This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.
GRANT: Recently, Clay, intern Carter Lapp, and myself drove to Northwestern Kansas to assist a landowner by creating a habitat and hunting improvement plan.
GRANT: If you’ve never driven across Kansas, it’s primarily ag fields and cattle pasture.
GRANT: When used to look out through there, I mean, we’re looking at X-hundred acres and not a house.
GRANT: Many of the ag fields didn’t have a winter cover crop and most of the cattle pastures were grazed about lip high. These agricultural practices are not allowing the land to reach its full potential of producing beef, crops, or wildlife. In fact, some of these producers are simply using what was built during the days of the Great Prairie when the buffalo roamed across the landscape.
GRANT: I often see these practices while traveling throughout the whitetails’ range. But there are newer techniques based on how the prairie was originally developed that can increase the yield of these areas while cutting costs and improving the soil.
GRANT: It’s important to remember whatever the ag practice is, the soil is the most important resource.
GRANT: Once we arrived at the ranch, we sat down at the dinner table with the landowners, pulled out some maps, and discussed their goals and objectives. It was apparent one of their primary goals was to increase the quantity of mature bucks hunters could harvest and improve the land.
GRANT: I explained that the sun is the source of all energy. And there’s not a closed canopy forest on this property, so there’s ample sun reaching the soil and, if managed appropriately, they could produce great native vegetation and crops.
ANNOUNCER: GrowingDeer is brought to you by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Also by Reconyx, Eagle Seed, Winchester, LaCrosse Footwear, Morrell Targets, Hooyman, Hook’s Custom Calls, Summit Treestands, RTP Outdoors, Yamaha, Fourth Arrow, onX Hunt, Scorpion Venom Archery, Bloodsport Arrows, Code Blue, D/Code, G5 Broadheads, Prime Bows, and Redneck Hunting Blinds.
GRANT: Early during the tour, I noticed there were several large production alfalfa fields along a creek bottom. Unfortunately, the current management of those alfalfa fields did not include a winter cover crop. And that meant there was no food for deer to eat and the soil, well, it was bare.
GRANT: We’re assisting a landowner in Northwestern Kansas today with a habitat improvement and hunting strategy plan. It’s a pretty large ranch and they’re pretty happy with their alfalfa, and I’m sure in the summer, boy, its feeding deer and making a great cash crop for them.
GRANT: I get a lot of deer managers asking me, “How about alfalfa? How about alfalfa?” Well, how about alfalfa? This isn’t feeding anything right now. It’s not feeding deer. It’s not feeding turkey and it’s not feeding the soil. So if we’d had had a stand of beans here, there would likely be pods still left in this large a field for deer to eat, get that super-rich energy. It’s cold today; it’s very windy. I can see dust blowing right here, and at minimum, what they could’ve done is after they took that last cutting off, used a no-till drill and put a small grain crop in, like cereal rye or winter wheat, to keep the soil in place.
GRANT: Actually, it conserves moisture. People think that the wheat is taking moisture out of the ground and it’s true. But it’s keeping the wind off the ground, which is taking more moisture away, and obviously, providing quality forage for deer and other critters during the winter.
GRANT: So, alfalfa, managed appropriately, professionally, like this is for a cash crap, can be a good source of protein for deer and other critters in the summer, but leaves ‘em high and dry all winter to spring green-up. Does are pregnant now and they’re developing those fetuses and bucks are storing nutrients to grow antlers next spring, and this – well, the plate is clean. This is a desert.
GRANT: It was easy to tell by looking at the soil that the management of these fields had resulted in lower-quality soil and soil structure. And to easily demonstrate that to the owners, I took a water bottle, cut both ends off, tried to get it in the soil, and then, poured some water in. I didn’t get it all the way in at first, and some water eased out around the edge, but once I got it in, no water infiltrated. It just sat there.
GRANT: So, think about a hard thunderstorm in the spring before that forage has grown up and covered the land. The water is not infiltrating in, and therefore, it’s going to cause erosion, loss of soil, and loss of nutrients.
GRANT: It’s very important to remember, it’s not the amount of precipitation a property receives each year. It’s the amount of precipitation that’s infiltrated into the soil and held there for crops to use. To improve the quality of soil in these alfalfa fields and increase their profitability, I recommended they use a no-till drill to plant winter wheat or a blend of forages right after that last cutting of hay is removed.
GRANT: You never want to clean the table. You say, “Hey, Grant and Clay, come back and turkey hunt this spring. We got a lodge. It’s done. We’re going to have a cook there. Just man, we just want you to film. “
GRANT: We say, “Alright, man. We’re coming.” We’re there three or four days. We maybe killed a turkey and you’re going, “Man, are those guys ever going home?” Just quit feeding us. We’ll go home. Well, that’s what you’ve done to your deer. Every field down there is as bare as my head right now.
GRANT: By having a crop and a living root in the soil throughout the winter, it would help the alfalfa in many ways. First, it would cover the ground and reduce or eliminate erosion, keeping the most beneficial soil particles in place. Second, rainfall would hit that living crop and have more time to infiltrate in versus running across the top of the soil. And third, a living root is critical for storing carbon, the most important element to plants, in the soil. Living plants, of course, are photosynthesizing, and that’s pumping carbon in the soil.
GRANT: The cover crop won’t get very tall by the time the first cutting of the hay is removed, so it’s not going to make a seed head. It’s going to be super-high forage quality and will actually add to the productivity of these fields and increase their profit margins.
GRANT: We found some sheds while touring the property – all of them in native vegetation, none in the alfalfa fields. And that was another indicator to the landowners of the lack of food in those fields as they’re currently managed.
GRANT: We also saw several deer during our tour.
GRANT: Mulies aren’t they?
GRANT: Aren’t those mulies?
GRANT: There were both mulies and whitetails in that part of Kansas and this is called a zone of hybridization. Almost always whitetail bucks are more aggressive than mulies and they end up breeding mule deer does.
GRANT: An accurate and easy way to tell the difference between whitetails, mulies and hybrids is the length of the metatarsal gland, the white gland on the outside, lower portion of a deer’s rear leg.
GRANT: If that gland’s about an inch long or less, it’s a whitetail. If it’s four to six inches long, it’s a muley, but if its two to four inches long, it’s almost always a hybrid.
GRANT: There were several interesting observations I was able to make while touring the ranch. One was across a fence.
GRANT: On one side, cattle had been allowed to graze, and on the other side, cattle had been excluded for quite some time. The vegetation where cows had been excluded looked like native vegetation in that area. It was two, three-foot tall, pretty thick, and a wide variety of plants. It was very healthy, but on the other side, it was about lip high except for the weeds. Cows eat the best and leave the rest.
GRANT: Cattle that are allowed to graze vegetation extremely low almost always have higher loads of parasites than cattle eating on vegetation fairly far off the ground. And the reason is simple. Many parasites have a life cycle that go through the cow’s digestive system, goes in the mouth, and out the feces. Those parasites in the feces, some of them crawl up the vegetation, so cattle eating close to the ground get a much higher load of parasites in each bite.
GRANT: Once again, we reflect back to the buffalo moving across the prairie. They ate, trampled, and moved on. They didn’t stay in the same place and there were so many buffalo in that herd, it was almost like mob grazing. What they didn’t eat, they trample.
GRANT: But when cows are let in a fairly large pasture, they eat the best, close to the ground, and they keep coming back to it day after day. Hence, they get many more parasites than cattle that are mob grazed and move frequently.
GRANT: Due to the current management practice of the production alfalfa and that most of the cattle pastures had been heavily grazed, there wasn’t much forage for wildlife or cattle to consume.
GRANT: Ideally, deer have access to quality forage year-round – even through the winter. Without access to quality forage, they’re dependent on their fat reserves. And when those start becoming depleted, they’re going to decline in quality and next spring, at green-up, they’re going to bounce back, but they’re starting at a very low level. Versus deer that have access to quality forage year-round – they’re going to start at a much higher plane and achieve greater results during that growing season.
GRANT: I am extremely excited about the potential of this ranch and I’m really looking forward to getting updates from the family.
GRANT: The following day, we cut out of Kansas, up into Nebraska, rode all the way across, got into Iowa, and headed to the eastern side. We were going to meet Kris and work on his property.
GRANT: It was bitter cold the day we were going to meet Kris. My truck showed negative six and I heard on the radio it was negative 15. I was thinking about deer surviving in this area during multiple days of subzero temperatures. Those conditions would certainly limit antler growth and fawn development unless adequate, quality resources were available.
GRANT: But I’m always excited to meet another hunter and assist them with a habitat and hunting improvement plan. Kris owns about 45 acres in Northeastern Iowa that he hunts, along with his family and friends. This area of Iowa is primarily production ag with hardwood ridges and fingers. Such areas are known for an abundance of food during the growing season but can be a biological desert during the winter depending on the local management practices.
GRANT: We met up with Kris and his good friend, Jim, and studied the map and talked about their past observations before heading out in the field and starting to create a plan.
KRIS: I think, from watching your videos, that one mistake that I might be doing is having a tower blind right in the middle. I’m thinking that, you know, to get to that, you have to, you know, walk right in the open and expose yourself. So I’m sure you’re probably going to tell me that that needs to be transferred or moved over to a…
GRANT: You know, I’m not too worried about that, for that reason, in an afternoon hunt. In the morning, you’re blowing everything out, obviously. I’m more worried about, somewhere your wind is bad here. On every hunt, somewhere your wind is bad. You know, so rather than have one, I’d like to have two, so you can always hunt the field, but you can hunt it on the appropriate wind direction.
GRANT: Because here, you know, you’re far enough out in here. If this field was real long and skinny and you’re in the center, then, you’ll still get away with it because it’s one way or the other, right? But you’re kind of in the middle, so you’re always giving up some quadrant that you’re alerting deer. So, man, if you could just get it right here, and then, you could have someone drop you off and come back or whatever.
GRANT: Or have it right here and you’re just going in, you know, a few yards, whatever. Then you’re just not alerting deer.
GRANT: The first thing I noticed during the beginning of our tour that almost all the corn Kris had planted as a food plot had been consumed. There was almost no corn left on those cobs.
GRANT: Working on Kris’ property and he had about six acres of standing corn planted, but here we are in February. Now, it’s a long time until spring green-up and all the corn is gone. It’s just not here.
GRANT: So I tell people all the time, corn is probably not a good choice for smaller acreage food plots. This would’ve been better to have Eagle Seed beans in here, fed deer all summer. This did nothing for deer during the summer when they’re growing antlers, does are nursing fawns. And then, come about August, in this part of the world – we’re in Iowa today – we’d have put the Eagle Seed Buffalo Blend or something right over the top of it.
GRANT: Now, we’ve got pods. They’d probably be gone by now, too, but we’d also have a bunch of greens they could dig through the snow and get to. So we’ve got nothing at the cafeteria right now. Deer want to go somewhere else because we’re not feeding ‘em. So we’re going to switch that over, see if we can’t grow some bigger deer and do a better job of holding ‘em on the property.
GRANT: I didn’t notice any food on the neighboring properties as we were driving to Kris, so imagine how hungry some of these critters are gonna be before spring green-up.
GRANT: The property had several mature stands of hardwoods, but with the snow on, it was easy to see they were really a biological desert, not providing food or cover unless acorns are produced and then only for a month or two.
GRANT: We’ve got some really good, big trees that are making acorns and some good stuff, but when we look out across the landscape behind us here, I can see as far as, you know, the ridgetop – 150 yards or so. And what we want to do is use the hack-and-squirt technique to take out all these small stems behind us here and allow sun to come down, native grasses and forage will grow. But one thing before we do that, we have a very invasive, exotic species growing in here that we need to come through and control with a herbicide; otherwise, if we let all the sun reach the ground, this will multiply like crazy and it’d be a forest of thorns.
GRANT: Priority one is control the exotic species. Priority two will be hack-and-squirt to convert this closed canopy forest to more of a savannah type habitat where there’s some sun reaching down, good stuff growing, and that will keep deer on our property versus moving through this desert to go somewhere else.
KRIS: That’s the plan.
GRANT: The resulting savannah type habitat is not only extremely productive for wildlife, but also, for hunters. Timber managed in this way provides great cover for wildlife – they feel very protected there. But the cover is about one to three feet off the ground, so a hunter up in a blind or tree stand can easily see deer coming or going. We shared a great example of this type of habitat a few months ago from a friend of mine in Northern Missouri, how in one report he tagged another great buck from there this year.
GRANT: As we continued our tour, we came to a flat ridgetop that would be a perfect location for a food plot.
GRANT: Can you imagine having this food plot right here next to the – what we already know is the refuge – that real steep slope over there? And you can get here without the deer knowing it, if they’re over there, right? They’re going to pop up here. Oh, this would be awesome.
GRANT: Clay turned on his onX tracker and we walked around the edge laying out exactly where the food plot should be established.
GRANT: Adding this food plot not only serves to increase the amount of quality forage that can be produced on the property but serves as a bottleneck or a pinch point.
GRANT: There will be times of the year when deer come directly to the source of high-quality forage; that’s one form of the pinch point. And other times of year that they will skirt around one edge or the other seeking acorns, creating a totally different pinch point.
GRANT: One of the last areas we toured was a series of three ponds. Kris had just built a new, beautiful, about two-acre pond specifically for fishing and there were two smaller ponds just up the drainage.
GRANT: At first glance, these appear to be like any other farm pond. And ponds, like a food plot, can be a pinch point or bottleneck but the three of them in a row made an exceptional pinch point.
GRANT: The easiest path to travel through there was across the dam top. So I suggested Kris put a blind right on the dam. It did need to be elevated, so when the wind is rising up the valley, he can see down in the valley and catch deer going to bed in that steep terrain.
GRANT: The upper end of the pond created another, and even better, pinch point because there was about 40 yards between the upper end of the standing water and the dam of the next pond.
GRANT: That area was loaded with tracks and trails as deer were cutting between the two ponds.
GRANT: There were no good trees there, but I suggested Kris put a 15-foot Redneck very close to the water, at the top end of the larger pond. And in the morning, the thermals will be going down that valley, so Kris’ scent will be going right across that pond. He can approach, hunt, and exit without deer knowing he’s in the neighborhood.
GRANT: After touring Kris’ property, we were all happy to head back to the shop and warm up. But as an additional attraction, Kris had been smoking some ribs all morning and I couldn’t wait to dig in.
GRANT: Even though the two properties we toured were extremely different, there were some principles from both properties that can be applied anywhere you hunt.
GRANT: Deer need access to quality food year-round to express their antler growth and fawn production potential. And it’s not just producing more fawns, but healthier fawns. And when fawns get off to a good start in life, they produce larger antlers when they mature.
GRANT: Using a rotation of warm and cool season crops in the same field results in more tons of quality forage and reduces the stress of wildlife on a year-round basis. They have plenty of groceries during each month.
GRANT: I always enjoy visiting with fellow hunters and I had a chance to do that recently when I traveled to Pennsylvania and spoke at the Great American Outdoor Show. I shared about hunting techniques and habitat improvement and I can’t wait to return next year and share more information.
GRANT: I talk about creating pinch points a lot, but those that know me know if you want to create a pinch point for Grant, just pop up some ice cream. And I found a great milkshake stand at the Great American Outdoor Show sponsored by the 4-H Club. So I called Tracy and said, “Honey, I’m going to sponsor the 4-H members every day while I’m at this show.”
GRANT: If you would like to learn more about advanced food plot techniques, including the Buffalo System, I will be speaking in Gap, Pennsylvania March 24th. There’ll be an extended question-and-answer period, so you can bring a map of your property where we can talk about your specific food plots. For more information, call the number on the screen and know that seating is limited.
GRANT: If you’re like us and you’re getting excited for turkey season, probably practicing your turkey calls, but you need someone to make sure you’re tuned up – something to listen to – then go to the clips tab at GrowingDeer.com and check out some of the short videos there where we’ve had past world champions helping us with friction calls and diaphragm calls, and you can listen to them calling and compare how you sound. Also, apply their techniques to help tag that tom this spring.
GRANT: A great break for all of us is to get outside and enjoy Creation, but if your schedule’s a little bit busy for that on a daily basis, it’s really important to find time every day to slow down, be quiet, and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.