Earlier this week I was turkey hunting in Kansas. As my hunting partner and I drove around looking for toms on public land, I noticed that many farmers had begun preparing for planting season. There were one or two farmers that gambled on good weather and had already put seed in the ground several weeks earlier. Everyone else was just starting to spray or work their fields.
As we walked across some large ag fields in search of toms, I couldn’t help but notice how bare and dry the soil was. I picked up several clumps of dirt and with a slight squeeze watched as they fell apart. Not ideal soil. On top of that, I noticed erosion. Even in fields that had been terraced (designed and built to reduce erosion) and planted with the contour of the land, there were signs of water erosion.
During the hunt, I couldn’t help but compare my observations in Kansas to those at The Proving Grounds. There was one obvious difference, the use of cover crops.
The soil at The Proving Grounds is never left uncovered. Last summer we mixed winter rye into Eagle Seed Broadside for a fall food plot blend. The winter rye has grown very well and helped hold moisture in the soil. We had several torrential rainfalls that eroded our roads but left our food plots unscarred. Our soil is still intact and healthy.
Like many farms we are preparing for planting, only we will be planting small summer food plots. We too will terminate the vegetation in our fields (in our case the winter rye) before we plant Eagle Seed soybeans. We terminate the rye to reduce the soybeans’ competition for nutrients, water, etc.
Unlike the farmers I watched spray weeds, we do not have many weeds in our plots. The winter rye has kept weeds from growing. One great thing about using the winter rye to protect our fields from erosion and weeds is that we are able to terminate the rye without the use of herbicide. We simply use a roller crimper.
A roller crimper, like a traditional roller, will lay the vegetation down. However, the addition of the crimper’s angled metal outcroppings will break the stem on the rye. By breaking the stem, the rye can no longer carry water or nutrients throughout the stalk and dies. This dead vegetation is now left on the soil and becomes a slow releasing fertilizer building organic matter and creating a layer of mulch that protects the soil from erosion, moisture loss, and weeds. The process of roller crimping replicates what large herds of buffalo did on the great prairie years ago as they trampled the native vegetation. This is exactly what created the soil that farmers in Kansas and other states now benefit from.
Though I was unsuccessful tagging a tom in Kansas, the trip was a gentle reminder of the differences in land management practices. As land managers, we can have great benefits (healthier soil) and cost reduction (reduced herbicide and fertilizer) by how we chose to manage our food plots this spring. Stay tuned this growing season as we keep you updated on our food plot management techniques!
Over the past several weeks we have had a lot of rain at The Proving Grounds. Our neighbor poured out 11+ inches from his rain gauge during one weekend. Talk about a toad straggler!
Water can be a powerful force. There are many that have had massive damage to their homes and properties. We had substantial damage at The Proving Grounds. The main road of our property runs through a bottom along the base of the Ozark Mountains. Like many low areas in mountainous country, there is a small stream that passes through. In torrential downpours, like the one we recently experienced, the creek rises very fast due to the runoff from the mountains. When these occasional rainstorms roll in there is a lot of water that moves through the property very quickly!
Not only are the road and creek located in these low terrain areas, but so are many of our food plots. With thousands of gallons of water rushing through our food plots as the creeks overflow, you would think it would wash away our food plots. Not so.
The majority of the damage left in the wake of the recent storm was focused on our roads (where no vegetation grew). Several portions of the road (which runs through many of our food plots) washed completely out. Our food plots show no signs of erosion and still have our cover crop in place. To be honest, we are shocked! This is a great example of the power and value of food plot cover crops.
Cover crops have many benefits. They pull nutrients up the soil profile, making them available to food plot crops. Cover crops protect the soil from wind and water erosion, hold soil moisture, help reduce weeds, and promote healthy soil structure among many other things.
Last fall we planted a cover crop of cereal rye. This spring the rye shot up and is now protecting our soil until we are able to plant Eagle Seed soybeans. The cereal rye has done many things for our soil but one of the most impressive is holding our food plots intact through massive flooding. It’s hard to imagine what our food plots would have looked like if they had no protection by a cover crop.
Stay tuned throughout the year as we explain step-by-step our food plot planting and management techniques!
Burn, burn, burn! As most followers of GrowingDeer know, burning is not only a major tool we use to improve habitat but it could easily be one of most beneficial ways to improve the habitat quality on any property. Prescription burning is inexpensive, controls unwanted plant species, provides highly desirable forage, and includes a countless number of other benefits to wildlife. And did I mention turkeys?!
One result from years of prescribed burning is the flourishing population of turkeys we have on The Proving Grounds. Turkeys were few and far between when Grant purchased this property 15 years ago. However, after many years of improving the habitat through burning and increasing food sources there is now a thriving, huntable population of turkeys that call The Proving Grounds home.
Fire eliminates old growth and stimulates the growth of new, beneficial forbs and grasses. By reducing the amount of fuel on the ground, the soil surface becomes exposed and allows turkey poults to easily move across the land while foraging for insects. Bugging habitat is crucial for young turkeys and the insect populations that prosper on these burned areas provide the nutritional requirements poults need to grow.
The exposed seeds, insects, and newly growing forbs on burn sites provide a smorgasbord of food for turkeys. These areas become turkey magnets during the spring and summer! Our Reconyx trail cameras show high turkey activity in the burned glades on the property as proof. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly for hunters, these burned areas often produce excellent spring turkey hunting. The crops of the turkeys we harvested this spring were full of new vegetation that is growing prolifically in our prescription burn units. This is just further evidence of the benefits burning provides for turkeys.
If you are not burning on your property and love to chase gobblers, maybe this information will convince the land manager in you to burn next year! Take a fire class, gain some in-field experience, and witness the benefits of prescription burning yourself.
Warning: This blog contains information about prescribed fire which is a management tool for trained professionals using the appropriate tools for the situation.
Turkey season is in full swing and many hunters are experiencing success. I recently tagged a couple of nice toms in Kansas using two common decoy strategies. I found the first bird strutting in a pasture accompanied by three hens and he quickly fell prey to a tactic known as reaping or fanning. I struck up a gobble soon after bagging my first tom and within a few minutes there was a pair of big longbeards in front of me. The end result was me wrapping my last Kansas tag around the leg of an old Rio Grande gobbler. There are countless ways to use decoys for turkey hunting so I will break some of those methods down into easy to understand steps.
Know the current breeding phase of the flock you are hunting. In some states, turkey season opens during late March. Often birds are still flocked up and large decoy set-ups with multiple hens and a jake or tom work very well. As the season progresses, flocks break up, males assert dominance, and hens prepare for breeding. The peak breeding phase occurs around the middle of April and this is a great time to use a standing or lay-down hen accompanied by a jake decoy. Most gobblers cannot resist the urge to breed a hen and the presence of an inferior jake will get them fired up. After most hens are bred, they go to nest. Toms and jakes will then be searching hard for any remaining unbred hens. This phase usually occurs during late April or May and one of the best decoy tactics for this time is a single hen looking for love. Montana Decoy offers a full line of turkey decoys to cover any of the situations I mentioned.
Another popular decoy strategy is reaping (a.k.a. fanning). This method uses a real turkey fan or full strut decoy like the Montana Decoy Fanatic XL to approach a tom. It is most effective in open terrain where the hunter can see a gobbler from a ways off. The hunter then crawls behind the decoy until they are within shooting range of the turkey. Be very cautious when fanning a turkey. Safety is important. Have a buddy watching from a distance and be certain no other hunters are in the area.
Another benefit of using decoys is one that many hunters do not consider. They give the eyes of an approaching gobbler something to focus on rather than you, the hunter. Turkeys have excellent vision and will search for the source of the call. Without the presence of a decoy, they may pick out your movement.
Use these tips next time you are in pursuit of a gobbler. One of my favorite sights in the turkey woods is two big toms strutting in tandem, rushing towards the decoys!
A lot of images come to mind when I think about internships. Initially, my mind brings up the negative ones. I think of working hard at a job I have little experience in, for little or no pay, all while living off of sandwiches and mac & cheese.
However, that’s a totally superficial view of what an internship really is! Most people my age know the struggle of applying for an “entry level” job that requires 2+ years of experience or they’ve always heard that a college degree will help you get a job when in reality – it’s not that simple. An internship gives you the advantage of having job experience, contacts, and references in your chosen field. I’ve gained all of those in my short time at GrowingDeer and I’m thankful to have been here.
While an internship may not sound appealing at first, it has long term effects in a job search. Regardless of what you’re called to do in life, it will benefit you to live humbly and build up your experience as you pursue a career. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” God has provided me with a way to eat and pay my bills as I work and He can do the same for you.
My time at GrowingDeer has given me experiences that will help me be a better wildlife biologist. This internship has truly been a blessing! I encourage all high-school and college students to try an internship.
We receive lots of questions about how we get quality pictures of turkeys.
We scout and look for turkeys or turkey sign. Once we determine an area turkeys are using we place a Reconyx camera in that area and attempt to have it facing north. The sun is never in the north (in the USA) so the camera is never pointed into the sun. Images from cameras pointed into the sun are often so blurry they are low quality.
An additional step we take is to place the camera low on the tree – about the height of a turkey. Turkeys seem to look best when viewed from their level.
Trail cameras can be a great tool for scouting for turkeys. For M.R.I. (most recent information) I keep a BoneView in my turkey vest. BoneView is a card reader designed specifically for smart phones. When I walk by a trail camera while turkey hunting I simply pull the card and view the pictures on my phone.
March is almost over, and for most of us, it’s time to start scouting for those early season gobblers. We’re all getting excited for turkey season here at The Proving Grounds. One of the ways we’re prepping for it involves the same tools we use to scout deer in the fall.
We’ve moved many of our Reconyx game cameras to spots where they can capture time-lapse pictures of an entire food plot. By doing this, we should be able to see where turkeys are spending their mornings after leaving the roost. Hens tend to seek out openings during the morning while it’s still cool, and where the hens are, toms will follow. Even though their roosts will change over the next month, most of the turkeys will revisit the areas where they have been eating and mating throughout the season.
Scouting turkeys is an important pre-season strategy, and it can lead to exciting turkey hunts. Find that early morning spot where turkeys are flying down to, and enjoy creation as you hunt the early season.
Turkey season is upon us! One thing more turkey hunters are doing is filming their own turkey hunts. It seems there are two types of filmed turkey hunts. Amazing films that capture everything turkey hunting is about and films that show a gobble or two, some blurry footage of a turkey, and a loud boom. Dr. Grant Woods of GrowingDeer films countless turkey hunts every year. Woods loves turkey hunting and he enjoys capturing the hunt on film. Below are a few of his tips to ensure you end up with a film all your friends will want to watch.
KEEPING CAMERA GEAR CONCEALED
Most turkey hunters run and gun at some point during their season. Unlike deer hunting where most hunters are stationary and can take their time setting up their camera, turkey hunting requires hunters to be on the move which often makes filming more difficult. “Often turkey hunters are forced to set up in a hurry so little details like making sure the camera is completely concealed gets missed. A turkey will spook the moment they see a big black camera or a bright shiny camera lens. We try to hide the cameraman near a big tree or bush. Then we cover the camera with a cloth so the birds can’t see the camera or the lens. Carrying all this around when we are hunting can be difficult, but it is worth the effort because we spook fewer birds and get better footage,” Woods explained.
A DECOY IS A MUST HAVE TOOL
Turkey hunters often debate whether they should use decoys when turkey hunting because decoys can sometimes spook birds. According to Woods, decoys are often required when filming a hunt. “A decoy takes the birds’ attention off where the calling is coming from and then they focus on the decoy. We put the decoy about twenty yards from our set up and even closer if we are bow hunting. With a decoy close, we can get good footage of a tom when he comes into the decoy,” Woods added.
HUNTING FROM A BLIND
When Woods and his team notice a tom and his ladies are regularly hanging out in a food plot or field, they often set up a Redneck Blind near the field edge. “The wonderful thing about hunting out of a blind is it conceals your movement and the turkeys don’t seem to get spooked by a blind. They don’t pay attention to them. In addition, all the filming from a blind is much easier than running and gunning. Every turkey hunter should have a blind, especially if a person is going to bow hunt. A blind conceals the cameraman and the hunter when they draw their bow,” Woods noted.
THE REX ARM
One item that has changed the way Woods and his team films turkey hunts is the Rex Arm from Fourth Arrow Camera Arms. This camera arm can be used with almost any tripod and it allows the hunter to move the arm with the camera attached without moving the tripod when filming. “Turkeys often come strutting in and moving around. In order to keep them in the viewfinder, we have to move the tripod. The Rex arm is an efficient system, allowing the hunter to utilize 360 degree movement within a 10-inch radius of the tripod. Now we can easily move the camera and keep up with the gobbler without having to jerk the tripod around. It minimizes movement and increases the quality of our footage,” Woods added.
Filming a turkey hunt is fun and exciting. Hopefully the tips above will help you produce a better film this spring that you will be able to enjoy for years to come.
Trail cameras have become a pivotal tool for whitetail hunters. They are beneficial in so many ways and allow us to scout every hour of every day for the entire year. Sometimes bucks show up on trail camera during certain time periods only to disappear days later. I thought this was the case for a particular buck I got a few pictures of during January of 2014.
This buck showed up on the fringes of the property I hunt and he appeared to be a solid three-year-old 8 point with potential. I soon forgot about the deer as the seasons changed, then fall rolled around and he was back. He carried a wide, thin rack and was a regular on the property but I had my sights set on another older buck. All my efforts that deer season and the next were focused on harvesting other deer so he flew under my radar. During the winter of 2015, two years after my first pictures of the wide 8 point, I browsed through all my trail camera images of mature bucks and realized this buck had blossomed into a very nice deer. I placed him at the top of my 2016 hit list.
As the fall of 2016 progressed, I did not have a single image of this buck. He usually showed up around the first of October; I had some worries but I remained hopeful he was still alive. My worries soon vanished during my first hunt of the year. On the morning of October 30th we crossed paths and I was able to write the final chapter on the story of the wide 8 point. By using trail camera data from previous seasons, I was able to determine when and where this buck made appearances which helped me pick strategical blind and stand locations.
The use of cameras can be a fun way of determining what animals are on your property, however, they can also be utilized in more advanced ways. I have found that the biggest advantage is the ability to predict movement of mature bucks based on movements from previous seasons (watch the hunt for Handy here to see this tactic in action). When next deer season comes around, open up last year’s images and study them in depth. Look at dates, times, temperature, wind direction, barometric pressure, and a host of other factors that may give you an upper hand on tagging your next mature buck!
The first signs of spring are popping up all around us here in southwest Missouri. Wildflowers are beginning to bloom, spring peepers are out at night, and many Ozark critters are already out of hibernation. An early spring is upon us! This is good for whitetail growth because it brings an end to the winter stress period. With spring green-up, deer will begin to recover the weight they lost during the winter and start to stock up on minerals that they will later use for antler growth or fawning.
It’s important to have forage and minerals available on your property year round. This gets most deer through the stress period and keeps them around for spring green up. In addition to our food plots, we use Trophy Rock as a supplement mineral year-round. The deer will initially store these minerals in their skeleton, and when the time is right, their bodies will convert the minerals into a form that they will use to grow antlers or for fawning.
Providing a steady supply of minerals throughout the year, along with quality forage and age, helps deer reach their genetic potential. With spring just around the corner, now is a great time to start providing Trophy Rock to the deer where you hunt. Not only will you be supporting the health of the deer population after their most stressful time of the year, you’ll also have a great spot to stick a game camera and check out the post-season deer population on your property.