Here at The Proving Grounds we keep our Reconyx trail cameras out year round. We just love seeing critters! If you don’t keep you trail cameras out during the entire off season – now is the time to get them into the woods. This time of the year is perfect for scouting and capturing developing velvet antlers!
Many bucks have enough growth that they are now able to be identified by unique antler characteristics. Plus, many fawns are on the ground and it is a great way to monitor recruitment numbers.
Here are five great locations to put your trail cameras:
- Over mineral sites (in areas where this is legal).
- On active trails.
- Make sure to place your trail camera perpendicular to trails so you can get a broadside picture to estimate age.
- On/in bottlenecks – natural (edge habitat) or manmade.
- The corners of Hot Zone fences make great bottlenecks for deer to hug the corner/edge of the fence.
- If in drought conditions, water can be a hot attraction.
To make sure you get the most out of your trail cameras, follow these tips:
- Place cameras in low disturbance areas: on the edge of interior roads or food plots etc. (Easy in and out.)
- Use scent control practices when checking cameras. Our team reduces our scent by using D/Code field spray and wearing rubber-bottomed LaCrosse boots.
- Realize that the activity captured now may not reflect fall activity.
- Food sources will change during hunting season.
- Bucks will likely shift within their home range after summer.
It won’t be long before we begin developing this season’s hit list. As always, we’ll be sharing the Reconyx pictures as the velvet antlers start to harden. As you get trail camera pictures, we hope that you will share them with us on social media: Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Watching for velvet antlers and enjoying Creation,
Recently, while cutting cedars in a bedding area, Skyler Partain, one of our summer interns, found a fawn nestled in the native vegetation. Not only was it a neat encounter for Skyler, but it was a reminder of the benefits of improving habitat.
The area where Skyler and the rest of the crew were cutting was a bedding area that was once covered in cedars. Many years ago, we felled the cedars, waited several years until the cedars were dry, and used prescribed fire to stimulate native grasses and forbs. With the cedar canopy removed, native grasses and forbs began to grow. Seeds of these native species were in the soil and their populations exploded once released!
The diverse native grasses and forbs now provide high-quality forage for deer of all ages and ideal fawning habitat. Fawns are now effectively able to hide from hungry predators, such as coyotes. Before, the “best” cover was cedar and mature hardwoods. Much of the ground was bare under the cedar canopy which made it an easy place for predators to find fawns and poults.
A little chainsaw work resulted in substantially improved cover for deer, both adults and fawns. We continue to maintain these native vegetation areas with prescribed fire and occasionally use chainsaws to remove encroaching cedars. The benefits speak for themselves. We now see lots of fawns and enjoy many encounters with deer throughout the entire year!
I hope you are able to get out this summer and improve the habitat where you hunt. You’ll be glad you did!
Each spring, when the strutters begin their dance and gobbles echo through the hollers, we get excited because we know turkey season is just around the corner! However, the number of turkeys there are to chase is influenced by many factors. As wildlife managers there are several things that we can do to help encourage healthy populations. There are also factors that are beyond our control.
Each winter we use Duke cage traps to remove 50+ raccoons and opossums which are notorious turkey nest predators. By reducing the number of hungry predators, turkey eggs have a better chance to hatch and mature if the conditions are favorable.
Another way we help encourage a successful hatch is by providing high quality habitat. We use prescribed fire during the late winter months to create ideal nesting habitat for the spring.
The results following the prescribed fire are incredible! Native grasses and forbs are great for nesting and brood habitat. Hens can raise their heads above the vegetation and look for predators. This type of habitat is also a great bugging area for hens, so they can feed and nest in the same area.
With fewer predators in the area and quality habitat, hens and poults have the ability to express their potential.
However, rain is often an influencer of turkey numbers. Timely spring rains can destroy turkey nests or result in the death of young poults.
This spring we had several heavy rains during prime nesting season. We suspect that many nests were destroyed. We have not seen many poults and are now seeing another spike in turkey breeding behavior. Hens are likely re-nesting which will result in a later hatch.
We can’t control all the factors, but as managers we can do our part to encourage healthy populations so there are plenty of longbeards to chase each spring!
Dreaming of future turkey hunts,
For years I’ve used Hot Zone fences to protect some soybeans from being browsed during the growing season. I’m commonly asked, “Why do you plant a food plot only to use a Hot Zone fence to exclude deer?”
The answer is simple: I wish to allow some beans to express their full potential and make as many pods as possible. Beans that are browsed throughout the growing season won’t make as many pods as they could.
Eagle Seed soybean pods are very attractive to deer, especially during the late season when it’s cold. Some food plots are small enough that deer will likely browse every plant during the growing season.
Just excluding deer isn’t the best strategy. With some planning based on the following questions, a hot spot can be created:
• Can the area be approached, hunted, and exited without alerting deer?
• Would it be better to remove the entire exclosure or just one side to create a bottleneck?
By protecting all or a portion of the soybeans in a plot they will make as many pods as the conditions allow. Then create a gap in the fence or take it down when it’s time to hunt.
Here are some tips for using a Hot Zone:
• Always keep the fence charged! Deer will lose fear of a fence that doesn’t have a charge.
• Weed eat or terminate any vegetation touching the fence to reduce the chances of a short and draining the battery.
The Hot Zone allows hunters anywhere to have the fun and success common to those hunting in ag production by protecting soybeans even in a small plot. It also allows hunters in ag production areas to have standing beans to hunt after the commercial crops have been harvested!
The daytime temperatures are forecast to be in the 90s much of next week at The Proving Grounds. These high temperatures are tough on critters.
The problems deer experience during warm temperature are compounded when forage is also stressed. The weather can’t be controlled but we can reduce the impacts of stress to forage caused by heat.
Most forage varieties can thrive in high heat if there’s adequate soil moisture. It’s not practical to irrigate most food plots. However, it is possible to manage food plots in a way to conserve the available soil moisture.
Soil moisture is primarily lost through evaporation and plants lose moisture through transpiration (loss of moisture through pores). Researchers have studied the impacts of heat on soil moisture loss and the numbers are enlightening. The following data is from the NRCS publication at this LINK.
They reported the following for surface soil temperatures:
- At 70 degrees soil temperature, 100 percent of the soil moisture is used for plant growth.
- At 86 degrees, soil microbial activity begins to decline.
- From 95 to 113 degrees, 15 percent of soil moisture is used for plant growth and 85 percent for ET.
- At 113 degrees, soil bacteria start to die.
- At 130 degrees, 100 percent of soil moisture is lost through ET.
- At 140 degrees soil bacteria, the genesis of the soil biology, die.
What’s an easy way to reduce surface temperatures of soil exposed to the sun? Add shade! That’s exactly what we’re doing when we use the Goliath Crimper to terminate crops. The crimped vegetation becomes mulch that shades and reduces the soil’s surface temperature!
You’ve probably raked back some mulch in a garden or a wad of leaves, etc., and noticed there was more moisture there than in soil that was exposed to the sun.
Ensuring the soil is always covered conserves moisture and reduces stress on forage. This results in healthier deer and larger antlers. This is another reason the Buffalo System of forage management produces better crops and cost less than conventional till and bare the soil practices.
I encourage you to consider the benefits of the “Buffalo System”. I’ll be sharing more food plot strategies and techniques in future videos and blogs.
Growing deer, food plots and enjoying Creation,
Implementing the Buffalo System in food plots allows several natural processes to literally create high-quality soil. One of the most important and productive processes is when the crimped forage decays providing food for earthworms. The more worms in the soil, the quicker the soil is built. Worms not only make soil – they are much better at tilling soil than any mechanical device.
Research indicates that worms “can eat their weight in dirt each day. One acre of soil may contain up to one million worms. Those worms can produce around 700 pounds of castings each day. The castings contain nitrogen and other nutrients essential for plant growth. Worm compost improves soil structure and drainage while increasing nutrients.” Worms also till the soil by mixing layers and creating tunnels, helping air and water reach plant roots.
Think on that fact: 700 pounds of castings a day! That’s a valuable addition on many levels! A 5-pound bag of worm castings at a garden center can cost well over $10! Being a worm farmer is financially rewarding! The presence of earthworms are extremely valuable to food plot farmers!
In some respects, establishing food plots using the Buffalo System means that I am now a worm farmer. Monitoring worm populations (see 16:08 in this video) will be an important indicator of how well the soils are developing at The Proving Grounds.
GrowingDeer, food plots, and worms, and enjoying Creation,
Years ago the great prairie was always covered with vegetation. The forage there grew as many days throughout the year as possible. In this environment there grew a variety of plants.
Buffalo roamed the prairie. Their herd movements along with wildfire served the regenerative process to build those great soils.
As the North American continent was settled, farmers used European farming methods which included plowing the soil. This practice resulted in soil erosion and compaction. Soil compaction prevents the soil from absorbing water which results in run off and more soil erosion. In addition to inches (or feet in some areas) of soil being lost, so were important nutrients. Farmers developed sophisticated equipment and fertilizers in an effort to compensate for the soil quality reductions caused by these practices.
The Buffalo System is an improved practice that seeks to replicate the natural cycles of the great prairie. I’ve been using them here on The Proving Grounds with a resulting increase in soil fertility and soil actually created.
I am a strong advocate for this system of food plot management as the benefits for soil conservation, animal health, and the overall environment are tremendous.
I’ve used a variety of planting methods for food plots over the years. Food plots are a key tool for improving whitetail nutrition and hunting opportunities. GrowingDeer was founded to provide hunters information so that they can have better hunting, bigger antlers. The “Buffalo System” is among, if not the, best technique I’ve found so far to produce better food plots and benefit the soil.
Next week I’ll share another benefit of this improved method for planting and maintaining food plots.
GrowingDeer, food plots and enjoying Creation,
Food plot establishment and management techniques and the seed varieties have improved significantly during the past 25+ years. In 1995 Tracy and I visited New Zealand to learn about the forage varieties they grew to enhance antler growth in the red deer raised for meat and velvet antlers. From that visit, we brought back information that transformed the way I approached food plots and forage for whitetails.
On my hunting property (which I refer to as The Proving Grounds) I’ve researched, tested and implemented food plot practices and seed blends that maximize the quantity of quality forage. If these seed blends and rotations work here they will work on any property in the whitetails’ range. I’ve found a partner in Eagle Seed that combines my research and their expertise to get quality seed and seed blends with the right ratio of forage blends so that food plots are easily successful for food plot farmers.
I use Eagle Seed’s fall blend. This blend serves as a time released food plot throughout the hunting season with some varieties growing and being more attractive during the early, mid, and late season. The blend produces an attractive food source throughout the entire fall. It’s the backbone of our hunting sites and providing the herd quality forage throughout the fall and winter.
I’ve used Eagle Seed forage soybeans for many years. Eagle Seed forage soybeans provide the most quality forage for the longest time of any crop I’ve tested. Several universities have also published on the amount of quality forage these soybeans produce! Deer forage on the Eagle Seed forage soybeans green leaves then the standing grain after frost. Young soybeans are one of the most attractive plants to deer. In areas with a high deer population or in small food plots it can be difficult to maintain a healthy stand of soybeans due to heavy browse pressure. This problem can be solved with trigger finger management (reducing the number of deer) or using a small electric fence and protecting the young soybeans
Poor soil quality can limit forage growth and make it taste bitter. Building a good layer of soil over time can do wonders for food plots. Due to past forest and land practices, there was not a good layer of soil at The Proving Grounds when Tracy and I purchased it. Through the years I’ve learned techniques we call the Buffalo System to improve the soil and forage quality. This soil quality improvement system is less expensive and requires less time than the traditional lime, fertilizer, till and plant system. I’ll be sharing more on the Buffalo System throughout videos coming soon.
Regardless of where you hunt, you should focus on getting deer the nutrients that they need to grow healthy and strong. You can create the opportunity for a memorable hunting season next fall by maintaining great food plots during the coming year. If you’re new to food plots, click HERE to see videos showing the details of our food plots programs over the years or use the search function on this website to learn about a specific technique or food plot crop.
Growing food plots and enjoying Creation,