Native browse is extremely nutritious! We noticed an area where deer were hammering the giant ragweed. We collected a ragweed sample and had Waters Ag (same lab we use for soil samples) analyze the nutrient quality. Check out the results. This is one reason we work to improve native habitat! (page down to see the nutritional analysis)
Daniel recently toured and designed a habitat improvement and hunting plan for a 180-acre property in southern Missouri. The timber on this property had been harvested during the mid-90’s. The result of this harvest was a closed canopy forest containing low quality trees.
The timber stand offered no quality food or cover for wildlife. There were several stands of cedars that also created a close canopy. Daniel recommended using a chainsaw to fell all the cedars and use hack and squirt to terminate the hardwoods to open up the canopy. The landowner will leave a quality hardwood tree every 50 yards or so but terminate the rest. This will create a great savanna habitat of scattered trees and vegetation growing below. With sunlight reaching the ground and management through prescribed fire, native grasses and forbs will flourish, providing great cover and browse.
There were also several large hay fields. These fields could easily be converted to food plots and provide deer quality food and create incredible hunting opportunities. Daniel recommended that the landowner begin implementing principles from the Buffalo System to improve the soil and provide deer forage throughout the entire year.
After touring the property (see Daniel’s Tracks from OnX), Daniel drew up a plan that increased quality food, provided quality cover, and great hunting locations. In an area that is mostly cattle pasture and low-quality timber, these improvements will make this property one of the most desirable to deer as they seek quality food and cover. We look forward to updates from the landowner and hearing about his hunting seasons!
Prescribed fire can be a great management tool! Here, you can see three bedding areas with the date they were last burned.
Burning during the dormant season (late winter) tends to promote native forbs. Burning during the growing season (summer) favors native grasses.
By rotating the use of prescribed fire during different times of the year (growing season/dormant season) it creates a mosaic of habitat types.
The fires from August 2019 and February 2020 are currently growing rapidly! They are providing quality native browse. In a few months these areas will provide quality nesting and fawning habitat. The area burned during 2017 is providing great cover for critters now- should they seek this type of cover.
This diversity habitat of food plots, native food and cover located in close proximity is extremely productive for wildlife year round!
I received the question below from fellow hunter:
“I was recently helping with a prescribed fire in central Iowa when we ran into an area of saplings encroaching an old grass land. I see you have recommended both cutting at ground level and spraying, as well as hack and squirt, then burn. The area is 15 acres of old CRP but over half is overrun with 10-15’ tall growth. We hope to convert most back to native grass and a few acres for food plots. Is there a reason for one method more than the other? Is there ever a time to mechanically cut all the brush at ground level and maintain with annual burns?”
I gave him the following advice:
It sounds like you are doing some nice habitat improvement work. If the area where saplings have encroached is to remain in native grass/cover then there is no need to expend the resources to cut the trees assuming they aren’t cedars. The easiest way to control eastern red cedar is to cut them below the bottom limb.
Hardwood species almost always sprout after being cut. They can be cut and then an herbicide applied to the stump within five minutes of felling the tree. This requires lots of time and resources. I prefer to use the hack and squirt method. This is a much safer, faster, and less expensive method of controlling hardwoods and allows the sun’s energy to reach the soil.
There’s some excellent information at this link about which herbicide to use and time of year for different species. Please note that the best results when using the hack and squirt technique almost always occurs when it’s used during the late summer. I don’t recommend using this technique when sap is rising.
A regular rotation of prescribed fire, especially during the growing season, will keep hardwood seedlings from becoming established.
The GrowingDeer Team has been busy improving habitat! Fire conditions were favorable to burn several bedding areas, improving the quality of fawning and nesting habitat at The Proving Grounds. Between fires, we’ve had the opportunity to travel to Arkansas and Tennessee to help landowners improve the habitat and hunting on their properties! See what techniques we are using to improve wildlife habitat!
Soil tests are a fabulous tool to make sure your deer herd has quality nutrition available. Remember, if it’s not in the dirt, it can’t get to the deer. Find out more about why we take soil samples.
Take a kid hunting…and remember the special moments like the ones here!
Tip of the Week:
A Fourth Arrow Pillar and Rex Arm can be a great tool for reducing space inside the blind while filming your turkey hunt!
For 15 years we’ve worked to improve the habitat and nutrition for white-tailed deer at The Proving Grounds. We named the farm The Proving Grounds because this may be one of the hardest places in North America to hunt and “grow” mature whitetails. We thought that if the tools, practices and strategies we use here for growing and hunting whitetails succeed, they can work anywhere there are white-tailed deer.
We’ve had proven success with getting scrawny Ozark deer to grow antlers and increase body weights that are above average in our area. These increases are simply a bi-product of healthy deer. By improving the native browse and adding high quality forage through food plots, we have enjoyed great hunting opportunities.
However, if the right quantity of nutrients isn’t in the dirt, the plants have no available nutrients to transfer to deer. Simply put, if deer don’t consume food produced from good dirt, they can’t reach their full potential.
Given this very simple, but important fact, if you’re planting food plots it is of great benefit to collect soil samples each year. The price of having a soil sample analyzed is one of the least expensive and most important tools I use as a deer manager.
The results of a soil sample include the soil’s pH, the amount of phosphorous, potassium and several other trace minerals (depending on the analysis requested). This information is then used to determine how much lime and fertilizer is needed to produce a quality crop based on the forage you wish to grow.
To get high quality forage and therefore give the deer a better opportunity to express their full potential, it’s critical to apply the appropriate quantity and quality of each element required for each crop. Make sure you note on the form submitted for each soil test, the exact crop or blend of crops to be grown in that plot. If you don’t, the lab will either not provide any recommendations or provide a generic recommendation. Omitting the specific crop that will be planted usually results in producing crops that aren’t as palatable or nutritious for deer.
I just received the soil test results from Waters Agricultural Laboratories for every food plot at The Proving Grounds. The soil management practices, cover crops and crop rotations used on those plots that have been established for several years indicate that the soil has significantly benefited from those practices. In fact, I have not had to put any fertilizer on my plots in four years because nutrients are held and recycled! Soil tests are a fabulous tool to make sure that your deer herd has quality nutrition available. Remember, if it’s not in the dirt, it can’t get to the deer.
Growing Deer together,
Not all hunting and habitat management plans are developed in the field or the office! Watch as Daniel and Grant visit with landowners about wildlife management at the Bass Pro Fall Classic – in store! Then on to the bow range where they share tips to prepare for opening day of bow season. Also, with rain in the forecast, watch for an easy, quick way to plant a small food plot.
Where do you aim when bow hunting? Find out why Grant aims at the lower third!
New Weekly Blog:
Internships are a great way to gain experience in the wildlife field. Meet the two new interns at The Proving Grounds in this week’s blog!
Tip of the Week:
Checking cameras in the field can be a great way to save time and check the aim of the camera.
Aging bucks during most hunting situations can be tough! That’s why we’re starting now. As Grant goes through our Reconyx images he shares tips on how to determine a buck’s age by physical characteristics. Some of these bucks are going on our 2017 hit list! Plus, Grant shares lots of habitat management tips for hunting land.
As we prepare for deer season, we remember one of our favorite hunts from last season! It was November 4th and mature bucks were on their feet!
New Weekly Blog:
Hunting the wind correctly can be a hunter’s primary strategy for successfully harvesting deer, especially mature bucks! Find out how to hunt the wind and get a leg up for hunting this fall!
Tip of the Week:
Treestand safety applies to hunting, hanging and trimming stands! You should always be attached to a safety line or tied to the tree. If you are working in the tree while your buddies are on the ground, make sure they are aware and out of the way, in case something falls.
Improving the odds for nutritious, native vegetation can pay big benefits for the overall health and antler size for the deer herd on your property. Watch as Grant shares the results of a recent timber stand improvement test and how his findings are helping him encourage native grasses and forbs. Plus, see how we are perfecting our shooting form for opening day!
Watch this recap of when Pro Staffer Heath Martin punched a 2016 tag in Kansas!
New Weekly Blog:
Predators can have a huge impact on deer numbers! Find out why wildlife managers need to help balance predators and remove them when given the chance!
Tip of the Week:
While hanging stands, always wear a safety harness and be tied to the tree before leaving the ground.
Successful deer management to grow and hunt bucks in a free-range environment has taken a new twist over the last 10 years. Just following the play book for passing bucks and providing quality food, cover, and water may not yield the results you desire. Something has changed throughout much of the range of the white-tailed deer.
It’s the number of predators. When I was a boy during the 1960s and 70s, coyotes were shot on sight by farmers (almost every farmer I knew always had a rifle in his truck). Raccoon pelts were bringing $50 and anyone I knew that was any kind of hunter or outdoorsmen trapped and/or hunted raccoons as a source of additional income. Chicken hawks (any large hawk was called a chicken hawk) were also shot on sight. These actions didn’t cause any of these predators to go extinct.
In college I was taught to feel sorry for predators. My “book learning” taught the theory that predators were almost never an issue with game species. That might have been true then (although I had a hard time buying into the theory). I was also taught in college that all natural systems are very dynamic – always changing (I certainly have experienced and agree with that!).
Whatever the theories and realities were, the current impact of predators on deer, turkey, quail and other game species are real and measurable! I had a graduate student ten years ago study the impacts of coyote and bobcats on fawn recruitment (fawns surviving until hunting season) on a private property in northern Alabama. Briefly summarized, the results were stunning! He monitored fawn recruitment during year one, then had a trapper remove many coyotes and bobcats from the 2,000 acre property during the following fawning season. During the second fawning season there was a 150+% increase in fawns at the same property as a result of removing 20+ coyotes and 10 bobcats! It appeared the turkey and rabbit population also exploded!
Since that time, much more research has been conducted that supports predators are changing the dynamics of managing deer. Several of the researchers reported results of fawn mortality documented by the use of vaginal transmitters (VITS). This technology allowed researchers to capture does and insert a transmitter in their vagina. The VIT is pushed out of the birth canal when the fawn is born and alerts the researchers by changing the frequency/tone of signal. Researchers can often find the birth site and/or fawn within four hours or less after birth.
Dr. John Kilgo, a talented researcher for the Forest Service, has years of such data. He and his staff have documented that in recent years, 70% of the fawns were killed by predators at their research site (a 300 square mile area in South Carolina) during the first few months after birth! 62% of the total mortality was due to coyotes!! This is not a guess or a theory. At this level of predation, even without any hunting mortality, deer populations will decrease in number and quality (more on the stress of predation next week).
John and his staff swabed the kill site and used advanced techniques with genetic testing to confirm if the killer was a coyote, bobcat, domestic dog, etc. Using this technology, they can tell if it was a male or female predator and if it was the same predator that killed a fawn ¼ mile or 10 miles way. John’s research is fascinating!
He ended his abstract by stating “I predict that this pressure (coyotes) will require significant changes in how deer populations are managed in the Southeast in the future, because coyotes are here to stay.”
I agree with John, but know from my student’s work and my experience, that coyotes can be trapped and their impact on deer populations reduced. Trapping and calling coyotes are fun activities (GDTV 119). However, it requires time and effort. There is no easy method to significantly reduce coyote populations. Some managers will simply let their deer herds be significantly reduced by coyotes. I, and hopefully many others, will not sit by and watch deer populations be reduced significantly by predators. I will actively call and trap coyotes to keep their population in check so deer, turkey, and other game species can maintain a healthy population.
I enjoy hearing a coyote howl. However, I enjoy seeing and interacting with deer and turkeys more. When push comes to shove, I’ll be the deer’s best friend and the coyote’s worst enemy. How about you? Will you sit by and watch America’s favorite game species be reduced to the occasional rare sighting? Or will you join me in protecting the future of hunting?
The damage by coyotes and other predators to deer and other game species is not just direct mortality. Predators also can cause much stress to game species! Next week I’ll share strategies deer hunters/managers can use to fight this change and improve the odds of growing mature bucks on their hunting grounds. While you’re waiting on that blog to come out, watch some of the coyote action caught on video by our Reconyx trail cameras here.
Growing (and protecting) Deer together,