Last January, we toured Chad’s 80 acres and developed a habitat and hunting improvement plan. Chad’s place used to be used as a cattle and hog farm and the neighboring properties are still primarily cattle pasture and small wood lots. He began implementing the timber stand improvement projects, used prescribed fire and added food plots.
The property is already more attractive than most of the neighboring properties and he’s seeing more deer. The habitat plan we designed for him has almost endless opportunities for stand and blind placement. And that’s because there’s a huge amount of edge – food/cover/edge, food/cover/edge, food/cover/edge. So, no matter the wind direction, there’s going to be an ideal place for Chad and his family to hunt. In fact, Chad recently harvested a great buck.
Congratulations Chad on your habitat improvement project and a nice set of antlers!
Native habitat makes us smile! Years ago this area was covered with eastern red cedar and offering no benefit to wildlife. After removing the cedars and using prescribed fire, the native habitat released its potential! Now there is a diversity of grasses and wildflowers, which are not only beautiful to look at but many species offer critters great cover and quality browse this time of the year. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at the wildflowers and native browse that have been restored on our hunting property, watch this video.
Much of the poorest quality habitat here at The Proving Grounds was covered with eastern red cedar. Those cedars were allowed to take over areas that used to be open due to overgrazing and suppression of all fire.
However, there was a great native seed source. We simply cut and felled the cedars, allowed them to dry for two to three years, then burned them where they fell. A fabulous composition of native warm season grasses and forbs recolonized the area.
After the fire, the areas responded quickly, and in some areas — counting the rings on the cedars — that native vegetation seed had laid dormant in the soil for 75 or more years.
The state botanist helped us to identify over 176 species of native warm season grasses and forbs. The only maintenance I’ve done on those sites since the original fire has been additional prescribed fires on a three to five year rotation.
If you take degraded habitat – unless it’s been intensely plowed and that seed bank really messed with – if you use prescribed fire or whatever the appropriate technique is for that habitat, usually the natives will recolonize that area. And you have to go around and spot treat some of the invasive species, like sericea lespedeza to allow these natives even to expand.Cedar glades that became established on tillable land usually don’t have a good native plant seed base as it was disturbed during the previous tillage.
The value of these areas now to many species of wildlife, and the views created, and the value to hunters, is much, much greater than the value it had when they were covered with eastern red cedars.
Missouri is blessed with a great Department of Conservation. All states have a similar department. I hope you’ll reach out to them and check out the resources they have to offer to assist you in establishing native habitat on your hunting property.
What is quality cover? We recently toured a property in western Kansas to created a habitat and hunting improvement plan. During the visit we noticed several CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) areas around the ag fields.
From a wildlife perspective, these long, narrow areas of CRP do not offer quality cover. We often refer to such areas as “predator food plots”. All a coyote or raccoon needs to do is run on the down wind side of this area and they can locate every fawn and turkey nest.
To provide critters with quality/security cover, areas should be at least several acres large (+10) and not long and narrow.
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.