10 Tips To Quickly Age Bucks | Food Plot And Habitat Help (Episode 406 Transcript)

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GRANT: Labor Day is when we celebrate the hard working men and women that built this great nation. Without their work there's no way the USA could be as great as it is. But we're really seeing it on display right now as folks from around the USA volunteer and work to help those horribly impacted by the flooding in Texas.

GRANT: We've got a great workforce. Let's all use our God-given skills, do what we were designed to do and continue building a great USA.

GRANT: I believe it's critical to remember that we have the freedoms to use our God-given skills to work in a profession we want because of the men and women that serve in our Armed Forces.

GRANT: We're coming up on 9/11. A time to celebrate the strength of America of pulling together, of putting our differences aside and really working hard to make the USA safe and great.

GRANT: Hey, why don't we all focus on putting those differences aside? Focus on what's really important and this year when 9/11 rolls around, let's use that opportunity to unite and keep America great.

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GRANT: I really enjoy watching antlers develop throughout the summer and seeing hard-antlered bucks during the fall. But when it comes to estimating the age of a buck, it's all about their body shape.

GRANT: A really quick tip that applies throughout almost all the whitetails’ range is: if you simply cover a buck's antler – on a trail camera picture or even if you see it at a distance in the field – and it looks like a doe's body – it looks like an adult doe when you cover up the antlers – it's almost always a two-and-a-half-year-old buck.

GRANT: Even if the antlers look great and well developed, if the buck's back is flat and his legs look longer than they should because his chest hasn't developed and dropped down to make the legs appear shorter, that's a two-year-old buck.

GRANT: The tricky ones is when a buck steps out and has well-developed antlers. But remember, cover those antlers up if you can in your mind. And if his back is straight – it's not sagging – and his legs look too long – and that's because his chest isn't fully developed and not sagged between the legs – you can bet that's a two-year-old buck.

GRANT: Three-year-old bucks tend to look like a great race horse – nothing sagging; they're not overly bulked up, but everything is trim and fit.

GRANT: Certainly the back rarely sags on a three-year-old buck, but their neck isn't full enough to merge with their chest at the bottom of their brisket.

GRANT: On my property, four-year-olds are usually expressing most of their antler growth potential. Antler development potential can change on any given property as the habitat quality improves.

GRANT: Four-year-old or older bucks will almost always have a well-developed chest. And an easy way to judge that is the chest is so well developed it sags down and makes the legs appear shorter.

GRANT: Regardless of antler size, the neck of a four-year-old buck – especially during the fall – will be so well developed that it will merge at the bottom of the chest relatively close to the brisket.

GRANT: Like most humans, bucks tend to gain a little extra weight as they mature and they tend to have a pot belly and a sagged back.

GRANT: I share these tips so you can accurately estimate the age of bucks where you hunt. I'm not saying you should set your standards at any particular age class. That's up to you and the landowner where you hunt.

GRANT: We manage buck age classes by trigger finger control, but we manage antler size by age class and nutrition.

GRANT: You may recall that recently where we live is now a CWD zone in Missouri.

GRANT: We can't supply the needed trace minerals through Trophy Rocks anymore, so we're trying a new product called Trophy Rock Grow. It's ground out of the same mine in Utah and made to be spread on food plots.

GRANT: Great, cool morning just a little bit before deer season, Gene, makes me feel like hunting season's coming on.

GENE: Oh, for sure. The temperature is awesome.

GRANT: Yeah, but we're working this morning to make hunting in this new food plot a little bit better. This is what we call Prickly Pear, and we'll show you, but right over here was a little hidey hole food plot. You seen my dad and kids tag deer and turkey in this little hidey hole food plot. But we finally got the budget to expand it, and of course, here at The Proving Grounds Gene, we're limited for flat ground.

GENE: Right, it looks pretty good. This is a great addition to your property for sure.

GRANT: So, Gene you do a lot of land work too. You know how much work has went into getting this to this stage, but we haven't added any fertilizer yet.

GENE: Yeah, that's, that’s where our product – our new product – it's called Trophy Rock Grow. It's our product; it's all natural. We're gonna try to put some minerals back in this dirt where there's never been any fertilizer or anything ever applied.

GRANT: So, we’ve got a great situation here folks. We've got this plot dozed off; looked exactly like the timber on the side. We haven't added any fertilizer whatsoever. So, we're gonna take a half acre of this and put Trophy Rock Grow down at 50 pounds per acre; take a quarter acre and put down at 100 pound – or the rate of 100 pounds per acre. We're gonna pull soil tests before – and we’ll, it's gonna come back looking pretty poor right now; I mean it's a bony, rocky ridge. And then we'll keep pulling soil tests and the only thing we will have added is the Trophy Rock Grow – no fertilizer. But more important than that, I'm gonna put a tree stand right over here so I'll watch where the deer prefer to eat.

GRANT: Gene, one reason I'm really excited that y'all allowed us to participate in this research or demonstration is we're now a CWD area. We had to go around and pull all our Trophy Rocks off the ground and deer are gonna go to minerals. They've got to have minerals. So, instead of a Trophy Rock in one place, you've come up with a product, that I'm so thankful for, that we can spread out, you know, as a soil amendment. The plants take up those minerals. They're readily gonna take ‘em up. They need 'em. Deer can consume 'em and we continue growing healthy deer.

GENE: Yes. It’s, you know this product is not an attractant – none whatsoever. So, this product is made to help get the minerals through the soil; into the soil and through the plant and back to the animal.

GRANT: This is extremely natural. It's just a farming practice; we're applying it to food plots.

GRANT: Gene, I'm pretty excited about this project. Let's measure out and get our plots kind of flagged out so we know what we're applying, what we're doing. We'll pull a soil sample before we put any down so we have a baseline and then let's get it spread. I'll be taking pictures showing you, but more importantly, I'll be watching where the deer are feeding and the plant height and the color of the plants. We use a Brix meter or a measure of the health of the plant and we'll be taking samples of treated versus untreated – obviously, the same rain, the same soil. Everything is the same. And we'll be sharing this with y'all as the season progresses.

GRANT: My excitement doesn't overcome my desires as a scientist to make sure I know what I'm doing and do it right. So, we pulled a soil test before we applied the Trophy Rock Grow.

GRANT: All right Gene, let's measure out our test plot. We want a half acre, which is approximately 147 feet by 147 feet. So, you mark it out and I'll get the guys and we'll flag it.

GENE: Okay. So I think we've already measured this. We're just at 147 feet here.

GRANT: It worked out perfectly. So, I'll walk down here and give you something to shoot at.

GENE: So. We just walked out. Yup. About two more steps, two more big steps and you're good. Alright, we're good.

GRANT: Then we applied this product at the rate of 50 pounds per acre and right next to it 100 pounds per acre.

GRANT: So, Tyler, you're a big part of this research going on. So, you've got 50 pounds in here – approximately – and you're gonna go from this blue marker here to the timber line to the marker we put down there when Gene used the rangefinder. So, I want you to; you can spin fast so you're covering a broad area, but barely open the gate so little is coming out.

TYLER: Okay.

GRANT: And ideally I want you to go down/back, down/back, down/back, down/back and then we’ll go this way. So, you're double covering. So, you really got to put it on thin.

GRANT: Spin fast and walk fast; gate barely open.

GENE: Yeah, I think he was spreading at an excellent rate.

GRANT: Plants will benefit from these trace minerals, pull ‘em out of the soil, and deer can consume them when they eat the vegetation.

GRANT: Healthier soil, better nutrients for plants, plants that are more attractive to deer – that's something I can get excited about.

GRANT: Gene, I'm really excited about this research and I'm more excited about the hunting situation.

GENE: Yeah, for sure. You have a stand over there and a great location on this food plot and I think it's gonna do really well.

GRANT: Yeah, so we've got a comparison of one rate and then 2x times that rate. We'll watch how the plants respond and watch how the critters respond also. And of course we'll keep you posted.

GRANT: The other day the interns, Daniel and I drove through a property near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

GRANT: Sometimes we're asked to create a management plan for a property that's currently a lump of coal but has the potential to be a world-class diamond. And this is one of those properties.

GRANT: We were eager to get started. So, as soon as we arrived, we went inside and studied the maps with the landowners.

GRANT: Almost 100% – except around the house here – closed canopy forest. And deer make a living zero to two or three feet off the ground. Everyone thinks about acorns 'cause deer in this part of the world – like the Ozarks where I live, you’ve been to Branson – eat a lot of acorns. But that's a short time period out of the year. Most of the year, they're eating high-quality forbs – annual high-quality plants. And so to do better with that, we're gonna have to create some openings.

GRANT: I like starting new projects by discussing the goals and objectives with the landowners, reviewing all the boundaries, and understanding any outstanding circumstances that might impact the habitat and herd management plans we may prescribe.

GRANT: As we lay these out, I'll probably pencil in, “Put a pond here”.

JERRICK: Okay.

GRANT: That's not necessarily all we actually need of water on this side of the property. It's so we can reduce the home range of these critters and have more groups of critters. Because deer, particularly – of course they're a keystone species. Better deer means better other critters too. Better deer habitat, better other critters also.

GRANT: If deer have everything they need – food, cover, water, food, cover, water – here, here, here, here, here, here, here – it's much better than a whole bunch of food here and some water here and some cover here.

JERRICK: Okay.

GRANT: Because they still need all three of those. So, you have deer doing this versus that.

GRANT: Maps and visiting are great but they can only tell you so much. So, it was time to get outside and put some boots on the ground.

GRANT: It wasn't long into the tour that I confirmed what I thought I saw on the maps. The property was primarily covered by mature cedars.

GRANT: Early during the tour, as we're riding below a canopy of cedars, I stopped and shared with the landowners my biological desert concept. Basically, most of the sun is being caught in the canopy of the trees and there's very little quality forage or cover growing beneath that canopy.

GRANT: …which will be so much better for wildlife. This is literally a biological desert.

GRANT: You've probably seen a deer go through here or heard maybe a turkey but not much. We can increase the amount of wildlife using this property…

GRANT: It was easy for these landowners to understand that by removing the cedars, they could significantly improve the habitat quality.

GRANT: Not simply just prescribing removing the cedars. I need to have a good feeling what will colonize the area after cedars are removed.

GRANT: And this is native. We're in, in, central, central-eastern Oklahoma today. And it’s a legumes. See these pods right here? Look like a pea pod or a green bean. All legumes make a pod like that. Every single legume. Legume is a plant that fixes nitrogen out of the air.

GRANT: Quail love these seeds. Deer love this browse. This is a wonderful plant. We want to take this out and make more room for this. You'll get more of this if we take these cedars out and the sericea out.

GRANT: So, seeing this is a huge thumbs up to removing cedar and not having to spend a lot of money restoring native vegetation. That seed bank is already in the soil. And those seeds will lay in the soil literally 50, 60, 70, 80 years. And once we’d cut the cedar, put sunshine down here, disturb the soil a little bit, we'll get 'em back.

GRANT: What we have to watch for is make sure some cattle farmer back in the day didn't plant johnsongrass or fescue or something. And that seed bank is also here and only time will tell that. There's no way of knowing.

GRANT: Right off the bat we found sericea lespedeza and we've showed you in the past how invasive this species can be.

GRANT: There's a little opening up there.

FEMALE: Coming down hill?

GRANT: Yeah, like an eighth of an acre, really small opening.

JERRICK: Yeah.

GRANT: It was load – it was full of sericea.

FEMALE: Oh.

GRANT: It was making white flowers. It's getting ready to lay a gabillion seeds.

GRANT: Part of my prescription for this property is: treat the sericea lespedeza, which was limited in distribution because there's so little sunshine reaching the soil; kill it so it doesn't spread once the cedars are removed.

GRANT: What you're doing, should you adopt this plan, is restoring native habitat. This is a restoration project. Quail and deer and turkey and bluebirds are gonna benefit but you're really restoring native habitat. And we encourage people to do that by talking bigger antlers or more whatever. But the real thing that I'm doing here, especially on this property, is restoring native habitat. Food plots aren't even in the blend right now. And the amount of food that's gonna be generated – native, which is drought resistant, you know all these great advantages – and quality native vegetation is awesome.

GRANT: It was interesting that the landowner already understood this concept to some extent and had used a mulcher to remove some cedars by their drive.

GRANT: This is a great illustration. I often talk about opening up the forest canopy and let some sun hit the soil. And you see some sun spots and shady spots in here. Step one is good. But to use the mulcher to create this opening, you see all the wood duff on the ground. That’s covering the soil so much that really the only thing growing is hardwood saplings – that tremendous root base and all the carbohydrates are strong enough to push those saplings up through. We're not getting the flush of native forbs or grasses that are known to inhabit this area through here. So, in fact, this is great for landscaping but not great for creating better wildlife habitat.

GRANT: Cutting cedars below the bottom limb terminates that tree. They won't sprout back like a hardwood. So, harvesting these large cedars, selling that wood, using prescribed fire to remove some of the slash, and remove duff from the soil – allowing these native species to just germinate – seemed like the absolute perfect plan for this property.

GRANT: I'm also very confident these landowners will take our suggestions to heart. They're already in the process of getting bids from contractors and implementing our plan. So, I can't wait to share updates from this project and show you the transformation.

GRANT: Daniel and the interns had the opportunity to help another landowner – this time in Central Missouri.

GRANT: This landowner's property was a bit more developed when Daniel arrived and he had slightly different goals. He wanted to see more deer and allow them to express more of their antler potential.

DANIEL: You wanting to shoot 150s plus?

STEVE: Hmm. Hmm.

DANIEL: That’s your goal?

STEVE: I won't shoot it unless it is.

DANIEL: Okay.

STEVE: Well, actually the general rule with us and any guests who come here: if you shoot a buck, you better put it on the wall.

DANIEL: Okay.

STEVE: You better be, you better be that proud of it. Now if they want to put a 140 on the wall, that's fine. I don't really care.

DANIEL: Okay.

GRANT: This property was a totally different habitat type. In fact, most of his neighbors were row crop farmers and there's no doubt that deer in the neighborhood were well fed throughout the summer.

STEVE: I love the process…

DANIEL: Right.

STEVE: …more than the hunting.

DANIEL: Hmm. Hmm.

STEVE: I mean hunting to me is just kind of that dessert.

DANIEL: Right.

STEVE: But I love just doing things for wildlife – turkey and deer.

DANIEL: Okay.

STEVE: I prefer turkey hunting than deer hunting, frankly.

DANIEL: Okay. That's good to know.

STEVE: But, uh, but I still want great deer woods for my kids.

DANIEL: Right.

STEVE: You know.

GRANT: At the end of the day, Daniel came up with a plan that would help the landowner improve the food quality during the two stress periods – late summer and especially late winter, after surrounding crops have been harvested.

DANIEL: They're getting a lot of food here in the ag field during the summer.

STEVE: They are.

DANIEL: But during winter when all this is gone, that's, that’s kind of where our focus is for this property.

STEVE: Does it matter to you now that this farmer is gonna plant all these ag fields in wheat, winter wheat?

DANIEL: That's great. That's good for us.

STEVE: Yeah. Would that make a difference in what we want to do in these other fields is my question.

DANIEL: Yes.

STEVE: Okay. Just keep that mind.

DANIEL: Yup.

GRANT: During the years when the neighboring ag fields are primarily planted in soybeans, you’ll have plenty of nutrition in the neighborhood.

DANIEL: Because you've got so much, because you got so many beans around you in the summer, you don't need to pay for beans here.

GRANT: During the years when the surrounding fields are primarily planted in corn, it’s gonna be very important for Mr. Phillips to plant forage soybeans in his plots.

DANIEL: On the corn years…

STEVE: Yeah.

DANIEL: …plant these in beans…

STEVE: Right.

DANIEL: …and leave ‘em standing.

STEVE: Okay.

GRANT: We prescribed that each winter Mr. Phillips plant a quality winter crop that feed deer and continues to improve the soil. Something like the Buffalo blend we're using here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: If Mr. Phillips implements this new crop rotation and makes our suggested modifications to stand and blind locations, we're confident he's gonna have some really fun hunts in the coming years.

GRANT: We're just about to finish planting our plots here at The Proving Grounds and hanging a couple more stands.

GRANT: If you want to see our techniques and what we're doing daily, check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

GRANT: As most of us are getting ready to enjoy Creation by spending time in a stand or blind, I want you to remember that's the perfect time to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you. Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.