It doesn’t seem possible, but spring has arrived and the yearly cycle of antler growth is continuing. Not long ago it seems like we were chasing whitetails during the winter months, and now we’re discussing velvet growing. Regardless of how quickly it got here, it’s here, and we don’t want to miss this easy opportunity to help benefit our deer herd. One of the quickest and easiest ways to help improve the health of the deer is by providing easy access to minerals.
During this time of year, bucks are preparing for new antler growth while they are still recovering from this past winter. Most of our does are pregnant and will be giving birth over the next couple of months. One important substance that both bucks and does need is mineral, and you can provide this by using Trophy Rocks or their crushed version, Four65. We generally place a Trophy Rock on every 80 to 100 acres on our property ensuring that every deer has access to a mineral supply.
One of the greatest things about using Trophy Rock or Four65 this time of year is deer will be actively using the mineral making this a great place for a trail camera! We first place our Trophy Rocks in high traffic areas where deer were already active. Once we establish the site, we won’t move the rocks, making it a great location for a trail camera year after year!
We love to check our Reconyx cameras during the spring! We’re always looking for those strutting turkeys but also checking up on our deer making sure they’re healthy and happy. If you’re looking for ways to improve the health of your deer herd don’t overlook this easy step.
Daydreaming of whitetails,
Troy Landry is a famous alligator hunter from the hit show Swamp People. This week Grant tours and studies Troy’s deer hunting property. Grant’s goal is to help Troy maximize his deer hunting opportunities.
Do it yourself! Coyote pelts make great decorations and gifts! Want to prepare your own coyote for the tannery? We’ll show you how with taxidermist Pete Dickenson.
Hungry? Does bacon wrapped backstrap sound good?
Enjoy your hard earned backstraps with this recipe:
Almost every hunter that steps into the woods during the fall has one buck that they dream about, lose sleep over, strategize over and fantasize over. This is the story about that buck and the day it all ended.
George Alexander, also called Royal George, showed up on our Reconyx cameras last summer and immediately caught our attention. At that time he was unknown and unnamed. Hoping he would make his living on the farm, we knew he would be our prized buck. About that time the news media was obsessed with a baby in England named George Alexander. How fitting could this name be? While a majority of the world was talking about George Alexander of England, Grant and I were obsessed with George Alexander of The Proving Grounds. After looking through the Reconyx images we decided he was immature and would receive a pass for the 2013-2014 hunting season.
Fast forward to July 1st. We laid our eyes on George for the first time in 2014. One word – WOW! Here in southern Missouri where The Proving Grounds is located, it’s tough for a buck to reach over 160 inches. It certainly happens, but when a buck reaches that size he is the talk of the neighborhood. Grant and I felt that George was 4.5 years old going into this hunting season, so he was the top buck on our hit list. Knowing how hard it is to hunt nocturnal bucks, and sensing our chance for success would be slim to none, Grant and I didn’t hunt George very much. We checked our cameras constantly throughout the fall, hoping for daylight movement of George, and it never happened. As the rut started to come into full swing we hoped a hot doe would lure him out in daylight. Through all of this, there was also concern that he might venture off the property. The fourth night of Missouri firearm season Grant received news.
Grant gave me a call and told me to check my email. I scanned through pictures sent by the neighboring landowner and all our dreams of harvesting George were erased. Our neighbor had shot Royal George late that evening right under his tree. I was immediately upset and got very little sleep that night thinking about that great buck. This is an ending that every hunter has or will experience. It’s unpleasant, but it’s part of managing free ranging whitetails. Sure, it would have been great to see George at The Proving Grounds, but we’re happy for our neighbor and what he was able to accomplish. At the end of the day we need to be thankful for what we got out of the pursuit. George wasn’t poached, or hit by a vehicle, he was harvested by a landowner who was perched in a tree enjoying the evening just like you and I.
As the book closes on this great whitetail, I’m sure another buck like George will come along soon. As deer managers, we will continue to let young deer walk and improve the habitat to grow bigger deer. Congratulations to our neighbor on harvesting such an incredible whitetail!
Daydreaming of Whitetails,
It’s almost impossible to pattern deer with acorns everywhere. When Grant discovers a pattern in a food plot, he and Adam go for it! Then Grant takes the stage at the Northwoods Church in central Illinois. It’s mature bucks, good food and the good Word. Continuing north on this 1,400 mile road trip Grant explores a central Wisconsin hunting property. Meanwhile, back in Missouri, Adam Brooke bow hunts in a stand of white oaks. It’s a self-filmed success story.
Tip of the Week: World's Best Deer Food?
It’s the best quality forage they don’t associate with danger. Hunt your food plots with care. Mature deer will pattern you.
It can be a depressing time of year for some people now that turkey season is wrapping up and the heat of summer is rapidly approaching! That’s not the case for the Growing Deer team as we started checking our Reconyx cameras! We are finding that bucks are already showing antler growth! Bucks have started showing up more regularly at our Reconyx stations, so tracking their growth will be exciting throughout the summer and into the fall.
One of the biggest factors in being able to following their progress is the use of Trophy Rocks. Trophy Rocks are one of the most attractive things you can use to lure deer in front of your cameras allowing you to monitor herd health, fawn survival, and antler growth. We use Trophy Rocks on The Proving Grounds year round, but a lot of people overlook the importance of having Trophy Rocks out during the spring because it isn’t hunting season. As a deer manager don’t forget that having the appropriate minerals and nutrition out year round will not only increase antler size and fawn survival but ultimately result in healthier deer.
Not only are Trophy Rocks great for improving deer health but they also make for some great Reconyx pictures! Stay with us this summer as we share the continual growth of our buck’s antlers!
To learn more about Trophy Rocks go to http://www.trophyrock.com/.
Daydreaming of whitetails,
If you look outside today in Branson, Missouri you’ll see a blanket of snow. We received 4 inches of snow Sunday and a few more inches Tuesday. This winter has certainly broken the trend set over the last few years. We have had numerous snowstorms that have left southern Missouri covered with snow. There are areas of the country that have received much more snow than we have!
Winters like these can be very stressful on wildlife. With a good portion of an animal’s food source covered with snow they have to resort to browsing on food sources above snow level or digging through the snow for food. Recently Grant and I took a walk to try and learn more about what our food plots were providing during the snow.
As we approached the food plot of standing beans you could obviously see the bean pods above the snow, with several deer tracks around. The deer had found the beans and were using them as a food source. Next, Grant and I stepped into a part of the food plot that was only wheat. The only thing you could see of the wheat was the very tip of the wheat which was covered in ice. Looking at this we also noticed there were not very many deer tracks in this section of the field. Probably because the deer would have to dig in the snow for food, while a better source of carbohydrates could be found not far away with the soybeans. Next, we moved to a section of the field that was planted in Eagle Seed Broadside blend. There were deer tracks in this part of the field but certainly not the amount of sign that was in the 100% bean field.
After all this walking around we pieced the information together to see what we could learn from these observations. First, on snow covered days the standing beans are hands down the most attractive thing we have provided. Second, a field of straight wheat isn’t going to provide much forage for deer when there are multiple inches of snow on the ground, although wheat can still be a great attractant when there isn’t snow. Finally, when considering the entire hunting season a food plot that provides both greens and standing beans can have the greatest attraction for deer. By planting Eagle Seed beans in the spring and then drilling back through them in the fall with the Eagle Seed Broadside blend we have the best combination food source that I have ever laid eyes on – a food plot that can provide year round forage and the most ideal forage during hunting season.
Daydreaming of whitetails,
January 15th is a bitter sweet day for me. Why? January 15th marks the last day of archery season here in Missouri. On one hand I’m extremely upset that the season is over. We started chasing deer in the beginning of September and now, the middle of January, is when we hang up our Prime bows for a rest. That’s where the “sweet” part comes into play. After all these months it is nice to step back and take a breather and rest, charge our batteries, and clear our heads.
After we clear our heads we then start putting in thoughts and ideas for the upcoming season. Yes, you heard me correct. It’s January 17th and we’re already thinking about next deer season! Great management plans aren’t drawn up and executed in a matter of a few months – that’s why we’re starting now. Obviously we’ve been doing management projects throughout the season but we’ve postponed the projects that will add more disturbance to the property. Now with this season complete it’s time to start back up!
Like most years we start by looking at our map. Where are our stands located? Where is the food located? Where are the bedding, bottlenecks, and water sources located? Finally, how can we hunt the property more successfully? One of our biggest projects for this year is dealing with the southern part of The Proving Grounds. This part hasn’t been as highly managed and has very few food sources and stand locations. Our plan is to provide both of those and bring it all to you in coming months, stay tuned to GrowingDeer.tv!
Other goals we are looking forward to completing are clover maintenance and additions, invasive species control, and prescribed fire.
First we’ll talk clover. We manage about 10% of our food plots in clover. Every year we’ll watch it progress or decline and study which areas need to be replanted and which plots are being used heavily and could possibly be hunted more regularly.
Invasive species control can bore most people, including myself, but it’s part of good management. Over the last couple of years we’ve tackled a huge infestation of honey locust trees but I’m happy to say we’ve knocked about 90% of the population out and we’re now searching the hillsides for any squatters that may still be surviving. This next year we’ll be shifting our focus to multi-floral rose bushes. They’ve begun to spread into the food plot edges so it’s important for us to eliminate the problem before they start to gain ground and compete with the food sources we’ve planted.
Lastly, one of our biggest and most time consuming projects, prescribed fires. We spend a lot of time working for fire, it all starts by making the fire line to finishing it with the lighting of the fire. This is a huge project but when it’s all said and done the benefits are huge! Be sure to check out our progress throughout the off season!
But – we’re not completely locked up inside! Cabin fever is real ya know! We’re going to be doing a little predator hunting to see if we can’t have a little fun and deal with the depression of deer season closing.
Daydreaming of whitetails,
I live and do most of my hunting near Branson, Missouri – about 20 miles from the Arkansas line. I live in the Ozark Mountains. Steep, rocky, and very low fertility soil. Low quality oak and fescue pasture make up the vast majority of habitat. There are no grain fields, combines, silos, etc., associated with production row crop ag and large bucks for many miles.
My favorite food plot crop here is soybeans! Clearly there’s a close association with soybeans and bucks producing larger antlers and does producing more fawns. Yearling, two, three, and older bucks tend to produce substantially larger antlers when they consume soybean forage during the summer and pods during the winter compared to only consuming native browse during the summer and acorns during the winter.
Larger antlers (per age class) are a great indication of herd health. I like healthy deer and the by-product of larger antlers! Soybeans are unquestionably one of the best food plot forages for deer.
The biggest limiting factor for soybeans is the total acreage of plots compared to the number of deer using those plots. For example, soybeans are not a good value for a ½ acre plot in an area with a lot of deer unless the plot is protected by a Hot Zone food plot protection fence. The fences are great to protect plots and allow soybeans to mature enough that deer won’t damage them by over-browsing the young plants.
I toured a farm yesterday that is in mountainous timber country! This area typically produces 110-120” mature bucks. The bucks are simply limited by nutrition. Saplings, acorns, and fescue pastures do not allow bucks to express their antler growth potential at any age class.
Over the past three years this landowner has converted some fescue pastures to food plots planted in soybeans. Yesterday we observed some great bucks! They were much better than average for that region!
I’ve seen the same thing in pine plantations in the South. I’ve commonly prescribed for clubs to plant the thinned rows in pine stands with soybeans (Watch GDTV 19) and have watched substantial increases in average antler size and the huntability of the bucks!
Soybeans are easy to grow just about anywhere and provide great nutrition for deer. Rather than wishing you could hunt deer like you watch on hunting shows filmed in the Midwest, create some soybean food plots and enjoy the same quality bucks at home!
Growing and hunting deer together,
We’ve been preparing for our annual trail camera survey! A trail camera survey has been shown to be the most accurate method to determine the number or deer, the age class of bucks, and the number of fawns per doe on a specific property. Detailed instructions of how to conduct a trail camera survey can be found at this link.
Placing trail cameras and attractants like Trophy Rocks and Record Rack feeds is the easy part of conducting a trail camera survey. Plus, it’s always fun to look at all the deer pictures. Looking at each picture close enough to uniquely identify each buck can be very labor intensive. We usually end up looking at the same pictures many times to confirm the buck is the same (or different) as in other pictures.
A very accurate estimate of the total population and herd demographics can be obtained after identifying each individual buck, the number of times that buck was photographed, and the total number of does and fawns appearing in the pictures.
With the hard work completed, there’s still lots more valuable information that can be gained from all these photos! For example, I pay very close attention to which mature bucks tend to be active more during shooting light! Those bucks will usually be much easier to tag than bucks that only show up at camera sites after dark.
I also pay close attention to how the bucks, especially mature bucks, respond to each other. I look for mature bucks that are more active during daylight than other bucks and show signs of being aggressive at the camera site. Signs of aggression may be that the buck is usually the first to show up among other bucks in the bachelor group. The aggressive bucks are often photographed chasing other bucks away from the camera site.
These aggressive bucks tend to respond much better to grunt calls, rattling, and decoys. I’ll gladly spend my time hunting for an aggressive buck versus a buck that has larger antlers, but shows sign of being totally nocturnal. Such bucks may be practically unkillable – at least that year.
Currently, I’m getting a lot of images of a buck that I believe is six years old or older (based on the Reconyx trail camera images). We call him Split Brow because two years ago he had split brow tines. We’ve only had a small handful of daytime pictures of Split Brow in several years (from 1,000’s of pictures). Currently he’s showing up in front of one of my Reconyx cameras during shooting light daily! If this pattern continues, Split Brow will be at the top of my hit list due to his age and tendency to move during shooting light.
Camera surveys are a great tool for deer managers – and very useful to learn the characteristics of individual bucks! This info has served well to make me a much better hunter!
Growing and hunting deer together,
Removing stress from wildlife allows them to express more of their genetic potential. As managers we don’t improve genetics of free-ranging wild creatures. That requires knowing the pedigree (the sire and dam for several generations) which is totally impractical in free-ranging wild populations.
The best we can do is manage the population and habitat so each individual can express their full genetic potential. For example, a mature buck that’s limited to consuming hardwood twigs and fescue won’t produce as large of antlers or body size as that same buck if it was consuming soybean forage during the summer and soybean pods (and other forages) during the winter.
Managers can reduce the stress deer and other forms of wildlife experience by improving the quality of food, cover, and water and reducing the number of predators (should the predator/prey populations be out of balance). The natural world is dynamic. That is to say the balance of the number of critters in relation to the amount of quality food, cover, water, and predators is always changing!
We’re expecting a significant change later this week at The Proving Grounds. There’s a good chance of snow in the forecast! I heard on the radio that snow hasn’t been recorded in May in my area for more than 100 years. The cold conditions that are associated with this storm will certainly be very stressful for deer that have begun to shed their winter coat and replace it with the shorter, thinner summer coat. Staying warm will cost critters a lot of energy.
There are probably a couple of newly born fawns at my place. Most fawns are born during late May/early June, but there are always those that are born a few weeks earlier or later than “normal.” Freezing wet conditions will make survival very tough on newborn fawns.
Likewise there are probably a few turkey poults that have hatched already. Cold wet conditions will likely result in a 100% loss of those early born poults.
We can’t change (or even accurately predict) the weather. We can manage the habitat to provide quality food, cover, and water to help wildlife survive such storms. It’s critical to manage the wildlife populations so that there is more food than required during good conditions – as bad conditions will always occur.
We manage for very high quality native forage and cover at The Proving Grounds. There’s plenty to eat, fresh water to drink, and great cover for wildlife to seek during this arctic blast. Such storms have probably occurred before weather records were kept and they’ll probably occur again. That’s why quality habitat management is critical for allowing wild, free-ranging deer to express their potential. As managers, we can have an impact on the habitat quality and the amount of genetic potential the local herd expresses. We can’t impact the genetic quality of wild, free-ranging deer. I’m glad we can’t – that’s what makes them wild!
Growing Deer together,