Habitat Management: A Late Winter Prescription for Better Hunting (Episode 379 Transcript)

This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.

GRANT: (Inaudible) meet up by where we all (Inaudible) up there.

UNKNOWN:(Inaudible)

GRANT: (Inaudible) go out. Make sure everybody’s okay. (Inaudible)

UNKNOWN: Over and out.

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GRANT: Recently, our spring intern, Jessica, Daniel, and I drove down to northwest Arkansas to visit with Jared Redyke. We wanted to help him setup a habitat management and hunting plan for his 700 acres.

GRANT: During that visit, we reviewed some of his trail camera pictures and realized that property had a lot of potential.

GRANT: And then, let’s talk about goals and objectives.

JARED: We’re pretty much all bow hunt…

GRANT: Okay.

JARED: …except for the kids.

GRANT: Yep.

JARED: I mean, we’re pretty realistic. I mean, I know you’re not gonna shoot a Booner, so you know, we’re looking at 140, 150, but more than that, it’s age. That 3 ½, up. I mean, you can kind of tell about what we’re doing.

GRANT: Yep. Yep.

GRANT: As we typically do, we spent the first part of his visit talking about his deer management objectives, the kind of resources he could bring to bear, cause we don’t want to prescribe something that he can’t implement on his property.

GRANT: Ticks kill a lot of fawns in the Ozarks.

JARED: And if we have a bunch of pictures of just ears that…

GRANT: Oh yeah. I’ve, I’ve seen bloody eyes and stuff, yeah, on the fawns. So I have found a pretty small company over at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, uh, and what they’ve done – I don’t know how they got it – ‘cause it’s a small company, but. They use a very special form of garlic. Not just garlic. I mean, it’s encapsulated and all this fancy stuff and it’s called Antler-X-Treme and I’ll get you their phone number. You remind us to get you their phone number. Antler—yeah. It’s just with an X. Not E. E-X-Treme, but X-Treme. Made in Cape Girardeau, Missouri – local guys – and they’ll work with you one on one. You’re not going through a salesman, or something like that. And we did some tests last year. We started pretty late in the summer. When’d we start it, Daniel? When was it? I don’t know.

DANIEL: I think early June.

GRANT: Yeah. So tick populations were going down just a little bit, due to heat, like they normally do; they kind of cyclic. But where we fed that – we tried some other stuff and we didn’t see any reduction in ticks at all. Where we fed that, those deer definitely cleaned up. You could tell by the slickness of their hair and stuff. They cleaned up.

GRANT: I’m always excited to get out in the field, so as soon as we touched base on those subjects, we all hopped in my truck and started touring the property.

GRANT: The way I look at timber on my land, which rarely ever happens, if I break even, I consider that a huge victory. Your land is like my land. This has been high graded extremely hard.

JARED: Yeah.

GRANT: Mine has, too, so I’m not knocking your land. I mean, they took the best and left the rest.

JARED: Oh yeah.

GRANT: Same as my place.

GRANT: You’ve been to my place.

JARED: Yeah.

GRANT: You know all those humps you went over?

JARED: Yeah.

GRANT: Those are called broad based dips, BBD. You need to Google broad based dips and you will end all this water running down the road. And if you build ‘em right the first time, your road maintenance is basically done in your lifetime. And the second thing I want you to teach all of your employees and people on the ranch to do is do what he’s doing right now, drive the high spots. Quit driving the two tracks, because those two tracks will carry water.

JARED: Yeah.

GRANT: And it just ends up in erosion. I like these ridge top food plots better than the valleys, by far.

JARED: (Inaudible)

GRANT: That’s right, and the same…

JARED: They’re fine for feeding.

GRANT: Same reason all your ponds will hold water up along on ridge tops versus valleys. Because up here, there’s a clay base, so it’ll hold moisture, and the valleys are full of gravel.

UNKNOWN: Gravel.

GRANT: And that’s why ponds don’t hold down there, and that’s why plants, oftentimes, will even do better up here than in a valley, in the Ozarks – I’m not talking Kansas. Because now, you got a clay base that holds nutrients and waters from leeching too deep.

GRANT: Early during the tour, I discovered they had 11 ½ acres of food plots on 700 acres of timberland. And all the neighboring properties were timberland. There’s no row crop in the area. So it was easy for me to determine that the deer most likely were not expressing their full antler development or fawn production potential, because of lack of quality forage.

GRANT: Hey, we’re out consulting today and we’re with Jared on his property, right on the Missouri/Arkansas line. And they planted a crop of Eagle Seed beans and used a fence to protect ‘em, and gosh – I don't know – that’s five foot tall, or so, isn’t it, Jared?

JARED: It is.

GRANT: And a great pod crop. They dropped the fence recently and let deer come in here. Now, they’ve never had beans like this. So deer here don’t know what pods are.

GRANT: It was 13 or 14 degrees this morning, so I’m going to bet they learned pretty quickly. But this was a great crop of beans on a very rocky ridge top. So a great thing about beans are – they're of course, legumes. They fix nitrogen. And the one thing I would’ve done different, you can see how much sunshine’s on the forest floor. But when these were full of leaves, I’m sure there was no sunshine here. So I would’ve come in and spread Broadside, or cereal rye or something like that. And that way, I had a cover crop during the winter. Because what happens in these gravely soils is nitrogen and the, the nutrients that is composed are made when these rot down and disintegrate on the ground, will leech out of reach of new plants next spring. It’ll get too deep in the gravels. But if you’ve got a crop growing, like Broadside or something – we call that mining or recycling nutrients – and those root systems will pick that up, keep it in the top surface, decompose – either you're roller chop ‘em or spray ‘em, whatever, this spring – and now, you’ve got all the nutrients right there for new seedlings to take and grow. So we want something growing, even in standing beans like this, as many months out of the year as possible to keep those nutrients from leeching too deep in the soil profile.

JARED: So, I mean, I watch you guys. You’re hand spreading ‘em. Will it germinate, even with the leaves as thick as?

GRANT: When they’re this thick and tall, when it’s full of leaves, it’ll be pretty late. So I mentioned cereal rye – never rye grass. Cereal rye, because it will germinate and grow, typically, somewhere above 30 degrees. Very cold hardy. If I can see my boots, I’m just gonna broadcast, ‘cause there’s plenty of sunshine to grow. If I can’t see my boots, then, I need a no-till drill to knock some of it down, so I get enough sunshine.

JARED: You’re using, you’re using the drill to knock the beans down, so, so, if it’s, if it’s too thick?

GRANT: If they’re too thick.

JARED: That makes sense.

GRANT: Yeah. ‘Cause if you’d had half of these beans here, you’d still had a lot of food…

JARED: Right.

GRANT: …but you’d had a green growing in here, too. You’d had a double attraction and better for the soil health. This is…

JARED: It makes sense.

GRANT: This is great, but with a little tweaking, it can be a whole lot more productive for you.

GRANT: As I started getting a feel for the lay of the land, I recommended they convert the flat ridge tops, especially those that had marginal timber quality, into food plots. Flat land in the Ozarks is extremely rare, but we seek flat land on ridge tops, because the wind is much more predictable on a ridge top than in the valley.

GRANT: Well, we’re working on developing a plan for Jared’s property still. And Jared, we’re in an area that’s obviously been high graded, or timbered, in the past – real common through a lot of the hardwood areas in America. And you can tell they cut the best and left the rest. So almost all the big trees that are left are crooked, or multi-stemmed, or something’s wrong with ‘em. But when they did that, they opened up the canopy. It allowed all these saplings to come in. There’s literally hundreds and thousands and millions of ‘em in here. And so, what they’ve done, now, they’re 10, 12 feet tall and they shade out, so there’s nothing – no green, no sign of green on the ground anywhere – no food. It’s what I call a biological desert. And it’s really not cover, because the thick stuff is up here. Down where deer, or turkey, or quail lives, it’s, it’s wide open. It’s a desert. No food, no cover. Obviously, no water. So not knocking your land, but that real estate is not serving our purpose real well. So what we’re gonna prescribe, if we come in here and doze this, you—these saplings like this are horrible to get out. They just sprout back. Bigger trees, you can take care of.

GRANT: We’re gonna timber harvest the bigger trees; get what money we can, so we can divert that for food plots. We’re going to use herbicide to kill these saplings – much less expensive. And then, after a year, they’re dried up and done, we can clean it up with a dozer real easy and put a food plot in here and convert this from unproductive land – a biological desert – to very productive areas.

JARED: Sounds like a plan.

GRANT: That our – that our plan? And then on – this is the flat area. On the steeper part, we’ll do some of the same stuff, but let the native grasses and forbs come back for bedding areas.

JARED: Okay.

GRANT: We want to create our sanctuaries on the side slopes where the wind’s swirling – that’s where deer want to bed anyway. And the flat – we call this flat in the Ozarks, folks – top land will be food plots because that’s where we can hunt and wind’s more constant. And we can be there, and the deer be there at the same time. On a side slope, get erosion, if we tried to plant, and also, the wind’s swirling, so it’s very difficult to hunt. So we’re gonna take the ridge tops and make food plots; we’re gonna take some of the sides, not all the sides. We’re not dozing all the trees down – but some 10 and 15 acres here and there and make sanctuaries, bedding areas; design them a specific way where the deer are traveling to our food plots.

JARED: Sounds great.

GRANT: Easy for me to layout. A lot of work in 30 minutes. I’m gonna talk for a little bit and you got a year of work ahead of you.

JARED: At least.

GRANT: Yeah.

GRANT: Remember that deer and turkey prefer cover that’s zero to three feet tall. Saplings tend to grow past that stage, become very open down below and bushy, you know, six to ten feet tall. And that’s simply not providing high quality cover for deer or turkey.

GRANT: I recommended that Jared use the Flatwood Native crew, just like we did last summer. They can come in and treat those saplings with the appropriate herbicide that won’t damage the land, but kill the saplings. Prescribed fire alone, simply won’t kill saplings that are that mature. That way, you can either restore it into native vegetation, or have those saplings removed and plant food plots.

GRANT: I prefer the Flatwood Native crew over other teams I’ve used in the past. I was impressed that each person used a GPS to make sure they were staying on track and had great knowledge of the appropriate herbicide.

GRANT: The next step, after applying herbicide to the saplings, will be prescribed fire, and I told them they need to go get professional training. But, as a general guideline, I like to burn on days that have a humidity of 35% or less, a Haines Index – that’s a metric of how easily fire spreads – of four to five and a wind speed of 15 miles an hour or less. I instructed them to be ready, because you just don’t get many good burn days with those conditions here in the Ozarks.

GRANT: (Inaudible) You might as well sell it, so you don’t have to burn it.

JARED: Yes.

GRANT: So I would sell out every log out there I could; de-stump the rest of it, and, and get me some more acreage right through here.

GRANT: We’ll look forward to following up with Jared and sharing the progress with you.

GRANT: Recently, the conditions were good for using prescribed fire here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: The first unit we wanted to burn is a long skinny bedding area, but as you move to the east, it opens up to a much larger area. We had a fire line all the way around the unit. The most important one, of course, was being on the top, because fire wants to burn uphill much faster than downhill. So I started by lighting a backing fire along that top line, letting it ease down to give us even additional break – the black area where the fields removed – and then, had Jessica light a head fire along the bottom. As the interns, Thomas, Quenten, and I worked the fire, Daniel sat on the far ridge in a Redneck blind recording it all.

DANIEL: I’m sitting in Boom Redneck, the Redneck that Grant shot Handy out of last fall. Handy was actually in the bedding area right across the valley on the other side of the mountain and we’re burning that bedding area today.

ADAM: He’s going down.

GRANT: Is he down?

ADAM: He’s down.

GRANT: He’s down.

DANIEL: Just a few days ago, we came in, we cut a line about 10, 20 yards above the tree line, and right now, Grant and the interns are backing that fire down into the glade, and then, we’ll come in from the bottom and set a head fire.

DANIEL: Right here, it’s burning, and it’s burning up here. We’re having trouble right in here, because there’s no fuel to back down and we don’t want to send a head fire through, catch those cedars, and then, it jump the line, or really rip through there.

DANIEL: I can actually see ‘em working through those cedars. He’s stripping it out a little more; trying to get whatever fuel is in there to burn. That way, we’re black underneath those cedars. We’ve got a wind that’s gonna be pushing that fire up the hill. Haines Index is about five, so we’re expecting it’s really gonna rip today, so I’m gonna sit back and enjoy the view.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible) (Radio chatter)

GRANT: We use radios to communicate and I made sure I stayed several hundred yards ahead of Jessica, so there was no chance her head fire would get ahead of where I’d set the backing fire and the added protection of a black area.

DANIEL: Light the head fire at the bottom.

GRANT: Head fires can be very intense. The heat’s rising off that fire uphill faster than the flame, preheating the fuel, removing even more moisture and allows you to get a very good burn.

DANIEL: That bedding area is black. It was a great start to the day. We got several more fires planned out and I’m actually going to climb down out of the Redneck because the next fire of the day is in the bedding area that I’m in right now.

GRANT: Once that unit was burned and we made sure there wasn’t any flame next to the edge of our fire line, we refueled and made a plan for the second burn of the day.

GRANT: Well, it’s about 1:00 in the afternoon. We’ve burnt one glade, about 26 acres. Glades or what we call bedding areas, uh, a lot of native grass and some saplings we’re trying to set back. The group from Flatwood Natives actually helped us and sprayed these glades late last summer, setting back the hardwood saplings. We’ll hit ‘em with the second punch right now, putting prescribed fire on there. And it’s the time of year when we get a rain – this is gonna green up and be awesome cover, come fawning and nesting season, and high quality forage.

GRANT: This is a little bit smaller and easier burn. It should be. We’re gonna start our back fire again. It’s all about safety. We’re backing out, backing out, and then, we’ll circle the glade, once we got it black around it and the flame can’t go anywhere.

GRANT: While we were setting the back fire, Daniel burned around our Redneck blind right in the middle of this area. We simply wanted to remove the fuel next to the blind, so tall flames didn’t hit it and potentially damage one of my favorite Rednecks.

DANIEL: A lot lower intensity fire right here at the Redneck site than it would be if we were sending a head fire through. So I’m happy with this. This is just gonna back out. We’re gonna get out of here and do the same thing around a few oaks that we want to save in this bedding area. We got a really big oak and a big sycamore out in the middle of this bedding area. I’m gonna do the same thing to protect them. I’m gonna ring around ‘em. I’m actually gonna light around the uphill side of the tree and let it back down, that way, the fire isn’t ripping up the hill, chimneying up the back and hurting the tree.

GRANT: With the ring around the Redneck, Daniel gave us the all clear and Tyler went down one side; Quenten down the other. We go behind the guys lighting, to make sure nothing backs across the line anywhere. And it only took 20 or 30 minutes to burn that entire unit.

GRANT: Just finishing about a 25 acre glade and loving what I’m seeing. Of course, a little saplings were sprayed, but they’re all crispy right now, just shattering when you touch ‘em. So I think we got a pretty good kill on the hardwoods, and Ms. Tracy’s gonna be ready to do some shed hunting here in a day or two, so one more to go and we’ve had a great safe day, so far.

GRANT: Tyler’s one of our interns this spring from Kansas. You’re familiar with fire in Kansas, Tyler, but it’s not this steep, is it?

TYLER: Oh yeah. It’s nothing like this.

GRANT: Yeah. This is better than a classroom, isn’t it?

TYLER: Way better.

GRANT: Yeah. Lessons learned.

GRANT: Our mission that day was to significantly improve the habitat of both these bedding, or sanctuary areas, and I believe we accomplished that. Each of these areas have been burned a minimum of three times, including a growing season burn. But even with all that, the hardwood saplings were gaining ground. So last summer, I had the Flatwood Natives crew spray them, and then, we hit with the second punch and did a prescribed fire and we should have a lot of native grass and forbs in both these units this summer. We’ll keep you posted as the summer progresses.

GRANT: As you can tell, these are not a once and done project. We’ve burned in the past; we had Flatwood spray; we burned again. Typically, we should be on a three to five year rotation, now. We’ve had significant improvements in the habitat quality from when we started and I think it will only continue to improve.

GRANT: We recently had above normal temperatures and a little bit of rain, like much of the central US, and our Eagle Seed clover is really starting to jump.

GRANT: Even though it’s still February, I’ve noticed a big difference between inside and outside this utilization cage in this clover plot. During these conditions when forage is growing rapidly, it’s often 60, 70, or even 90 percent water.

GRANT: Most mammals, including deer, have got to have a lot of sodium and other minerals for the kidney to function properly and get this excess water out of their system.

GRANT: We moved over towards the edge of the plot and you can tell I’ve got a Trophy Rock station. Had a little rain last night and this morning and there’s fresh sign around the Trophy Rock. This time of year, deer are going to minerals, whether it’s a naturally occurring mineral lick, an old cattle block out in the pasture, or a Trophy Rock station. We can’t keep ‘em from it. It’s part of their physiology to get the excess water from the forage out of their body this time of year.

GRANT: There’s huge advantages to having a Trophy Rock station. It’s all natural, mined in Utah and there’s more than 60 different trace minerals in there. Deer need these minerals for things like their body function, getting the excess water out, producing healthy fawns, and growing larger antlers.

GRANT: I keep it out year round, but the most important time is this time of year and during the growing season, when there’s the most moisture in the forage.

GRANT: Some folks probably make a mistake of doing the home blend and trying to jam a whole bunch of calcium into their blend, like calcium diphosphate, or something like that, thinking that’s really gonna help grow bigger antlers. But we’ve got decades of folks trying that and not a lot of success. The reason is deer are craving the salt and other trace minerals. I call it the “low hole in the bucket”, but the official name is Liebig’s Law of the Minimum. And basically, what it means is if this is your bucket and you’ve got a hole here and a hole here, water’s gonna drain out at the lowest hole. So no matter how much calcium you pour in, if they’re needing magnesium, or sulfur, or something like that, their body can’t express any more potential than that lowest missing element, or the “low hole in the bucket”

GRANT: We’ve been using Trophy Rock for years, and this year, of course, we’re shed hunting – we’ve found 40+ sheds already. And I’ve been noticing, by age class – you know, comparing yearlings to yearlings, three year olds to three year olds, whatever – that it’s trending larger this year, as it did last year and the year before. We keep making small, but noticeable, increases in antler size. And that’s due to our food plot programs and all the native vegetation management. Everything we do in our management plan and that includes keeping Trophy Rock out year round.

GRANT: Hey, if you want to have some serious conversations about deer management, Daniel will be speaking at the Bucks, Beards & Bass expo in Cape Girardeau, Missouri March 3rd and 4th. And my friend, James, will be there blowing his turkey calls and owl hooter and you can get some special tips from him.

GRANT: Hey, if you live in one of the northeastern states and want to talk deer management, you’re in luck, because Daniel will be speaking at Oakland, Maryland at the Tri-County Co-op meeting March 18th. There’s only 250 seats and most of ‘em are already sold out, so call those guys today; go visit with Daniel and get ready for the best deer season you’ve had so far.

GRANT: Hey, whether you’re still wading in snow – like our field staffer, Dillon Shaw, that just sent me some pictures of deer scratching through the snow to get to these Trophy Rocks – or it’s warmer than normal, like it is here at The Proving Grounds, go outside and enjoy Creation. But most important, take time each day to slow down and listen to what the Creator says to you. Thanks for watching Growing Deer.