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GRANT: Most of the bucks at The Proving Grounds have shed most of their antlers. Tracy and Crystal, they’ve found a lot of sheds.
TRACY: Find Crystal, find. See if you can find the match.
TRACY: Crystal and I have been shed hunting this morning. We've chosen a south-facing slope just up from one of our bigger food plots. Yesterday when I was in the same area, Lower Down, I found two sheds right beside each other.
TRACY: We worked our way up the hill, back and forth, following some deer trails and sign, and here's what I found.
TRACY: I think she just caught wind of it. There you go. Good girl. Good girl! Awesome! Yes, look at this. Whoo-hoo! That's our reward for the day. Awesome. Good girl, Crissy.
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GRANT: Not only is it exciting to find a shed, but it builds excitement knowing hit list bucks survived.
GRANT: Two of the bucks here at The Proving Grounds, which will probably be at the top of the hit list next year, are Louie and Swoops.
GRANT: We estimated Louie to be four and a half this year and was quite impressive for a mountain buck.
GRANT: We didn't spend much time chasing Louie this year because he was extremely nocturnal. We only got a few pictures of him during daylight.
GRANT: It seems on properties that receive a lot of hunting pressure, like here at The Proving Grounds, prime-age bucks have learned to avoid pressure by doing most of their movement during the night.
GRANT: As bucks continue to mature and become less dominant or maybe not in quite as good of physical health, they seem to revert and move more during daylight hours.
GRANT: A prime example of this was a buck my daughter tagged this past season called Southpaw.
GRANT: Southpaw was a six-and-a-half-year-old buck, and until this last season, we almost never saw him or got pictures of him during daylight.
GRANT: This past year before Rae put her tag on him, we had several encounters with Southpaw during daylight hours.
GRANT: A six-and-a-half-year-old buck is an old buck in mountain country. The nutrition is not quite as good as it is in ag country. Their body’s probably starting to decline in condition just a bit.
GRANT: This doesn't mean their antlers aren't impressive. It just means they're probably not as physically active and not as competitive as they were a few years ago.
GRANT: It's likely Louie will follow the same pattern as Southpaw. So, this coming year – five and half year – we're kind of iffy. Will he show up in daylight more? Well, only time will tell.
GRANT: We were extremely excited when Miss Tracy and Crystal found one of Louie's sheds.
GRANT: As much as Tracy likes shed hunting, I have no doubt her and Crystal will probably find the other shed sometime soon.
GRANT: Swoops is another mature buck here at The Proving Grounds that appeared to survive the hunting season.
GRANT: Swoops is a six-and-a-half-year-old buck that we've been monitoring for years.
GRANT: During the summer months, Swoops tends to be active on the southern portion of The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: During the late season, I was using the iSpotter and got some pictures of Swoops in a food plot right behind my house, on the northern portion of The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: Apparently, this wasn't just a rare day when Swoops headed north because a few weeks later, I found one of his sheds in that same food plot.
GRANT: I'm excited to watch Louie and Swoops develop this summer and start developing a strategy to tag one of those bucks.
GRANT: It's been tough conditions for whitetails throughout most of their range this winter.
GRANT: Locally, the temperatures have been cold and we're in a severe drought.
GRANT: Probably because of these conditions, recently, we received a lot of questions asking about a winter feeding program.
GRANT: Feeding deer where they're stressed sounds like a good idea where it's legal. The results are often different.
GRANT: Starting feeding deer – especially a rich or hot diet – when they're not used to eating anything but low-quality browse can result in a lot of problems and even death.
GRANT: A common negative to starting a winter feeding program where deer are not used to that quality of a diet is foundering.
GRANT: Just this morning, one of my buddies in Arkansas sent me some pictures of a deer harvested where he was hunting.
GRANT: As soon as I saw the pictures, I wrote him back and asked if they had recently started feeding corn.
GRANT: The deer had extremely long hooves, and the guys in the club couldn't figure out why.
GRANT: One of the effects of foundering is deer grow extremely elongated hooves.
GRANT: It's common this time of year for folks to start feeding and deer to founder.
GRANT: A better alternative than starting an emergency feeding program is do the work ahead of time and develop better habitat.
GRANT: Years ago, I helped some friends in South Alabama create a habitat and hunting improvement program for their property.
GRANT: And I understand there's not a good road structure in this bottom, so let's take a few jaunts off here and there and…
GRANT: As part of the program for the property in South Alabama, we laid out several food plots and improved the native vegetation: by thinning timber; treating the undergrowth – mainly sweetgums, with herbicide; and use a prescribed fire to allow native grasses and forbs to grow amongst the trees.
GRANT: Recently, one of the guys in that club shared a picture of a nice buck he’d tagged.
GRANT: He believed the buck – which he called Revolver – was six and a half years old, and it's a neat story to share.
GRANT: They identified Revolver as a big six pointer when he was three and a half years old.
GRANT: I thought it was pretty creative of my friend to name the six pointer Revolver.
GRANT: Part of our management plan for this property included not harvesting immature bucks no matter what their antler shape was.
GRANT: The idea behind culling is to remove bad genetics so they won't be passed on, but that never works in a wild, free-ranging herd. You must know the pedigree – who bred who – and the results to make a difference in genetics. And you never know the pedigree of free-ranging whitetails.
GRANT: In science terms, when you see an animal, you see the phenotype but not necessarily the genotype. Remember, does carry a majority of the antler traits. It's called a sex-linked trait. And it's connected to the female chromosome.
GRANT: It's proven that a much better plan is to allow all bucks to mature to whatever age is appropriate for your area and then attempt to harvest them.
GRANT: During 2015, Revolver was an impressive four year old.
GRANT: He survived the season but in 2016, he showed up with a very odd left antler. It seemed Revolver had suffered some type of injury, which manifested itself in a very non-typical left antler.
GRANT: If you'd been a guest at that club and didn't know the history of that buck, you might have been tempted to shoot the deer thinking it was a genetic freak.
GRANT: Antler development is primarily influenced by age and nutrition, although injury can also have a big influence on year-to-year antler growth.
GRANT: In this case, during 2017 Revolver bounced back and grew a normal set of antlers but much larger.
GRANT: My friend tagged Revolver this year, and I'm very proud of him and the club for following the management plan.
GRANT: The Revolver story is a great illustration of two important lessons. First, immature bucks shouldn't be culled based on antler size or shape.
GRANT: The second is that even though bucks may suffer an injury, it doesn't mean they can't bounce back and become dandy bucks.
GRANT: I always enjoy a great deer story, especially when it teaches me something. But I've got to admit, I'm getting pretty fired up about spring turkey season.
GRANT: Through the years Tracy and I have owned The Proving Grounds, the turkey population has continued to increase.
GRANT: I believe this increase is due to the habitat improvements we've made and a steady program of removing predators.
GRANT: Trapping season just closed in Missouri and this year we removed 21 raccoons, 21 opossums and 1 skunk.
PETE: I measure him from here to there, and, and that's what they, they pay you on. They want, they want that extra length right there.
GRANT: Pete, my friend and local taxidermist, has been busy preparing all these pelts to sell.
PETE: Right now, two bucks.
GRANT: Fur prices aren't much this year, so we'll probably freeze dry the pelts and wait for a better market.
GRANT: I'm excited to see the results of our habitat improvements and our continued trapping program and hope to see a lot of poults this summer.
GRANT: If you're excited about doing some habitat management work this coming year or turkey hunting soon, why don't you come to the NWTF convention in Nashville, Tennessee and join Daniel and I? We'll be at several different displays at certain times throughout the day. We'd love to visit with you. Feel free to bring maps or pictures, and we'll try to help you develop a plan to make hunting better at your Proving Grounds.
GRANT: If you'd like to receive hunting and habitat management tips and techniques throughout the year, simply subscribe to the free GrowingDeer newsletter.
GRANT: Even though deer season is closed in most areas and turkey season hasn't opened, it's still important to get outside and enjoy Creation. But it's more important to slow down every day and be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.