Deer Hunting and Habitat: Strategic Changes for Better Deer Hunting (Episode 398 Transcript)

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GRANT: Recently, the GrowingDeer Team traveled to near Rolla, Missouri to help a fellow landowner with a habitat improvement project. Through the years we’ve helped this landowner select food plot locations, hunting blind and stand locations, and other habitat projects.

GRANT: The next project on his list was to convert an 87-acre area of high-graded, really thick, hardwood timber. Stems everywhere to quality habitat.

GRANT: …timber. So, we’re gonna create a savannah out of this high-graded closed canopy. We’re gonna leave the best trees; we’re gonna mark the best trees. And we’ll do that by marking about four and half, five feet tall with spray paint. We’re not changing our mind on these. So unlike when we’ve laid out a food plot and we’re using a flag – we’re not gonna change our mind. When you make a mark, you better – that’s your mark.

GRANT: So, this is – we’re gonna be working north, so when the cutting crews go in, they're never looking into the sun. That’s why we’re going north, marking the south side of the tree, looking north. And the hack and squirt crew will be doing the same thing we’re doing, so they don’t lose our marks looking in the sun.

GRANT: Hardwood savannahs are extremely productive wildlife habitat. Yep.

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GRANT: We’re gonna dive in here. Of course, there’ll be a little brush around the edge where the sunlight’s hitting and none once we get in here. Well, we want to create this kind of stuff all the way through here. ‘Cause it looks like decent habitat here, but once we get inside very far where there’s no sun, it, it’ll be a biological desert.

GRANT: Just gonna dive in here.

GRANT: Typically, we would have an intern go first to get all those ticks right there.

GRANT: When you're marking timber, you spend a lot of time looking up. Obviously, looking at the canopy; looking at the straightness of the stem; what species of tree – that’s always very important.

GRANT: For this project, if I’m going from a oak – either red or white – to a hickory, the hickory’s dying. We’ve got plenty of squirrel food here.

GRANT: This is a hickory and one way you’ll learn to look at these bigger trees without looking up – because your neck’s gonna get tired after awhile, literally – is the bark is interwoven. That’s why hickory wood makes a good axe handle, hammer handles, ‘cause the bark is interwoven and it won't split.

GRANT: That tree’s got fairly bad form right there. What kind of tree is that right there? Look up at the leaves real quick.

UNKNOWN: Oak.

GRANT: Yup. And I’ve got a hickory and a hickory. So, I’m gonna make a choice. I’ve got a better formed hickory, but it’s not doing this project any good. Right? And the hickory or I could save that oak. Which one do you think I want to save?

UNKNOWN: Oak.

GRANT: I want to save that oak. So, someone go give that oak a mark.

GRANT: Yeah, we want to save that one for sure. Give that one a mark.

GRANT: So, I’m looking. I’m not in love with that tree, that tree, the next tree…

GRANT: We needed to take our task very serious. We were deciding which trees would live and which trees would be taken out.

GRANT: Some selections are easy. We left the high value trees like black cherry, white oak and walnut. Those were easy keepers.

GRANT: We’re taking this thick hardwood area – it’s obviously overgrown, very little sunshine hitting the forest floor – and we’re gonna open it up and create a savannah. We’re gonna take this, basically, biological desert and make it very productive for wildlife. Teach a few lessons along the way.

GRANT: Here’s a tree. Anyone know what species this tree is?

GRANT: Tyler, those two hickories that are all grown together in bad shape – let those go. Don’t mark them.

GRANT: And also, its root system is stabilizing this bank right here where we’ve got a little erosion. We don’t want to cut it.

GRANT: (Inaudible) …leaning tree right here. I’m not in love with it. Even from a distance, you can see this bark is interwoven. It’s a hickory.

UNKNOWN: Sure.

GRANT: And I’m looking right over here – just a few feet – there’s an oak that has good form, too. And a larger crown – gonna produce some mass. So, I’m gonna save that oak and I’m not gonna save this hickory.

UNKNOWN: Okay.

GRANT: Every white oak in here gets a pass. Here’s a tree we haven’t seen yet…

GRANT: A quarter mile or so into this project and we come across the first pine tree – short leaf pine – native to this area. Pretty high valued timber tree if there was a lot of pine in the area. There’s no market for it ‘cause they're so rare now. But, because it’s native and rare, we’re gonna leave it. We’re gonna give it a pass.

GRANT: Pine has super thick bark. You can see. Gosh, I can stick my finger in there an inch or so in the cracks of the bark. So, very fire resistant. After we’ve hack and squirted this area and we open up the canopy and there’s more forbs growing, we’ll burn this area to help restore those forbs and native grasses. But this pine will survive that fire. No problem with this thick bark.

GRANT: Just a landmark to the Ozarks. We’re gonna let grow.

GRANT: A couple tips while the crew is out working. Today, we are using a very inexpensive paint I’ve purchased online. The Flatwoods Native crew is starting this afternoon. They’ll be finished with this project in a week or so. So, I don’t need a paint that lasts a long time.

GRANT: If I’m marking boundaries, like purple paint for no trespassing in states that have that rule, or a forestry project that I’m marking months ahead of the timber crew coming in, then I’m gonna use a forestry paint – like Nelson’s Forestry Paint – which will last much longer.

GRANT: I’m using this paint ‘cause it’s less expensive and this paint will fade quickly. So, when this TSI project is done – timber stand improvement – the hunters won't be looking at blue marks for years to come.

GRANT: You know, while I was talking, I heard some excitement over here, so let’s go see what Clay found.

CLAY: I look over and I yell at Austin, saying, “Oh, man. I see something.” He looks up and he sees the other side. We just found a pretty nice matched set.

GRANT: You know, that’s one advantage to working out in timber all the time. You see really cool stuff. Critters and even shed antlers every now and then. So, this is great. The landowner is gonna come check us out later today. We’ll present these to him and, uh, explain what we’re doing. But, right now, let’s put these in your pack, wherever we got, and keep on going.

GRANT: It was a great find, but it really gave me more excitement than just finding a matched set of antlers. Seeing the potential of that deer and knowing the quality of habitat now, I can only imagine what this area will produce once this forest has been treated and more sunshine reaches the forest floor and the habitat quality is significantly improved.

GRANT: Walnuts of any size get left for market value. We’re gonna save these – these two right in front of me – here also.

GRANT: Whew! White oak heaven up here boys! A real jewel behind me here. You see all the marks. Those are all white oaks. Deer love white oaks. So, we’ve got a feeding area right in here – fairly high in the slope; the wind should be constant. This would be a great hunting area in the middle of this savannah we’re creating.

GRANT: You may wonder why we’re leaving so many trees – small ones/large ones. In this area, I want total canopy closure because I don’t want a lot of fuel growing up. If I open this canopy up, I’d have a lot of native grasses and forbs growing up.

GRANT: That would allow the fire, when we use prescribed fire in here, to be much higher and potentially damaging some of these white oaks. I want to protect them and an easy way to do that is to have a closed canopy.

GRANT: When you're marking for a timber stand improvement project, each decision is a permanent mark on the canvas of this habitat. I want to think it through carefully. This choice makes me think a little bit further.

GRANT: These are two post oak trees. I can leave post oaks or take ‘em out, depending on the quality of trees around me. In this case, I want to leave them. These trees are very close together, so it’s a safe assumption – two trees, very close together – that the roots have grafted beneath the ground. These trees are sharing nutrients and water because the roots have grafted together. So, if I mark one and don’t mark the other and the crew treats that tree, it will probably kill both trees. In this case, if I want to save this tree, I need to save that tree also. You guys enjoy a long life.

GRANT: We’ve marked all the trees we wish to leave in this 80-acre block of timber and now Keyland and his crew from Flatwood Natives will come in and they're going to do the actual work. We just took a walk in the park today with some spray paint cans. They’ve got chainsaws and herbicide and gonna do the real work.

GRANT: So, you can see our mark here. All of our marks will be about 4.5 feet – give or take a little bit up or down. Obvious from the bark, this is a very straight, nice, white oak so we want to favor it so you don’t see any other paint right behind you. We want this crown to be able to expand. So, the other trees you will terminate, leaving this white oak.

GRANT: And then you see a tree almost the same size right there. But that’s a hickory and it’s competing with this crown. So, we’ll terminate that tree to favor the white oak.

GRANT: It’s much quicker than a chainsaw. And safer.

GRANT: This is a huge advantage to using the hack and squirt system versus chainsaws. When you cut a tree – unless you treat every stump with herbicide – they're gonna sprout back and make a mess.

GRANT: It’s much safer and less expensive to use a hack and squirt system. Very small amounts of herbicide. We typically use about one hack for every three inches diameter of the tree.

GRANT: When you fell a tree with a chainsaw, especially in the summertime, well, it’s super heavy with all the sap in it. And when it falls, it’s likely to fall against a leaved-tree knocking the bark off or busting limbs and making scars that parasites or disease can enter.

GRANT: When you hack and squirt, again, the small limbs fall off the first year straight down; slightly larger limbs the second year; and year three or four – depending on the weather and other variables – the stem will get so rotten and dry, it will just kind of break and fall down. And even if it tips sideways, it’s so light and so rotten, that it rarely does any damage to standing trees.

GRANT: I’m very confident this landowner and his family will enjoy many hunts for deer and turkey in this block of timber.

GRANT: Not only are we helping others get ready for deer season, but we’re busy working here at The Proving Grounds also. Through the years, it seems there’s always some hit list bucks that’ll hang around the northern part of The Proving Grounds. But because it’s extremely steep terrain in that area, they're very difficult to hunt.

GRANT: One buck, in particular, we call Southpaw, has called the northern part of The Proving Grounds his home for the last couple of years.

GRANT: We’ve been unsuccessful at chasing Southpaw. But we’ve got a new strategy and I feel very confident we may be able to encounter him this year.

GRANT: There’s a smaller or sub-ridge that comes down and overlooks a food plot on one side, a big power line easement to this side, and the same power line easement to the other side. The timber in that area is basically a sanctuary because the ridges are so steep, if we hunt the side slope the wind is always going to swirl.

GRANT: So, this week, we placed a 15-foot Redneck Blind on the edge of that easement so we can see up and down the easement into a food plot, and even more importantly, across the slope just a little bit into a bedding area.

GRANT: The last portion of the rut here in Missouri is almost always during the rifle season. And bucks tend to be cruising those bedding areas across those power lines frequently at that time of year.

GRANT: This was another very real-world task the interns can be involved in. It included selecting the stand sites, and deer management, some hunter management and property management. How to safely put up a Redneck Blind.

GRANT: By using a skid steer, this task is super easy. We simply put the blind on its base; put that on the skid steer; raise it up about six feet or so; and put the first section of legs on it.

GRANT: As we completed each section, we just continued raising the blind.

GRANT: Everybody okay?

GRANT: We’ve shared with you in the past pulling up blinds; using four-wheelers to winch up blinds; and I gotta tell you, the skid steer was easier and safer.

GRANT: Many of our most productive blind locations are situations like this. Food plot in the distance, but we’re looking down a power line right-of-way or through a bedding area or into a bedding area where we can see buck movement throughout the day.

GRANT: The last couple of years we’ve had a mature buck we call Southpaw that we know beds and spends a lot of time on this hillside. We get Reconyx pictures of him all in this area. But the slopes are so steep, we just can't get in here and hunt him very effectively.

GRANT: Now, we have a plan and this fall we’ll be chasing Southpaw.

GRANT: When you're picking out the next blind location, consider getting off the edge of a food plot and monitoring a bedding area or travel corridor. I believe you’ll be very pleased with the results.

GRANT: We now have a very safe vantage point that allows us to see in the middle of timber we really couldn’t hunt and, just as importantly, into a known bedding area.

GRANT: You can tell I’m already excited for deer season, but I had a little reminder today that it’s not quite here yet.

GRANT: I had heard several dogs barking and chasing something this morning while I was out and I kicked myself for not taking time to go investigate.

GRANT: Early this morning, I received a call and one of the guys on the property found a dead fawn.

GRANT: Well, never like finding this. Clay and the guys were out working this morning and drove by and actually saw this fawn. So Daniel and I came out to check it out and see if we could determine the cause of death.

GRANT: It’s clearly been predated, so it wasn’t like a disease kill or malnutrition. Everything looks fine. So, I can see some scuffling around the area, vegetation knocked down. Clearly, it was predated on. Rule out a couple of things. It’s not covered at all. I don’t see any fang marks on the neck or anything. I’ve been looking. So, I’m gonna rule out cat. Can't say for sure, but most likely this was not a bobcat.

GRANT: And bears usually tend to make a lot more of a mess. They would roll around and, and consume more. This is a probably six, seven, eight pound. So, a bear would have wiped this out.

GRANT: Coyotes would not have left this meat right here. So, I don't think it’s bobcat, bear or a coyote.

GRANT: One leg’s been pulled off. I don’t see any bite marks or anything. It’s pretty common, actually, for a domestic dog. Now, when I say dog, I get a bunch of hate mail. Please don’t do that.

GRANT: Fawns are going to run from dogs and dogs are going to chase and they are going to kill them. They are easy to capture and kill. And they rarely eat them because they're going back home and eating dog chow in someone’s house.

GRANT: So, these are probably some trespassing dogs that, uh, captured this fawn. I can't say that for sure. But, based on my experience in the field, this is what I would diagnose it as. We don't know for sure. But, my diagnosis is this fawn was killed – looking at the sign and evidence – by domestic dogs.

GRANT: Finding this fawn was a stark reminder that there’s usually a significant difference between the amount of does that are pregnant and the amount of fawns that survive to maturity.

GRANT: If you have questions about a specific hunting or habitat management strategy, check out the search feature at GrowingDeer.com and we may have addressed your question.

GRANT: If you want to see what we’re doing on a daily basis check us out on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

GRANT: I’m excited about deer season but I want to enjoy every day between now and then. So, I try to make sure I take time every day to slow down and enjoy Creation and, more importantly, be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to me.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.