Prescribed Fire | Tips To Improve Wildlife Habitat (Episode 434 Transcript)

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GRANT: Last week, we shared a recent Florida turkey and hog hunt.

GRANT: Seeing those gobblers respond got me excited for the rest of the turkey season.

GRANT: Just the other day we got a special delivery that made me forget about turkey season for a little bit and go back to last September.

GRANT: It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for since last September. I went on a great elk hunt and I just got the big boy back. We’re gonna take the crate off; see how the taxidermist did and I’m sure it will bring back a flush of memories from a very exciting hunt.

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GRANT: All right. Let’s see if they got the right one. There it is. Look at that bad boy. Woo hoo! Man! Tracy, we may need a bigger fireplace. Man, oh man. That’s almost as exciting as the day we walked up and did the grip and grin. Man! Look at those tines. Y'all would like to see that, wouldn’t you?

GRANT: Well, I’ll get back to taking some more screws off and we’ll take a peek. Where did my drill go right here?

GRANT: Okay. One – two – three. Look at that bad boy! Man, oh man, oh man!

GRANT: Look at that big, ole tail. That’s a little different than putting an ole whitetail above the fireplace. I mean, you’ve got to have some serious screws to hold that thing up.

GRANT: Because I remember in the field, just lifting the head up was a pretty big chore.

GRANT: We finished uncrating the elk and admiring him and reliving the hunt. Tomorrow we’ll hang him above the fireplace and even more exciting – in September, we’re headed back out to New Mexico.

GRANT: Hosted Hunts helped me plan a great elk hunt last fall. And the memories – well, I’ll enjoy them for the rest of my life. I can't wait to let Conway and the boys at Hosted Hunts help us plan our next hunting adventure.

GRANT: I was thrilled to once again get my hands on those antlers and the GrowingDeer Team sure enjoys those elk steaks. My friend, Jeremiah, helped us hang the elk mount above my fireplace and every time I see it, it’s a motivation to get outside and do some workouts so I can chase elk again.

DANIEL: Out on the fire line today. We’ve got great burning conditions so we’re hustling trying to get in as many burn units as we can. Right now, we’re on our second burn. You can see back behind me, we’ve already burned this bedding area on this slope here.

GRANT: During the late winter, we focused on burning areas that have native grasses and forbs.

GRANT: This removes the duff consisting of dead vegetation and helps expose the soil to sunlight, so we get a flush of new native grasses and forbs.

GRANT: It also removes a few ticks, but when you burn smaller areas – 10, 20, 30 acres – and that new vegetation pops up, of course, deer are gonna be feeding in there and it can quickly repopulate the area with ticks.

GRANT: Native grasses provide high quality fawning and nesting habitat. By the time fawns and poults are on the ground, the native grasses will be tall enough to cover those young critters.

GRANT: The forb component of the native vegetation can provide super high quality forage.

GRANT: When Tracy and I purchased this property over 15 years ago, these areas were covered with cedar trees.

GRANT: We simply used chainsaws to fell the cedars and then prescribed fire to burn ‘em up. The fire also served to stimulate the seed bank. The native species were all in the seed bank. We just got sunshine to ‘em; used fire to disturb that seed bank; and let it grow.

GRANT: Over time, hardwood saplings started trying to recolonize the area. So, a combination of prescribed fire and a one-time treatment of herbicide kept the hardwood saplings at bay, so they don’t shade out all the beneficial native grasses and forbs.

GRANT: We don’t have enough manpower to walk around with backpack sprayers and treat all these bedding areas. So, we used the Flatwood Natives crew to come in; use the appropriate herbicide; and tackle all the hardwood saplings.

DANIEL: Work back Quenten’s way, Tyler, and kind of strip out another ten yards.

DANIEL: The past couple of weeks have been pretty wet here at The Proving Grounds. But conditions got right and today was a great burn day. This is actually our fourth burn unit today. Humidity is still low, so we’re gonna be burning all the way to dark.

DANIEL: This large bedding area is a south facing slope. It’s received a lot of sunlight throughout the day, so we were able to come in late afternoon with low humidity, a good wind, and still be able to drop a match.

GRANT: As we’re burning these units, I’m hearing the snap, crackle, pop of the fire, but I’m also hearing distant gobbles. ‘Cause I’m thinking about spring turkey season. Fresh burn units are great areas to chase gobblers where birds love to come in and bug. So, with all these burn units, it’s gonna be a good spring turkey season.

GRANT: It was a long day, but they burned about 100 acres in one day. That’s tough when you're burning in mountain country and you’ve really got to watch the fire. Totally different than burning in flat land.

GRANT: These areas will be extremely attractive to deer and turkey within just a few days and provide critical nesting and fawning habitat in a few weeks or a month or so.

GRANT: I’m always amazed at how quickly critters use a fresh burn. Daniel placed a Reconyx camera over one of our burn units and the critters are already using the area.

GRANT: In addition to getting some work done, this fire was a learning experience. Drew Coates, one of our recent consulting clients, came down to help us burn and learn a little bit about using fire in hill country.

GRANT: Several months ago, Daniel worked with Drew and his brother, Will, to develop a habitat improvement plan for their property. One of Daniel’s prescriptions was removing cedars and using prescribed fire to stimulate the growth of native vegetation.

GRANT: After completing a prescribed fire training course and working with Daniel and the boys on the line, Drew was able to go back to his property and use prescribed fire safely and successfully. We’re proud of Drew’s work and commitment to improving the habitat and can't wait to hear about more results from his project.

GRANT: Daniel and I have been on the road in several other states recently helping landowners with habitat improvement and hunting strategy plans.

GRANT: Recently, Daniel and interns Tyler and Jacob traveled to northern Arkansas and helped a fellow landowner with his 160-acre property.

STEVE: They're everywhere.

GRANT: This property was located between two mountains and covered with hardwoods similar to The Proving Grounds.

STEVE: Would you, whatever it is. You know? If it’s an acre or four, would you just, uh, do as much as you could?

DANIEL: I’d, I’d do as much as you could.

DANIEL: They don’t really hammer to the ground…

GRANT: He had recently purchased the property but already created several small hidey hole type food plots. Daniel believed there was enough flat terrain to really expand those food plots and put some serious feeding plots on this property.

DANIEL: As we’ve been walking Steve’s property, one thing that we’ve noticed is that it’s really thick. You know, you told us that even before we got here. It’s, it’s thick and nasty. And the reason for that is because you said it was harvested – the timber was – ten years ago. And so, all the hardwood saplings have come up and you bought this property about a year ago. And so, now, we’re coming in and looking to see what we can do to increase food and the quality of cover.

DANIEL: So, we’re in here looking to see how we can improve the habitat and correct the damage that was done when the loggers came in and clear cut Steve’s property.

GRANT: One of the tenants of making a good habitat management plan is not only to look at the resources on your property, but the resources on neighboring properties. We look at food, cover and water in the neighborhood. If one of ‘em is limited, we want to create that resource on the property of our clients. We want to attract deer to the client’s property.

DANIEL: So, Steve, we’re actually standing on your property line and we look over here on your property and it’s thick and just like you said – thick and nasty.

STEVE: It is. (Inaudible)

DANIEL: Hardwoods – uh, you’ve got some sweetgums in there and a lot of oak saplings coming up. And on this side, it’s a little more open, underneath. You know, we got sunlight hitting the ground. You know, during the summer months – you, I look through here – there’s a lot of native grasses and forbs that are gonna be coming up. And it’s very open compared to this side.

GRANT: The crew could barely walk through this property, which may sound like good cover, but limited food because all of the soil is shaded out while the neighboring property had portions of wide open hardwoods that deer could easily seek acorns underneath.

DANIEL: So, Steve, the best thing that we can do for your property – and, you know, based on what’s around you and the habitat that you have – is to actually open up some areas; add food. That’s gonna be our first priority.

DANIEL: And then we’re gonna come in and we’re gonna address some of these areas with hardwood saplings; treat those areas; try and knock them back and encourage native grasses and forbs to come up through.

DANIEL: So, you know, your, your property is never probably gonna look like this again because it was harvested and clear cut. But we can improve your habitat and your hunting by designing a specific plan for what you have.

GRANT: Quality, year-round forage is often a limiting factor in timber country. Daniel identified this and laid out several food plots. The food plots will not only provide better forage for the deer, create better hunting opportunities, but also create bottlenecks as deer move around those openings when acorns are present.

DANIEL: Make sure they push the trees in.

STEVE: Hmm. Hmm.

DANIEL: And, and then we’ll burn it in the big piles. Don’t have ‘em just push it downhill.

STEVE: Okay.

DANIEL: And, you know. ‘Cause we want everything coming in…

STEVE: Okay.

DANIEL: …and then burn. Yeah.

STEVE: Yeah. There’s – you’ll see up here, um, I had him – I’ve done both. Um. Like, the food plot that’s right up here – I had him push some trees where – and, and give me a barrier so…

DANIEL: Hmm. Hmm.

STEVE: …you know, I had a stand – I've got a stand right in behind it, so they wouldn’t just come right up in behind me.

UNKNOWN: Make a block.

STEVE: Make them come around and go (Inaudible) direction. But, I’ve also got the opposite where they're, you know – most of it’s in the middle.

DANIEL: Yeah.

STEVE: And some…

DANIEL: Those become…

STEVE: …some of those are still there. They need to be…

DANIEL: …coyote dens and…

DANIEL: …groundhog.

STEVE: Really?

DANIEL: You know, groundhog spots.

STEVE: Yeah.

DANIEL: And they’ll come in and wipe out your food plots. So, um, we always like to just go right through them.

STEVE: Just get rid of all of it?

DANIEL: Yeah.

STEVE: Yeah.

DANIEL: Yeah.

GRANT: In timber country, food’s usually limited and bottlenecks are almost always limited. Food plots can kill both those birds with one stone, so to speak; provide quality forage throughout most of the year and create bottlenecks that can be used for hunting and approaching stands.

DANIEL: Um. Where you're really gonna shine hunting-wise is, is gonna have that early season food and then in the late season, food on these plots because your neighbors just don’t have it. And so, your early season – before acorns fall – I know you don’t have a lot of acorns. But even before – you know – what there is out there falling…

STEVE: Yeah.

DANIEL: …is really when you're gonna be able to capitalize hunting. And so – and then late season – you're just gonna, you're gonna draw ‘em in.

STEVE: So, we’re gonna try to add a little food plot in here?

DANIEL: And however, however much we can get.

STEVE: Right.

GRANT: Daniel and Steve worked together to create a plan that would significantly increase the quantity of quality forage and improve the quality of cover.

DANIEL: We’re gonna convert this into native grasses and forbs – those slopes.

GRANT: Steve and Daniel mapped everything out and kind of summarized a plan and I believe that he’ll see great improvement in his habitat quality and hunting enjoyment in the years to come.

GRANT: Not long after Daniel assisted Steve in Arkansas, I visited with several landowners in Tennessee.

GRANT: The first property I toured was just north of Chattanooga.

GRANT: So, you mentioned you love to bow hunt.

UNKNOWN: Big bow hunter. My wife hunts.

GRANT: Hmm. Hmm.

UNKNOWN: And then, um. really, I have occasional pastors from our church. They have a hard time finding good ground to hunt.

GRANT: Sure. Sure.

UNKNOWN: Or they just can't afford to go.

GRANT: The following day, I toured a property in Nashville and one just south of Nashville.

AARON: Some doe, some young bucks and tons of turkey. No mature bucks ever sighted or, um, caught on camera.

GRANT: We waked and drove through each farm and discussed, while we were moving around, ideas and opportunities to improve the habitat.

AARON: (Inaudible) Ray would come up here with his bulldozer and. Another question would be, when we do it…

UNKNOWN: There’s not a lot of big trees right here, either.

AARON: …how – what would you – would you do – like, to, to create bedding, would you shove it down the hill and leave it?

GRANT: No, no, no, no, no. Burn the piles, bury the stumps, be rid of it. Otherwise, it’s gonna be a predator nest.

AARON: Okay.

GRANT: When you build the road down, water can't get off of it. You want the road on the highest point always. Like the road driving up from the old gate.

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: All the water has to go through there. You want the road on the highest point; you want it on the side of the hill, so the water – you want your water running crossways across the road, not down it.

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: That’s what causes erosion. These aren’t subdivision roads; these are logging roads.

GRANT: Second – the dozer guy. All dozer guys want to push down like you just said.

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: Start at the edge and push up. When you push down, you're pushing your topsoil off your soil, site. Always come up. Always come up. Put your burn pile right in the top center. This will no longer be the road.

AARON: See. (Inaudible) Do your…

GRANT: The road will be over there.

AARON: …perimeter and then just keep bringing it in…

GRANT: Coming in. You make a little hole up here to push into and you keep pushing up to the top. You always work it up to the top. So, you're leaving it more dirt where you want it to. Always, always, always.

GRANT: The road’s gonna end up being over there. This is gonna be planted right here.

GRANT: I’m coming right up through here. I love long and skinny food plots. Deer love ‘em because they're closer to cover…

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: …versus a big square.

AARON: Long and skinny.

GRANT: When. If you're the guy driving the tractor, you learn to love long and skinny so you're not turning all the time.

AARON: Huh.

GRANT: I love my food plots. This country gets drier than wetter. All right. I’m more worried about drought than I am too much rain – especially on this ridgetop up here. So, I want my food plots ideally running north and south.

AARON: Really?

GRANT: ‘Cause when they run east and west, it gets full day sunshine.

AARON: Yeah. Ah huh.

GRANT: And it bakes – you have more evapotranspiration.

AARON: Oh. Interesting. Yeah.

GRANT: But when it runs north and south, it’s got shade in the morning from over here – which really doesn’t matter ‘cause the temperature isn't so high.

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: So it doesn’t have as much moisture that leads to evaporation. But, the afternoon sun really…

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: …the temperature’s high so you get a lot more evaporation. But when you're running that.

AARON: (Inaudible)

UNKNOWN: Yeah.

AARON: (Inaudible)

GRANT: When you run it north and south, you get the shade off of that west side…

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: …and you save a huge amount of soil moisture.

GRANT: Man, you – your family would love this ‘cause right now – I mean, you might see an occasional deer run through, but you can't see very far.

AARON: Right.

GRANT: Especially, when it’s green in summer. But if this is a food plot – all soybeans up here – you're gonna see deer. You're gonna see deer and turkeys here.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible)

GRANT: That’s a money tree right there, buddy. That’s a money killing tree.

GRANT: This is like a two and a half, three week hunt. When the white oaks are dropping, deer are unequivocally gonna feed right there.

GRANT: And on a west wind, it’s gonna do this – you're back here 30, 40 yards in a Redneck Blind and they’ll never know you're in the world. Your gonna shoot the deer there. I mean, you're never gonna find your arrow ‘cause your arrow’s going through the deer and out, out there somewhere.

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: Don’t let anybody be playing down there.

GRANT: But, they're gonna feed right here when the white oaks are dropping. Unequivocally. White oak is the number one food for deer. Not nutritionally – attractant. It’s their cocaine. They can't resist it.

AARON: Really?

GRANT: Yeah. They cannot resist it.

AARON: Wow.

GRANT: So, so those white oaks right there.

AARON: Ah huh.

GRANT: We haven’t seen hardly any on your property. But there’s one right – one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: Seven right here.

AARON: So, that’s kinda cool, they're not everywhere. They're in one spot.

GRANT: Yeah. That’s better. You don’t want ‘em everywhere. You, you don’t want ‘em everywhere. This is just like a feeder going off.

AARON: What time of year do the, the?

GRANT: October.

AARON: Interesting.

GRANT: And if you had a blind right back here…

AARON: Ah huh.

GRANT: …they’d never know you're in the world. Yeah.

GRANT: And don’t let the dozer guy scratch ‘em and don’t let any of ‘em drive under ‘em.

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: ‘Cause the weight of that dozer’s crushing the roots.

GRANT: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up. That’s classic back here. Back up, back up. I mean classic.

GRANT: This is multiflora rose. All right. This is, like, you know, think of something you do not want to eat. Look at all the browsing. See right here. Look at (Inaudible) this. This is fresh browse right here. See all this browse here?

AARON: Ah huh.

GRANT: When you’ve got deer eating – I mean you’d bleed to death if you tried to walk in there. You’ve got deer eating that.

AARON: They're starving.

GRANT: Well, they're hungry. They're really hungry.

AARON: Yeah.

GRANT: Man, if you guys could leave soybeans standing up here and then over-seed ‘em, you would own the deer in this neighborhood.

GRANT: On the second farm that day, it was ridge and valley habitat and I laid out several acres of food plots on the ridgetops that are currently timbered with low quality hardwoods.

GRANT: I like food plots on ridgetops because the wind is much more consistent there than in the valleys.

GRANT: Another advantage of food plots on ridgetops is that hunters can usually approach the food source without being seen by deer. Unless deer are on the ridgetop, the hill itself provides a visual obstruction between the deer and the hunter.

GRANT: You're gonna fight over this one.

GRANT: That – I just – that’s gonna be a deer killing stand right there.

MALE: All right. But you're basically – most days – unless, you know, something else is going on, you, you're wanting to be on this side of things.

GRANT: Yes. Yes.

MALE: That gives you all that; that gives you that.

GRANT: East is your best bet. We have the fewest east wind days.

GRANT: Many of the techniques we prescribed can be used on any property no matter the size. Once again, consider the resources in the neighborhood and make sure the most limited resource is on your property.

GRANT: Aww, I love that. I love that. If he can – gets a little limb trimming in there. I mean, just take you a pole saw and trim some limbs; you could gun hunt that during the rut ‘cause bucks are just gonna be cruising all over it.

GRANT: We’ll be sharing many of our management techniques in the upcoming weeks. If you’d like to follow along, you can simply follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

GRANT: You can tell by me wearing a down coat, it’s still a little nippy outside – at least here in the Midwest. But, wherever you are, I hope you get outside and enjoy Creation. But, more importantly, take time every day to slow down and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.