The Impact of Ticks On Whitetails | New Food Plot Pointers (Episode 449 Transcript)

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

GRANT: Back there.

GRANT: Recently, Clay and the interns were out working and noticed a fawn in one of our food plots walking circles.

UNKNOWN: Oh my gosh.

GRANT: They went up to it and noticed its face was covered with ticks and both eyes appeared to be infected.

UNKNOWN: (Whispering) Dude, that’s bad.

GRANT: We shared a picture of this fawn on our Facebook page and it had a bunch of comments and shares. Such situations are difficult to see, but it’s a good reminder that life for a fawn is nothing like Walt Disney portrayed in Bambi.

GRANT: Many folks commented from throughout the whitetails’ range that they thought there were more ticks this year than during previous years. That matches my observations. I've had and seen more ticks this year at The Proving Grounds than any year I can recall.

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GRANT: Throughout the late spring and early summer, we’ve had a lot of trail camera pictures of deer with more ticks than normal for that time of year.

GRANT: Each summer, we do a few tests here to kind of monitor the tick populations at The Proving Grounds. During past years we've walked through bedding areas or areas with low, thick vegetation with white pants or a white painter suit on just to illustrate how many ticks are living in that habitat.

GRANT: We’ve always seen and collected several ticks, but we were curious how many we’d find this year.

GRANT: I’m right on the edge of one of our new food plots we started creating this spring. Before that, it was an old pasture that had been let go many, many years ago.

GRANT: This area was covered with saplings about two or three inches at the base and 10 to 12 feet tall. Been sitting like that forever. So, we simply come in with a big mower on the front of a skid steer, mowed her down, cleaned it up, let the weeds come up so we knew there would be a big weed population. We’re getting ready to terminate those weeds and plant a crop.

GRANT: Because this area went from closed canopy saplings – really low-quality habitat – to new growth, I’m sure a lot of deer have been using this area ‘cause it’s surrounded by mature forests.

GRANT: When a lot of deer use an area in the Ozarks, you can bet there’s gonna be a lot of ticks. Probably a good place to demonstrate just how many ticks there are in the Ozarks.

GRANT: So, I got a little volunteer today for our annual tick density check. Luke will be a senior at Virginia Tech in wildlife and has a strong interest in research related to deer. So, Luke, we’ve got you in the white painter’s suit. And I want you just to mosey through here like a deer browsing might be – just think about where deer would walk and kind of mosey through there. And we’re going to send you with some tape. And as a tick or two gets on ya, just take that tape and pat it and the back of it will stick to the tape so we can kind of count ‘em. And I’ll keep track; I’ll do the hard work. I’ll stand here in the shade and kind of keep track of how many minutes you wander around and then we’ll do a little count.

GRANT: Let’s say you're gonna wander for 15 minutes. It’s easy for a deer to browse through here for 15 minutes. That’s no big deal. So, we’ll have Luke kind of just wander through here for 15 minutes. And he’ll be collecting ticks along the way. And let’s see what we come up with.

GRANT: All right, Luke. I’m gonna use the ever-handy smartphone. I’m gonna put it on stopwatch and ready – you about ready to take off walking?

LUKE: Let’s do it.

GRANT: Here we go. We’re rolling. And you kind of – yeah, just kind of yell out and tell us, you know. Yah. You don’t have to get too excited here. Just be a deer browsing. Oh, I see a bunch of ticks on your back, buddy. Oh, that’s okay. They’ll work around the front.

LUKE: Uh-oh.

GRANT: Let’s see what you’ve got here. I don't know if I want to get out here or not. This isn't part of a professor’s job here, is it?

GRANT: Whoo. You might want to give me a little tape there, buddy. Give me another piece of tape. Ah. One, two. They're browsing; they're stopping in one place a little bit. They're taking a bite or two.

GRANT: When you see Luke’s hand moving, you know he’s grabbing a tick.

GRANT: I could get some off me, but that might mess up the results here and I haven’t went too far.

GRANT: There are not many advantages of being old, but one is you don’t have to be the apprentice anymore, folks.

GRANT: Three – whoo! Look at that. I’ve got one, two, three, four. We are three minutes and 50 seconds into this, and I’ve been, maybe, ten yards at the most. And I got a few of these off Luke. But I got 20 or so ticks on here on me standing right here. Let alone a deer foraging all through here.

GRANT: And you can tell Luke – he can't hardly walk around for getting all the ticks off of him. So, I think y'all are gonna be amazed at the actual count at the end of 15 minutes.

GRANT: All right. We’re at 15 minutes. Luke, bring it in, buddy. And we’re – give you a little check over once you get in here.

GRANT: We’re at 15. And I got a wad on me just stand – oh, my goodness. Yeah. Go ahead and clean those off for safety. I see some crawling up below there, too. On your other leg; I see several on your other leg.

GRANT: For safety reasons, we’ll go ahead. We’re not trying to fudge here, but. Gosh, there’s going to be five or six right there. Yeah. There’s a little one right about an inch above your boot here on the front. There you go.

GRANT: All right, Luke. Let’s look at your tape. And I can see it from here. We’re probably not gonna count that. Folks, we’ll get up – just to show you a close-up. We’re not gonna count that until we get back in the lab and can sort it out, but it is covered with ticks. Oh, my goodness.

GRANT: Imagine a fawn laying still and trying to hide in that type of vegetation for a couple weeks, let alone 15 minutes.

GRANT: Ticks can have a huge impact on the health of a deer herd. They can spread disease and, like we showed you on the fawn, probably kill a few deer each year.

GRANT: Research out of Texas has shown that if you remove most of the ticks and parasites off of a deer that’s pretty heavily infected, you’ll probably get about a 15% increase in antler size. That may not sound like much, but that takes a 100” deer to a 115” deer. Or a 150 to a 170+.

GRANT: Before you get all excited, please know it’s illegal anywhere to medicate wild, free-ranging deer. Let’s say you medicate a deer with a de-wormer or something like that and it gets across your property line and it’s harvested by someone else and they feed that meat to their family. The deer may have consumed that medicine and not had enough time for it to pass through its system.

GRANT: We took the ticks Luke and I had collected back to the office and started counting. My piece of tape had 46 ticks. 46 and I didn’t move ten yards in short vegetation.

GRANT: Luke’s piece of tape had 158 ticks and he didn’t get ‘em all. While he’d be patting here, he may brush some off as he’s walking through the brush.

GRANT: There are 96 15-minute blocks in 24 hours. If you multiply that out by two weeks or about the amount of time newborn fawns tend to lay and hide more than they're up and moving around – they're just a tick magnet laying there. Well, it’s easy to see a fawn could have more than 200,000 ticks on it even in this habitat.

GRANT: When dry ice evaporates, it puts off carbon dioxide gas. The same stuff we exhale. That gas is what attracts ticks. That gas lets them know there’s a host or a blood meal close by.

GRANT: Luke first went to about a 26-acre area that we’ve burned several times in the past 15 years, including this spring. The area is composed of native grasses and forbs – a really good feeding and bedding area.

GRANT: Luke put a piece of white material on the ground; put a plastic container down and put the dry ice in the container.

GRANT: Within 12 minutes, the first tick appeared.

GRANT: After that, I think that scout used his cell phone because lots of ticks started coming in for what they thought was a blood meal.

GRANT: Luke also set up another tick trap in a wooded area with a thick leaf mat.

GRANT: After three hours, Luke picked up the traps, cameras and ticks; brought it back to the office so we could see what happened.

GRANT: Ticks don’t drink. They absorb moisture. So, they tend to hang in areas that are retaining more moisture.

GRANT: A closed canopy forest with thick leaf litter tends to retain more moisture, or have a higher humidity level, than out in the open where the sun is shining.

GRANT: When the count was over, there were a whopping 243 ticks collected in the timber site and only 63 in the bedding area.

GRANT: Imagine being a deer wanting to bed on a cool, north slope during the day under a closed canopy forest. Within minutes, there would be ticks on, and more coming to, that deer.

GRANT: Ticks are a parasite and they need a blood meal to survive.

GRANT: As they're extracting blood from their host, they can pass diseases that they carry to that host. There are many tick-borne diseases. I have personally had Rocky Mountain and ehrlichiosis. There is also Lyme disease, STARI and other nasty things that really have a negative impact on humans.

GRANT: We’re not sharing this to scare you, but to educate you. And before you go outside this summer, make sure if you're going anywhere where there’s a bunch of leaves or tall vegetation to be prepared for ticks.

GRANT: We work outside every day. How do we survive this many ticks? Pretty simple. We treat our clothes with a product that has permethrin in it.

GRANT: Permethrin is a great tick repellant. But, it’s not sprayed on like “Off” or something like that. You want to treat your clothes and let it dry on there. It will bond to the fabric and then repel the ticks.

GRANT: Permethrin is great because it will stay on your clothing for several washes. You don’t have to do it every day.

GRANT: Even with these precautions, we all check for ticks every day when we shower up that evening.

GRANT: Don’t be afraid to go outside this summer. Just use the same precautions we do and check for ticks when you come in.

GRANT: Even though it’s been really dry here at The Proving Grounds this summer, some of our food plots are doing really well.

GRANT: Soybeans look great and are providing quality forage for deer and other critters. Even though these beans are getting browsed, they’re still growing and putting off new leaves because Eagle’s forage soybeans are an indeterminate variety.

GRANT: Indeterminate simply means the genetics in that bean will grow, grow, grow – probably until it frosts. Soybeans are indeterminate or determinate. Most other varieties of soybeans are determinate, which simply means they grow, mature all at the same time. You could plant ‘em at a certain date and they might ripen long before the first frost.

GRANT: Determinate varieties of soybeans are not near as browse resistant. That means a deer bites the top out of it, it may give it up and die; versus an indeterminate that will probably stick off a couple of side shoots and keep on growing.

GRANT: Soybeans are my primary summer crop, but some of us have small, little hidey hole or hunting food plots where beans will just be damaged by the amount of deer using that small area.

GRANT: For those plots, I’ve been working with Eagle Seed and experimenting with some different blends that include soybeans to see if we can find the right blend that will work in those small plots.

GRANT: We’re in a food plot we call Big Foot and this plot was cedars and grass about a year ago. We took the cedars and locusts and grass out last year and planted a summer blend that grew big and produced a lot of organic matter.

GRANT: Some of that organic matter is still on the soil keeping weeds at bay and holding moisture in.

GRANT: During late August or so, we drilled right through that summer crop and put in the fall Buffalo Blend. It’s in an area of a lot of deer use and the Buffalo Blend had a lot of browse.

GRANT: So, this spring, we had to spray it once because there wasn’t enough organic matter to suppress all the weeds.

GRANT: After we cleaned up the weeds, we planted Eagle’s Bean Summer Buffalo Blend. That means it’s primarily their forage soybeans, but has a couple of other species for diversity.

GRANT: Diversity is not only different species for deer to eat on, but different plants extracting different nutrients out of the soil and different plant heights that capture all the sun. The vast majority is the forage soybeans. And deer are browsing on ‘em pretty hard. That’s what we plant them for.

GRANT: I’m seeing a lot of browse pressure and we could be going into a dry period. And we know this is a hot spot based on Daniel’s hunts so we’re probably gonna come in here in the next day or two, put up a Hot Zone fence and save some of this forage for the deer season.

GRANT: We’re not gonna exclude the whole plot. We’ll still have plenty of food for deer. Just allow some of it to mature to have soybean grain during that late season because deer like nothing better than soybean pods on a cold winter day.

GRANT: Throughout the entire plot, we’ll come in and drill Eagle’s Fall Buffalo Blend and probably broadcast it inside the Hot Zone fence.

GRANT: I particularly want to share about this plot because it’s brand new. It was nothing but fescue, cedar trees and locust trees a year ago. We get emails almost every day from folks creating new plots.

GRANT: So, we want to take you through our process. We had a herbicide application when we started – basically, to kill all the fescue. We had another one this spring because for years and years and years – decades – this had been an old field – cedars encroaching – and a huge weed seed base.

GRANT: It’s not realistic to think you can go from weeds or undesirable plants for decades to a clean field in one year. But, as we continue building mulch and covering the soil with armor – or mulch – and covering up that weed seed base and only putting our seeds in with the no-till drill – we’ll get on top of all the weeds. It’s pretty weed free right now.

GRANT: It may require one or two more herbicide applications until we build up enough mulch layer to suppress the weeds.

GRANT: As I continue to learn, I’m more and more excited about some vertical diversity. My permanent crop is always gonna be forage soybeans. That’s what drives the deer herd.

GRANT: But getting a little bit underneath it to capture any sun going through there or just a little bit over the top of the beans to capture that sun, that adds more tons per acre.

GRANT: I’m very thankful for Joyce and Brad at Eagle Seed for sharing their expertise and helping me work on these blends to help us all produce better food plot crops.

GRANT: Don’t let the ticks keep you in. I hope you get outside and enjoy Creation this summer. But most importantly, take time every day to slow down and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.

GRANT: If you want to stay current on the experiments and projects we have going on here at The Proving Grounds, simply subscribe to the GrowingDeer newsletter.