We recently toured a property in Kansas that was boarded by a gravel road. About eight years ago this landowner planted eastern red cedar as a visual screen between the road and the property.
Though slow growing, the cedars filled in and created a great screen. Cedars don’t offer critters quality habitat but can be used as a tool for landowners that need to keep others from seeing into their property.
We’re monitoring soil conditions daily/watching the weather and hope to be planting soon. We want to make sure the soil temperature is warm enough. Here we can get away with planting earlier when planting green; when we’re not using as much synthetic fertilizer or herbicides or other products. Here at The Proving Grounds we have a lot of soil life — earthworms and bacteria. And they’re activity and respiration warms up the soil.
Soil health can be extremely complicated. But we can break it down really simply. It’s important to always keep the soil covered. Bare soil, naked soil, can be eroded. It can get too hot or too cold and it doesn’t hold soil moisture.
There are benefits to having a living root in the soil as many days as possible. And that living root, again, is using the top of the plant – photosynthesis – to pump very valuable foods and other items into the soil for the soil biology. And in turn, the soil biology is making the plant healthier.
At least during a portion of the year, there should be a large variety of plants having different root sizes and depths and, really important, different leaf sizes and different leaf heights. This will serve to capture all that sun before it hits the ground.
That diversity of plants also has different root structures. Some of them will be very deep and strong which will break up hard pans and allow moisture to move up and down through the soil as needed.
Following some simple principles in your food plot can mean you’ll have way healthier soil, healthier plants, larger deer and attract more deer in front of your stand.
It all starts with the simple soil health principles. Now, can you do this with synthetic inputs? Yes, of course you can. But, there’s a cost to that.
Tillage always means erosion; synthetic inputs usually end up in somebody’s water system somewhere. Following the natural system I call “The Release Process” is the healthiest and, in the long run, the least expensive process.
Check out Green Cover Seeds for the food plot blends we will be using this year. We’ll be bringing you more videos this spring with details on how to establish the best food plots at lower cost and that are better for the soil, the environment, and the wildlife!
Daniel recently worked with a landowner over the phone to develop a habitat and hunting improvement plan. This 120 acres is primarily hardwood timber that was logged 10 years ago.
There is currently little food (the current food plots have been browsed lip high) and no quality cover on the property. However, Daniel laid out several larger food plots to provide deer with more quality food and strategically designed smaller plots to act as staging areas. This design created a lot of edge and MANY bottlenecks. Once implemented, this property will hunt much better!
Daniel also prescribed that the low quality hardwood trees be terminated to allow more sunlight to reach the ground and encourage native grasses and forbs- creating both quality cover and browse. During this consult, they discussed the steps of prescribed fire and how to not only convert the timber to quality habitat but maintain it.
We are very excited to hear updates from the landowner as he begins implementing the plan and enjoys great hunting opportunities!
A wildlife management consulting client recently asked: On the Food Plots that we are going to make in the timber, what would you do with the trees we remove? Would you make a pile in the plots and then burn them ?
My advice to him:
The best plan is to have the trees and stumps removed and burned in the center of the plot. It takes a few tries and stirring the pile to burn everything but the stumps. Then I have the stumps buried in the center of the plot. Pictured below are the remains of one of our burn piles after creating a new food plot where the stumps remain after the burn.
Many folks try to save a bit of expense and push the pile to the edge of the plot. The pile often becomes a coyote condo and predators are living within yards of where you wish deer to feed. For me, it’s much better to do it correctly the first time.
Recently I was asked how someone should go about deciding whether to log a property in order to finance the purchase but also in consideration of what’s best for wildlife.
The question of whether to log or not is a personal/financial question. There’s no doubt that most hardwood logging for maximum profit results in a high-graded property. Essentially, loggers take the best and leave the rest. This would include the best mast bearing trees and leaving the immature, poor formed trees.
To improve the habitat, it’s much better to leave the best trees (oaks will grow very old in a healthy environment) and terminate the wounded and undesirable trees. When the forest canopy is full and not much light is reaching the soil use of double girdling and/or hack n squirting to terminate the low quality trees. The residual trees will be more productive and way more native grasses and forbs will grow (if there isn’t invasive exotics that will fill the void – such as bush honeysuckle, etc.).
When deciding whether to log or not, check out the neighborhood, properties with improved habitat attract way more critters than surrounding properties.
These are tough choices to make and I hope the above information provides a good foundation for the decision process.
Recently someone asked me about the hazards or benefit of trying to supplement whitetail food sources in winter, such as rolled out round bails of grass hay or such. Winter can bring on some tough conditions for whitetails. It’s important to be cautious about altering a deer’s diet – especially overnight.
There are billions of microbes (bacteria) in a deer’s rumen (four chambered stomach) including thousands of species. Each species serves a role. Populations of these microbes increase and decrease as the deer’s diet changes.
This is perfect for wild deer as food sources almost always become available at a trickle and then ramp up. For example, consider a few acorns falling during the early fall, or a bit of clover or native vegetation greening up before most does.
This trickle-passed change allows microbe populations to increase or decrease based on the food to be digested.
There are documented cases where deer have been hungry for days or weeks, then fed hay (deer don’t eat grass, but will eat alfalfa, etc.). The deer consume the new food source – often eating 2-5% of their body weight, then return to cover and die with a full belly. They couldn’t digest the new food source as the needed microbe populations had decreased.
When possible, it’s always best to start any feeding program slowly. I wouldn’t start feeding now, unless it was certain the deer were going to starve to death. Then you save the ones that survive the massive diet change.
We were recently asked to age this buck when a viewer sent a picture. This buck appears to be a three year old deer.
The premolars (first three teeth) indicate the deer was 2 or older and the first molar (4th tooth) shows more dentine compared to enamel which indicates the buck is three years old. However, the second molar shows more enamel than dentine which indicates the deer isn’t yet 4. Based on the tooth wear and replacement technique, we estimate this deer was three years old.
If you are looking to age a deer by the jawbone, seek out a good biologist close to you that can provide an accurate estimate. Plus, there are gads of good illustrations and descriptions about how to age deer using their lower jaw online. One such source is the University of Missouri Extension.