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>>GRANT: TSI or timber stand improvement can be a great tool for wildlife managers to significantly increase the quality of habitat where they hunt.

>>GRANT: In many areas throughout the whitetails’ range, especially in the eastern and central portions, a significant part of the habitat is composed of a closed canopy forest, and I call those areas a biological desert.

>>GRANT: When there’s a closed canopy forest very little sunlight is reaching the forest floor and the only food that’s going to be produced is acorns and other fruits.

>>GRANT: That means throughout much of the year there’s nothing to eat for most critters.

>>GRANT: You know when you’re going to go on a big buck hunt you’re typically going where a lot of sun is reaching the soil; think of states like Iowa, or Kansas or many others. And that’s because the sun’s energy getting to the soil is going to cause something to grow. In many areas that’s corn or soybeans but in native areas here like at The Proving Grounds that’s great native species. If you hunt in an area of a closed canopy forest, don’t give up.

>>GRANT: That was the case when Tracy and I purchased The Proving Grounds and by using timber stand improvement and other techniques it’s now extremely high-quality habitat.

>>GRANT: In areas where Eastern red cedar has invaded and captured all the sunlight; it’s relatively easy to fell those, wait a couple of years and use prescribed fire. And you’ve seen the results here and other places. That results in producing exceptional quality habitat.

>>GRANT: In pine country, a well-designed thinning or clear cut can provide similar results. That’s more merchantable, meaning that the landowner may make a profit off of it versus just cutting and felling some cedars. But in those cases, when the forest is reestablished, pines are replanted, a wider spacing like 12 feet by 12 feet will allow sun to reach the soil and produce high-quality cover and vegetation for several years before that canopy closes.

>>GRANT: In areas that are predominately a hardwood forest folks traditionally just took a chainsaw, felled the trees they didn’t want, and allowed sun to reach the forest floor. Now that worked for a little bit but, typically, unless those stumps are treated with a herbicide, they would all produce lots of stump sprouts which would shade out the native grasses and forbs and reduce all the visibility making it even worse than before the trees were cut.

>>GRANT: This is why when I’m doing TSI to improve the wildlife habitat, I strongly prefer using the hack-and-squirt or double girdling technique. If you’re not familiar with these techniques, I’ll share a quick explanation.

>>GRANT: Hack-and-squirt is simply hacking the tree into the inner bark or the cambium, the tree’s circulatory system, and applying an herbicide. Most folks use a hatchet or a machete and you’re going to want to make a hack for about every three inches of diameter. So, a three inch or smaller tree, one hack and one milliliter of herbicide. Six-inch tree, two hacks; 12-inch tree, four hacks; and, of course, the hacks are spread around the tree not on top of each other. The hack-and-squirt technique is most effective for most species from about now – mid-July – until the first leaves start changing colors.

>>GRANT: The double girdle technique has the advantage of being applicable many more months throughout the year. The only time it doesn’t work really well is during that late winter when the sap is rising rapidly, and it will literally just flush the herbicide out of the tree. With the double girdle technique, you’re using a chainsaw or another tool to go all the way around the tree through the cambium layer. You’re not cutting the tree down. You’re just getting through that inner bark and you’re making those girdles about four to six inches apart. With the double girdle technique, you often need to use an herbicide just like in the hack-and-squirt technique.

>>GRANT: And a very common question I receive is, “What herbicide should I use?” And that really depends on the tree species you wish to control. You can certainly Google the species you want to control, like hickory, and find some good answers. Or my good friend, Dr. Craig Harper, came up with the mix that works on most species of trees. It’s 50% Garlon 3A – you want to use the 3A and not the 4 – 40% water and 10% Arsenal AC or the generics of those brands.

>>GRANT: I should share that Arsenal AC is ground active and that means that if I spilled some right below a white oak or something like that, it could get into the root system and damage or kill that tree. So, when you’re filling your hack or the girdle you don’t want it running it all out; you’re just kind of misting it in there.

>>GRANT: There’s a continuum between managing for maximum timber value and maximum wildlife habitat production.

>>GRANT: If you’re managing for maximum timber value, as long as the tree you leave has ample room for that canopy to grow, then you want another tree slightly off that, so its canopy also has room to grow. That’s at one end of the continuum. That would be called a release cut or something like that.

>>GRANT: If you’re managing for wildlife habitat primarily, you’re going to take out all the low-quality trees. And that’s just a bigger area for native grasses and forbs to grow more food and the residual mass-producing trees can expand their canopy to the maximum and make as much fruit or nuts as they possibly can.

>>GRANT: The spacing of the amount of trees we want to save depends on the quality of the stand.

>>GRANT: Now I typically want at least 30-50% sunlight throughout the day reaching the forest floor. But if you’ve got two premium white oaks right next to each other, I’m not necessarily taking one or the other. I’ll let those canopies grow all around the edge even though there won’t be many limbs where the two stems are close together.

>>GRANT: You can tell we’ve done a fair amount of work on this property.

>>GRANT: Several years ago, I designed a habitat improvement plan for a landowner near Rolla, Missouri and a big part of that plan was improving an 80 acre, closed canopy block of timber.

>>GRANT: During the summer of 2017, we used blue spray paint to mark the trees we wished to leave or the high-quality trees. Now, high quality is always relative. And in this stand, as in many stands, the best trees – the straightest white oaks, cherries, what have you – most valuable trees, were removed some time ago. Most of the forests in America have been cut three or four times or high graded – the best taken and the left rest standing. But we can turn that around.

>>GRANT: So, we went into this stand of timber, marked the best trees and then had a crew use the hack-and-squirt technique to terminate the rest.

>>GRANT: I want to save that oak. You can let those go; don’t mark them.

>>GRANT: You can see while we were marking the trees that the ground layer was just a layer of leaves. There was no food for deer, turkey, quail and no cover for fawns or poults. We returned one year later; now there hadn’t been a fire yet, just more sun hitting the forest floor and you’re already starting to see a lot of green, a lot of grasses and forbs growing in this timber stand.

>>GRANT: When we returned the second summer, after the stand had been treated, it was a different story. Tons of green in there. Man, a whole lot of new species showing up that wasn’t even present at this site when we did the mark. Saw lots of fawns in the area when we were working there. It was high-quality wildlife habitat.

>>GRANT: There had been a dormant season prescribed fire between then and when we just returned last week. And that fire burned up much more of that leaf litter, stimulated some plants to grow and it was a jungle in there and I say jungle in a very positive term. Thinking about when it was about like a concrete floor to now it was super rich wildlife habitat.

>>GRANT: Very excited to share this with you today. I’m standing in the middle of an 80-acre block of timber in Central Missouri, in the Ozarks, that we marked during 2017; and the crew come in and used a hack-and-squirt technique to terminate all the trees we didn’t mark. The landowner’s objective was wildlife first. Timber value’s way down the list. But this technique served equally well to improve timber value.

>>GRANT: So, what we did is we left the best wildlife trees – white oaks, red oaks, some cherries, persimmons – and terminated most of the hickories, of course, cut the cedars, felled the cedars, smaller trees. And that process, it was to increase the quality of the habitat for white-tailed deer, turkey and other game and non-game species.

>>GRANT: Four years ago, this was a closed canopy forest with nothing but brown leaves on the ground. I remember going through marking and Clay found an antler. He spotted it way off because it was so open in here. Look at it right now folks. I’m telling you talking to the guys that work on or hunt on this property – they see tons of deer in the edges or right around this block of timber. And the reason why is it’s the best habitat in the area.

>>GRANT: Of course, there’s ragweed; I’m seeing all kinds of great species looking around in here and some are palatable early on. They’ve probably already matured and gone. Some are palatable mid-season. Some will be palatable during deer season.

>>GRANT: I’ve got soft mass; I’ve got browse; I’ve got tremendous cover for poults in here. Turkeys could nest in here in the thicker part; walk through here easy. Lots of bugs in here. You see me doing this every now and then. Great nesting habitat. Great brooding habitat. Tremendous fawning habitat.

>>GRANT: Usually what I see is foresters come in to – very, very candid – and cut the biggest trees and leave the rest. That doesn’t allow enough sunshine to come down. And it’s just hardwood saplings everywhere from the, from the stumps of the harvested trees. But we terminated the trees that we wanted to take out with herbicide. There was nothing for sale. It wasn’t a commercially profitable cut. This was a wildlife habitat improvement.

>>GRANT: And that’s what a lot of landowners want. They bought land strictly for wildlife. So, I’ve got big trees getting bigger and there could be a very commercially profitable cut in the future. But right now, gosh, this is a wildlife mecca and very inexpensive. You come through one time, treat the trees, follow up with prescribed fire and it’s extremely valuable as a food source, as a cover source for many species.

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>>GRANT: Walking through and I see this little tree here. And it was obviously hacked, a hack-and-squirt. You know I could push it over if I pushed real hard here and the tops fell off. We’re four years out. And then, go right over here and we look up. Here’s one right here. The hack marks were where the bark is already falling off here and people say, “I don’t want to use that technique because, gosh, I’ll walk through the woods, and it will fall on my head and kill me or something.” Well, we’re four years out and this baby’s not budging.

>>GRANT: It’s not like, well, I’m going to walk through here and, ahhh, it hit me in the head. This will stand for years and by the time it falls we’re like here or right here behind Daniel is another one that we hacked on. I mean, that doesn’t weigh – I don’t know – two pounds. I mean, it’s just, there’s nothing to it.

>>GRANT: When you use hack-and-squirt to terminate a tree it’s not like cutting a green tree. Green trees are full of water and weigh hundreds or thousands of pounds. By the time this is anywhere close to tipping over, it’s very lightweight.

>>GRANT: Here’s a cedar that was obviously cut. You don’t want to leave cedars in a stand you’ve opened up like this because they produce a bunch of seeds, and you’ll have little cedar trees everywhere. So, if you’re going to do this technique, it’s important to go ahead and fell the cedars in here. It’s just easier to fell the cedar then to try to use an herbicide to terminate it.

>>GRANT: I mentioned the landowner is going to try to do a growing season or an August/September fire and you see all this green; there’s no way right now it would carry.

>>GRANT: But when I look down there’s a fair amount of leaf litter because it hadn’t been burned in a few years. Now it’s too moist. I can tell it’s too moist now. Hopefully, it will dry out in August. And that leaf litter or fine fuel is what will carry the fire through here.

>>GRANT: And remember this has already been burned once and it did not burn up this great big stem. Rarely will a prescribed fire be hot enough to consume these big stems and that’s okay. It’s just making habitat. And then finally this will get dry enough, like it is now, that if you have a good fire in here it may catch fire and more and more of it just becomes soil. We’re just turning this back to the soil; releasing nutrients for the herbaceous plants to use.

>>GRANT: From a hunting point of view, of course, we’re attracting more critters. But think about this; you’ve got a closed canopy forest. It takes a really stout wind to blow through there and not be deflecting and swirling. It’s tough to hunt in a closed canopy forest and not get busted.

>>GRANT: But when you look around this is a fairly open canopy. There’s not much wind today but I’m still seeing these plants next to me kind of shake a little bit. Even this low wind is pushing through here enough to make my scent go in one direction. If I was 20 feet up a tree it would be even better.

>>GRANT: These open forests like this are much better because you know which way the wind is going. It’s much easier to predict your scent stream flow then it is in a closed canopy forest. And for the guys that reach out there, you know, you’re gun hunting; you can shoot further. But gosh, in the wintertime I can shoot 70, 80, 100 yards in here. I couldn’t do that in a closed canopy forest.

>>GRANT: You know with the diversity of plants you’re improving soil much more. So, I’m improving the soil, I’m feeding critters, I’m giving them cover and it’s better hunting.

>>GRANT: What’s not to like about this process?

>>GRANT: I don’t have any measurements, but I suspect this area is now producing more acorns than when it was a closed canopy forest. We left all the best oaks. Their canopies are expanding. They can photosynthesize more and I’m sure they’re dumping a pile of acorns on the ground.

>>GRANT: I’m enjoying watching this project and this year I prescribe that the next fire be a growing season fire – a late August/early September fire – if it gets dry enough. And that will encourage more forbs to grow and set back some of the woody species that are starting to encroach.

>>GRANT: This is a great time of year to use some timber stand improvement techniques and release the habitat’s potential where you hunt.

>>GRANT: You know watching a project go through the stages and watch it become more and more productive is a great way to enjoy Creation. But more importantly, I hope you’re intentional every day about being quiet and listening to the Creator’s will for your life.

>>GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer!