves money and healthy plants are much more attractive (palatable) to deer than malnourished forage.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 13 that seeds cast on poor soil will quickly wither and die. This is true both spiritually and literally. If your plants, or your faith, are not rooted in quality soil, there is no way either can grow to their full potential. Make sure you’re taking care of both.
Life and deer hunting have a lot in common. One similarity is that to have repeated success one must pay attention to the little things. My friend and fellow deer hunter, Andy Andrews, has a new book about the little things.
It's not another book about deer hunting tactics or based on a one time wonder of tagging a monster buck. It is a brilliant collection of principles that can be applied to deer hunting and all aspects of life.
Want to have a better year during 2017 than you had during 2016? Take a positive step and read Andy's new book, The Little Things. Order it here.
Deer season is over and turkey season is just around the corner. That means the work is just beginning.
We have several large prescribed fires planned for the week. Right now, I am sitting in the office catching up on several tasks while the interns mix fire fuel and pack the leaf blowers in the Yamaha. Today we plan to burn several large bedding areas. These areas are designated sanctuaries for our deer herd.
Prescribed fire is a great tool for habitat management.
Last fall Flatwood Natives Habitat Solutions sprayed all the hardwood saplings in these areas. The saplings have had several months to die and dry before the prescribed fire. Our goal today is to burn the native grasses and forbs, encouraging new growth this spring. The saplings may remain standing but fire will make them even more brittle and assist in a timely decomposition.
As a wildlife manager and hunter I am very excited to burn these areas. I can’t stop thinking about turkeys. Burned areas make for great bugging areas for turkeys. The terrain is open and turkeys can watch for predators and find great food sources. This can make for some great spring turkey hunting.
Turkeys are on my immediate radar but I cannot forget about the deer. Within a few months these burn areas will serve as great fawning habitat. As new tender grasses and forbs pop up over the next few weeks, these burn areas will also be a great food source for deer. Of course, the hunter in me will be looking for sheds and trails trying to figure out which deer are in the area and how they are using the terrain. These prescribed fires make for some great late season scouting!
We will be very busy today and during the next few months with prescribed fires. Each fire brings a great reward – improved habitat and better hunting. I hope you get the chance to work on your Proving Grounds soon and can enjoy the fruits of your labor come hunting season.
We have been blessed with a mild winter at The Proving Grounds. Even so, the local deer herd seems hungry. Late winter is a stressful time for whitetails across most of their range. Lack of food, cold temperatures, and months of hunting pressure create a potent mixture of hardship. During this time, deer are trying to regain the weight lost during the rut. They must also start preparing for the spring fawning season and period of antler growth.
During this time of year, there is often a shortage of the forages whitetails need to sustain a healthy weight throughout the winter. This period of deficiency is intensified in times of drought. In many areas, most native forages have been browsed to exhaustion which brings up the importance of food plots during late winter. As you may have noticed in some of our recent images, the forage in the food plots at The Proving Grounds have been heavily browsed. We tagged more does during 2016 than during previous years due to the drought and increasing deer population. This spring we plan to establish a few more acres of food plots. Our objective is to reduce stress and increase the health of the local whitetail herd during the annual winter stress period.
In addition to establishing and maintaining food plots, we are using prescribed fire to improve the quality and quantity of native forage. Stay tuned, watch our progress and see how the deer herd responds!
Tuesday marked the end of a successful trapping season at The Proving Grounds. We’re excited to have removed 41 predators from the property by trapping daily and using a variety of baits to bring them into our Duke traps. That means most likely more turkey poults, quail chicks, and fawns will survive!
Nest predators can cause serious damage to a turkey population.
The GrowingDeer Team has been trapping predators consistently for seven years in an effort to balance the predator and prey population. We’re serious about trapping because studies show that racoons, opossums, and skunks are intense nest predators. Turkeys are especially susceptible to predation because they nest on the ground for approximately 28 days and then roost on the ground for approximately two weeks until the poults can fly.
It almost always rains at least once during the nesting season and wet hens have an odor even humans can easily smell. This makes it very easy for predators to find turkey nests and consume all the eggs and even kill the hen at times. Researchers used to call this the wet hen theory but it’s not just theory.
Last year The Proving Grounds had a high turkey poult survival rate compared to the statewide average. This was in part because of the serious effort the team has put into trapping. As land managers and hunters, we want a healthy turkey population! By trapping predators, we are one step closer to a successful turkey season.
It’s no secret that tick populations are high in the Ozark Mountains. These abundant parasites can carry STARI, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and a variety of other diseases that are harmful to humans and wildlife. If you can remove an imbedded tick before it’s been on you for 24 hours, you should be fine. But unlike us, a deer can’t remove many of the ticks on their body. In the past we’ve hoped to reduce the amount of ticks through burning. While prescribed burns are an important habitat management tool, they did not noticeably reduce the ticks in burnt areas. We suspect this is because most of our prescribed fires are 50 acres in size or less. When new vegetation flushes it’s very attractive to deer and ticks from these deer rapidly repopulate the area.
Because of this, the GrowingDeer Team is starting a new experiment to see if we can reduce the number of ticks on deer (and us) at The Proving Grounds.
Recently, one of our clients had tremendous success with a feed called Antler-X-Treme. It has a proprietary mix of garlic and other natural ingredients that have been shown to keep ticks from staying imbedded in a deer. If this product works as well on The Proving Grounds as it did for our client, we could see higher fawn survival and up to a 15% increase in antler size!
Tyler, the other spring intern, and I have started feeding Antler-X-Treme at nine locations and we’re excited to see if the deer have fewer ticks compared to previous years (based on trail camera images, etc.). The project is off to a great start as deer started consuming the feed the first night it was available! I’m looking forward to sharing our results with you.
Deer may respond differently to food plots from season to season.
Deer season is over and it’s time to pause and reflect on last year’s highs and lows. Whether you had a great season or things didn’t go exactly as planned, your management practices strongly influenced the outcome of your hunts. It’s important to remember that what works on one property may not work on another. Regardless of where you hunt, you should focus on getting deer the nutrients that they need to grow healthy and strong. You can create the opportunity for a memorable hunting season next fall by maintaining great food plots during the coming year.
We’ve talked to several people who experimented with a new food plot last year and were disappointed with the results. If they planted a quality forage variety Grant’s advice to them was to persevere and let the deer learn to eat at the plot. Depending on your region, deer may never have encountered what you planted. Given enough time, one curious deer will start to nibble on the forage and the rest will follow suit. Forage grown but not consumed isn’t wasted! It will decompose and increase the organic matter which is critical for quality soils!
Poor soil quality can make any forage taste bitter. Building a good layer of soil over time can do wonders for food plots. It’s important to pay attention to how deer responded to your plots last season, but if you tried something new and it didn’t work out, it may be worth the time to try that forage variety again.
I recently was blessed to travel to northern Missouri for a successful late season hunt. I always enjoy traveling back to my hometown and climbing into the stand. During the late season there’s a specific property I really enjoy hunting because it has three things that lead to successfully tagging deer.
The property is simply the “right” 80 acre chunk of timber. The stand of hardwoods is surrounded by ag fields and cattle pasture making it the best “cover” in the area. The timber is one large ridge and deer move consistently along the contour of the land. There are several saddles running perpendicular to the top of the ridge. Deer funnel up in the mornings and down in the evenings moving to and from food and cover. If cover and food wasn’t enough, there is a large creek that divides the ag fields from the timber. There is food, water, and cover within 100 yards of each other.
This doe was traveling from a food source to a bedding area during a late season hunt.
Not every property is laid out like the one I hunt back home but the same basic principles lead to successful hunting tactics. We use these exact hunting strategies at The Proving Grounds. Understanding how deer move on a property in relation to food sources, cover, and water is the biggest key to hunting the entire season – especially during the late season.
During the late season, quality cover and food become extremely important. Deer need energy to get through the lean periods of winter. Often by the late season, deer have been pressured by hunters and hungry predators and are seeking the best cover available. That is when finding the travel corridors become critical to late season success. Deer are often on their feet during daylight hours traveling to and from these two sources.
If you still have a few days or weeks left of season, you may consider honing in on how deer are moving from cover and food. If your season has already ended, it is a great time to get into the woods and begin scouting for next year. Deer sign is often easy to read this time of the year and can pay off in years to come.