Valuable Habitat Lessons For Deer Hunters (Episode 396 Transcript)

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

GRANT: Food plots are an important deer management tool throughout the whitetails’ range. And this spring, we’ve shared several techniques how to improve and/or protect the soil in a food plot.

GRANT: Nutrition, or the amount of quality forage per deer, and the average age a buck is harvested are the two factors I can practically manage here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: Lots and lots of research shows that bucks tend to grow larger antlers each year until they finally get over the hill – their teeth are wore out or get injured or something. So, allowing bucks to mature is a key to growing larger antlers.

GRANT: Another key, just as important, is nutrition. There is some areas where bucks tend to hit a glass ceiling or produce their largest set of antlers at two or three years of age. They're not genetically limited. They're limited on the amount of quality forage in that area.

GRANT: I’ve seen places in Florida or coastal states like South Carolina – especially within a few miles of the coast where it’s really sandy soil and very poor quality forage – and bucks tend to get their largest set of antlers at two or three and then stay the same throughout their life.

GRANT: However, the addition of quality food plots in these areas has shown tremendous increases in average antler size if we allow those bucks to mature.

GRANT: The same is true here at The Proving Grounds. I’m in Stone and Taney County, Missouri and very few bucks are tagged with large antlers. Even though this was one of the primary stocking areas for deer in northern Missouri – where they grow world class deer. The genetics are the same, but the groceries are much better where they grow lots of corn and soybeans in northern Missouri.

GRANT: Based on all this science, there’s no wonder I’m always trying to improve the amount of quality forage here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: Recently, I went out to one of our hardwood ridges here at The Proving Grounds and took the interns to get some work done and teach some valuable habitat lessons.

GRANT: The one thing a little different about here – like that tree right there is a very merchantable cedar tree.

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GRANT: Early Monday morning. Getting ready to start a new project and we’re at a little hidey hole food plot we call Prickly Pear. There’s actually some prickly pear cactus growing here. That’s how dry this ridge top is. Such a small plot that’s been great for shooting turkeys, strutting. We’ve shared several hunts here from past years. But deer tend to consume all the forage pretty quickly.

GRANT: This plot was actually what would be called a logging deck or a trash pile deck in the past when this road was built right here. We needed somewhere to put the logs from where we created the road and so we had a burn pile right here. And, of course, I was eager to plant anything I could here at The Proving Grounds, so we cleaned up the burn pile and made this plot years ago.

GRANT: As a result of our habitat management here at The Proving Grounds, our deer population has increased significantly and no longer can I keep quality vegetation in this small plot.

GRANT: We’ve met some local contractors who do great work at a reasonable price, so it’s a good opportunity for me to expand this plot and provide more quality forage in this part of The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: We’ve got Austin, Bo and Grant. Tyler, our other intern, is taking a little vacation. He’s down in the Gulf catching big fish. So, can you believe he’s missing ticks today and not here with us? I mean, that’s just not a commitment to wildlife. No, we hope he brings some back.

GRANT: But today, we’re gonna go through here. Probably end up walking this two or three times and figure out where the flat areas are. Are there any major oaks or trees we want to leave? Talked about the advantages and disadvantages of leaving and then just the techniques of marking.

GRANT: ‘Cause a lot of guys, you know, are going through the woods and they mark right here. But, a guy sitting on a dozer or a excavator, he’s sitting about this tall. And if he’s looking for flagging or marking down here and he’s pushing trees over, he may well miss them and you end up having a food plot that’s not shaped like you like. So, we’re gonna think about wind direction, approach, how to mark for the operator to see it best and how we get the final result we want.

GRANT: So our first step – when I’m creating a new stand or food plot, everyone thinks I’m looking at soil fertility and other things. I know I can improve that over time. My first thought is, “Can I approach, hunt and exit without alerting deer in the area?”

GRANT: I love developing plots on interior roads like this because we’ve got a road that’s basically east/west right here. So, depending on the wind direction, I can come from that way or that way, have stands at both ends and hunt this plot no matter what the wind conditions are.

GRANT: When you come to laying out a plot, you really need to know each tree. I know there’s a couple of big oaks we may want to save, although I hate driving a tractor around a tree. That could be like a feeder going off. Those oaks out in the open dropping acorns.

GRANT: So, what we want to do is walk the whole thing a time or two. See if there’s any gullies coming up that might make a pinch point; a big tree we want to save; rocky areas that are so rocky, we need to avoid – whatever it is – before we start marking trees. So, let’s just go to the far end of the plot. Learn it really well. Then we start putting some flags up.

GRANT: So one thing a little different about here, like that tree right there, is a very merchantable cedar tree. There’s three or four big cedars in there – make an additional profit.

GRANT: We’re just off the crest of the hill a little bit and as we look around, you can see there’s no browse – there’s almost no desirable species growing zero/three feet. And there’s way too many trees per acre. So, this area on a 1950-ish aerial photograph of this property was pasture. And at some point, the farmer gave up and just let it return to forest and you see all these junky species and they're way too thick. No sun reaching the forest floor. And there’s no chance of any of these trees, in our lifetimes, growing up and being a commercially viable tree.

GRANT: So, we have no wildlife food; no commercial forestry species really growing or prospering. So, removing these trees and making it a really high quality forage area is a better use. So, we’re gonna do a little disturbance to convert it into a better use of the property.

GRANT: But, if we get too far down and you're over here in a tree stand, you can't see over the top to see deer on the other side and you could sit here all afternoon and deer will be on the other side feeding out of view. And that kind of defeats the purpose of making a hunting plot – not the purpose of a feeding plot.

GRANT: So, we’ve got some choices to make. Do we go for more acres and feed more deer – realizing sometimes deer may be out of view? Or do we want to constrain it just enough that from anywhere in the plot, you can see a deer if it entered on the other side of the plot?

GRANT: Alright. Let’s have a little discussion about this. What do y'all think? Do we go for more food and decrease our ability to be a good predator here or do we shrink it a little bit and use it as a hunting plot, too? What’s your thoughts on this?

GASKILL: I’d shrink it a little bit and make it the – make it a hunting plot to where you can really see and capitalize on any opportunity that you might have for it while you're hunting.

GRANT: Okay. What’s your thoughts, Bo?

BO: I’d say the same thing. Marginally, if it would make that big a difference if you made – extended the plot to where you couldn’t hunt it.

GRANT: Austin?

AUSTIN: I would agree. I’d say just clearing this would im – improve the habitat quite a bit.

GRANT: No, no doubt. If we convert this into high-quality, young forage it will improve the habitat. So I think I’m gonna reserve my right to make that decision until we walk it, maybe even a time or two, and kind of get a better feel for it all.

GRANT: Creating a food plot is much more than finding a flat area and hanging a few flags and marking out the corners. I want to carefully think how I’m gonna approach, hunt and exit each plot. If I can't get to the plot without alerting deer, then building the plot may serve as a feeding area, but it won't serve as a hunting area.

GRANT: Reading the land has kind of defined a boundary of this plot. So, our first marking is gonna be here. And, again, it’s easy just to reach right here and mark, but a dozer guy sitting way up here and all these cedar limbs and what-not – he might not see here too easy. So, let’s put a mark about as high as you can reach – about right here.

GRANT: And what I do is go around a tree and then I leave two or three foot of flagging. That’s not wasteful ‘cause it will be blowing in the wind or whatever and he’ll see that much better. ‘Cause it’s much better to spend a little more on flagging than to come back and go, “Well, my tree stand tree is now in the logging pile over here.” Which I’ve seen happen many times, sadly enough. So, mark it good; leave me about two feet hanging right down here and we’ll keep on going.

GRANT: Another tip I’ve learned from a lot of years in the field is make sure you tie that flagging as high as you can reach. If you're tying it down here, you think about a guy sitting on a piece of equipment. He’s usually sitting several feet above that flagging and it’s tough for him to see. He’s looking through leaves and branches. Tie it as high as you can reach and you’ll be about eyeball high for guys on most pieces of equipment.

GRANT: Cruising down the side of this ridge, marking out the edge of a food plot and found an old tree stand. I mean old. Like 30 penny nails drove into the tree and ole tree stand hanging there, dilapidated. A couple reminders here that old tree stands usually are pretty good at marking where deer frequented. Now, there may have been a change of habitat – something changed – although, the woods are about the same age and everything’s the same here. So, I imagine there’s something in the topography that made deer walk right here that this hunter put up this stand.

GRANT: Tree stand accidents are the number one cause of death among hunters. So, this time of year a lot of us are going out and trimming tree stands or hanging tree stands for this fall. Remember to always wear the appropriate safety gear.

GRANT: I’ve got a safety harness on; I’m tethered to the tree. Tree stand safety is my number one objective. Because the biggest trophy we’re gonna take home this year is bringing ourselves home safe and returning to our family.

GRANT: Even though the area is relatively flat, it’s totally covered with timber – low grade timber, so there’s no commercial value to it. So, this is something where we’ve just got to bring in a crew and remove the trees and prepare it for a food plot. It’s not easy, but I’m getting desperate for the remaining few flat areas here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: I want to make my corner here; use it as a screen so the tree stands aren’t right – very visible to all the plot out there. And we double flag corners so the dozer guy knows no need looking for a flag back there. So, you know, put a flag here and drop down six inches, put another flag. And he knows that’s the corner of the plot. That’s the corner of where I’m gonna remove trees. I’ll take off this way.

GRANT: Through the years, I’ve learned to use blue flagging ‘cause nothing else in timber is blue. So, when you use blue flagging, it’s very obvious to the equipment operators.

GRANT: When you're seeing this much surface rock, once you pull these trees out of here, it’s gonna be even worse. So, man, when I’m seeing this amount of surface rock, there’s no way I want to bring the tractor and drill through here. Even though it’s flat enough, this is just not good conditions for a food plots.

GRANT: Walking the area this morning, it quickly became obvious some of the area that was flat enough to have a plot, was simply too bony or too rocky. It was full of rocks the size of a pie plate or larger and we were gonna tear up more equipment than it was worth trying to put a plot there.

GRANT: Now, it’s not like we just remove the top rock and there’s dirt underneath it. Here in the Ozarks when there’s rocks that big on the surface, they tend to get bigger right beneath it. There was just simply no need of putting a plot there.

GRANT: If you don't know this plant, I got big worries about you.

UNKNOWN: Poison ivy.

GRANT: That’s right. Poison ivy. Deer like poison ivy, but they like cat brier more. So, here, they're not touching poison ivy which shows us we’re above that rank – there’s some more poison ivy over there that’s not browsed. I see some more over here. But, cat brier is browsed.

GRANT: So, it’s kind of – you can read the forest and see where you are as far as how far down the browse preference deer have to go get enough food to eat.

GRANT: What is this species of tree right here?

GASKILL: Persimmon.

GRANT: Who said that?

GASKILL: Me.

GRANT: Alright. Persimmon. A really oblong leaf; real waxy looking; big, ob- oblong leaf. But the bark is real distinctive. Big chunky bark. Big chunky bark. What’s persimmon wood good for? I mean, persimmon is, you know, good for us to eat; good for deer to eat. But what’s persimmon wood good for? Pool cues. It tends to grow very straight; has a really tight grain and real heavy density. Pool cues are heavy for mass. When you hit the ball it. So, some of the finer pool cues in the world are made out of persimmon wood.

GRANT: Unlike when I’m marking timber for a timber harvest, I don’t use paint. It’s not because I don’t want to hunt it or see the paint or the deer are worried about paint. I often change my mind when I’m 20 or 30 yards up and look back. So, a better way to mark out food plots is use flagging.

GRANT: We’ve completed marking the area where we’re gonna expand the Prickly Pear food plot. Next, we’ll wait on David and Britton to get here with the equipment; start taking trees down and see how it shapes up.

GRANT: This time of year, I want to make sure all my trail cameras are out and in a good position because antlers are getting fairly large and fawns are following does. It’s a great time to monitor our deer herd.

GRANT: This time of year when deer are super attracted to high-quality growing forage, food plots can be the ideal place to locate a trail camera.

GRANT: This time of year I get super excited about using trail cameras and I want to see my doe to fawn ratio. Fawns should be up and moving around by now and, of course, how those antlers are developing.

GRANT: I just simply put a T-post out here in the middle of one of our plots. I’m just a few steps from my truck. And the reason is – deer are certainly using this area and I’m not lazy, but if I go a quarter mile back in the woods, I’m gonna be disturbing a lot of deer and conditioning them to avoid the area. So, I want to put my trail cameras where I’m doing the least amount of disturbance and I can have deer on a pattern come deer season.

GRANT: And it looks pretty easy, but I want to make sure I’ve got this pointed just right. I always want my trail camera pointed north. I want the sun never competing with the face of the trail camera so I’m not getting blurred out pictures or getting too much sun on the sensor. And I want to make sure I don’t have it too high or too low, but just right to pick up those fawns and antlers.

GRANT: Except for missing an elk or deer at about 20 yards, there’s not many feelings that make me feel like chucking more than coming back to my trail camera a week later and finding out I didn’t turn it on or didn’t have it pointed in the right direction.

GRANT: Just a couple of quick hints. I want as many daylight pictures as I can. So, you can tell I’m pretty close to the edge of the field. Deer are gonna travel right through here. I’m gonna find a trail or something where I know deer are approaching the field before it’s spread out; put my camera about ten yards off the edge; get ‘em moving through earlier than later, so I’ve got more light and the pictures extend further.

GRANT: We’ll be sharing some of the pictures and videos we get from this type of setup throughout the summer and encourage you to grab some of those trail cameras, get ‘em out of the closet; go ahead and get ‘em out in the woods so you can see what’s using your Proving Grounds.

GRANT: We’ve recently moved several of our trail cameras from what they were monitoring to food plot setups. We’ll be sharing pictures and video with you in the coming episodes.

GRANT: We’re in the field almost every single day working on habitat or getting ready for deer season. If you want to learn what we’re doing and maybe apply it to your hunting property, simply check us out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

GRANT: I really enjoy spending time in the timber or working around food plots. I love being outside. I love how that relates to the Creator. And I call it spending time in Creation. But, more importantly, I need to be quiet each day and listen to His will for my life. And the best way to do that is not only be quiet, but dive into His Word. That’s His message for how we should live our lives.

GRANT: Hey, join me this summer and spend some time with the Creator every day. Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.