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GRANT: This weekend most Americans will celebrate Labor Day, a time of year most of us take off an extra day off work, rest and relax with family and are thankful to have a good job. There’s really more to it than that. Think about the structure our Founding Fathers set up that gave us the right to pursue happiness and to get out and work and create something for ourselves and our family. Think about all the policemen, firemen, guys and gals in the Armed Forces that protect this nation every day and do the job that keep us running. Guys building roads and houses and nurses and doctors that keep us healthy. You know what? It’s a whole nation doing it right day after day. This weekend, thank the Creator that you were born or live in the United States of America and celebrate Labor Day.
GRANT: For our farm, which we call The Proving Grounds, Adam and I define our hit list as bucks four years of age or older. Between our land and a couple of neighbors that are now participating with us, we feel there’s a pretty good chance for some of our bucks to survive to at least four years of age. And there’s magic to that number because bucks that reach four typically have expressed about 90% or more of their antler growth potential. That’s a little bit of a sliding variable. If you’re in really good habitat like Iowa or Indiana somewhere, bucks may not express their full potential ‘til five or six years old. So, set that standard for the quality of the habitat where you hunt.
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GRANT: We’re blessed that two years after a bad outbreak of HD, hemorrhagic disease, there are now several mature bucks once again living here at The Proving Grounds. There’s one that certainly catches our eye and we call that buck Royal George.
GRANT: Last year George was a three year old and he might have had the largest antlers of any buck on The Proving Grounds. And this year at four, he’s certainly a whopper anywhere in the whitetails’ range.
GRANT: We’ll share a few pictures of George as a three year old, just for practice aging, then we’ll show you some current pictures of George as a four year-old.
GRANT: Now, we’re looking at a photo of George during August and you can tell his tine length has really increased, but his legs still look very long; his hams haven’t fully developed. Clearly, he’s a three year-old. In this shot, we can clearly see his back is super straight; his belly and chest barely hang below where his shoulders meets his legs and his neck is still breaking relatively high. He’s an impressive three year old, especially for the Ozark Mountains, and it was pretty tempting not to chase George last year.
GRANT: This photograph was taken July 1, 2014 and you can tell George has developed more this year. Not only in antler size, his tines are much longer than they were during July last year, but now you can see clear shoulder definition. See the hams clearly defined? And his belly line is actually hanging down well below where his legs meet his shoulders. A little hump over his chest, even in multiple postures. George is clearly a four-year old this year and will certainly be on our hit list. That doesn’t mean George will be at the top of our hit list. He certainly has an impressive set of antlers; he’s a four year-old, but we don’t have many pictures of George moving during daylight hours. And I’ve spent years in the past trying to tag bucks that were impressive but basically, not harvestable. They just didn’t move during daylight hours or didn’t move in an area of the farm where I could get there without the wind giving up my location. We’re gonna keep an eye on George using our trail cameras to monitor his patterns and if he starts showing any sign of daylight activity, you can bet he’ll move to the top of our hit list.
GRANT: A good fire is a fire that stays within the boundaries of where we want it, kills the vegetation or sets it back that we desire, without harming the vegetation we wish to conserve.
GRANT: Earlier this summer we shared some techniques of how we make fire breaks. We strap on backpack blowers often, go through the woods removing all the leaf litter and create an area where there’s no fuel. Then we start the fire right there so it’s low of intensity and let it grow as it gets away from that break. And that added black area, or area with no fuel, makes a very large break and a safe prescribed fire.
GRANT: We’ve now completely burned a section we call Boomerang, which is a road that goes up a mountain, through some food plots and down to a point. With all that area in the trees blacked out, or the fuel removed, the bedding area that’s right in between can now be burned with a head fire and set that vegetation back to early succession.
GRANT: There are many reasons to use prescribed fire. Removing unwanted vegetation, removing tick habitat, or creating a large safe area around areas you’re gonna use a head fire, or a much more aggressive fire, to burn. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do here at The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: When I think of winter time cover, I want something zero to three or four feet tall so the sun’s radiant energy can get down to the deer, but there’s enough vegetation to block the wind from robbing the heat the deer has gathered.
GRANT: That’s warm down there.
GRANT: So, we want to burn our bedding areas every three to five years to keep saplings from encroaching in our native grass and forb areas and growing up too tall.
GRANT: During the last week, we’ve done four prescribed fires here at The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: While we were actively burning, Adam and I posted a couple of pictures on Facebook and I noticed a lot of comments questioning why we would dare use fire this time of year. If you look behind me, you’ll see an area that we’d done TSI, timber stand improvement, almost a decade ago cutting the worst trees that are competing for sunshine and nutrients and leaving the best to turn the forest around and make it healthier for timber and wildlife. As part of that TSI process, when we remove trees, we let sunshine reach the forest floor and you see sassafras and young oak saplings all through here. They’re a weed species in this part of the world. So what I wanted to do with the prescribed fire was have a low intensity fire go through during the growing season when the sap is up in the stem of the tree; not damage the trees we left during the TSI process, but set back or kill all this undergrowth so the sun hits the forest floor and causes herbaceous plants – you know, ragweed and partridge pea – stuff that quail, turkey and deer love – and native grasses for cover to grow. Those species can’t grow because all these saplings are literally clogging up the ground, not allowing sunshine to reach the forest floor, and pulling a huge amount of moisture out from the remaining trees.
GRANT: Our mission with this growing season fire was to allow that sun that’s coming through the canopy to reach the forest floor. And we use it during the growing season because the dormant season, or winter time burn, is not going to kill these saplings.
GRANT: I consider the prescribed fire in this unit a huge success. Clearly we desiccated the area and killed a bunch of ticks in here. Looks like we’ve killed a lot of saplings ten/twelve feet tall with doing very minimal damage to the more mature trees. This area will be much improved for wildlife habitat in the years to come.
GRANT: Prescribed fire is rarely a once and done tool. We’ll have native grasses and forbs recolonize this area, but saplings will come back also. So to maintain this and a healthy forest, we’ll reintroduce fire every three to five years and that will maintain a healthy balance of trees, herbaceous grass, and limit the pests in this area.
GRANT: Deer season starts in most states in a few weeks so it’s time to finish up those management programs, be running those trail cameras and developing your hit list. But more importantly, do what I do – take a little time to get outside in a pretty place and be still and quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you. Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.tv.
GRANT: In the meantime, it is hot and dry. So, it’s time for us – I got too much time.
GRANT: Allows us to work – I was just – I don’t even know what I was saying.
GRANT: So, it’s time for Adam and I to start working on our annual hit list – but I’m – it – golly gee. (Laughter)