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GRANT: So, we’re going to cut every single cedar tree in here.

TOM: Okay.

GRANT: And, and let ‘em lay for a year or two, depending on how dry it is until you can slap the needles and they fall off. Then, we’re going to do a prescribed fire and we’re just going to use… (Fades Out)

GRANT: Improving native habitat has been a huge key to the success of increasing the number and quality of white-tailed deer and turkey here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: Frequently, we assist other landowners with plans to improve the quality and quantity of wildlife where they hunt.

GRANT: During June of 2018, Tom Free gave us a similar request and asked if we could help him with a property about two and a half hours from The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: Tom’s property is in the Ozark Mountains and it’s very similar not only in topography, but past land use practices to here.

GRANT: While touring that property, I noticed there were some large stands of eastern red cedar and closed canopy forest. In pockets among the cedars where sun was reaching the ground, several different species of native vegetation was growing. And I knew the area had a lot of potential.

GRANT: I’m not stopping my glade cut here. As far as I can see down through there, is useless for a deer. Look – come here and look through this hole right here.

UNKNOWN: Oh, I was sitting here looking at that one instead.

GRANT: There’s nothing in there.


GRANT: Not – so, you and I walk through here and we’re going, “Oh, man. It’s thick; it’s cover.” But get down where deer, quail, turkey live, there’s nothing. It’s a biological desert. Whack it.

GRANT: I prescribed a plan to have a crew come in, fell all the cedars, wait for them to dry out really well – year or two – and then use prescribed fire to stimulate the growth of the native species.

GRANT: In these areas, there’s almost always a very rich seed bank laying in the soil that needs sun and/or fire to stimulate them to grow.

GRANT: Tom graciously invited us back right after a crew had finished felling the cedars which was just in October of that same year. So, from June to October, Tom got busy, found a good crew and had all the cedars cut.

GRANT: I jumped all over the opportunity to go check out the progress and it was neat seeing the cedars tipped over this way and how much green was already showing.

GRANT: Cedars, of course, were created to capture sun and water standing up. But when you lay ‘em over sideways, that sun goes right through layers of branches and had already started stimulating the growth of native species.

GRANT: That’s a big advantage for Tom’s project because it not only provides more food than was there before the cedars were felled, but it makes fine fuels or fuels that carry fire easy between the cedars.

GRANT: So, all of these grasses like this that are in a bunch (Inaudible), I call it native.


GRANT: You know, this isn’t fescue or something – orchard grass or Bermuda grass or anything. This is native. This is a really rich native area. Some of ‘em aren’t and we have to take different techniques to restore the native plants, but here, we’re not going to have to plant or do anything. We’re going to drop a match, let one hatch and away you’re going.

UNKNOWN: That’s great.

GRANT: Tom was eager to get going and wanted to burn soon. But I advised him to wait a while. Wait a whole another summer. Let that sun just bake on those cedars, because when you burn a cedar that’s too green you won’t get good consumption and you’ll have skeletons out there for quite some time. We developed a friendship with Tom and he invited us back during August 2019.

GRANT: It turned out that was a great learning experience. We could see a couple of different areas where all the cedars had been felled. In one area, it was really lush with native vegetation growing among and between the cedar skeletons.

GRANT: In another area, a wildfire had started on a neighbor’s property, swept across that property and come on to Tom’s place.

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GRANT: We’re still on Mr. Free’s property and I designed this cedar glade to be cut, let it lay for two years, like I always do, and then burn. But there was a wildfire that came through about May and burned this a year ahead of schedule. The results are awesome. There is tremendous native species diversity in here. It’s looking great.

GRANT: But I want to point out a couple of things. This, again, was a wildfire. This was a head fire. It started on a ranch over here, burnt through the valley, raced up the hill. Fortunately, someone put it out on top. The landowner did not know that there was a wildfire here at the time.

GRANT: So, you can see it killed a little hardwoods in here which is fine. But, what I’m looking at when I look back through here is these cedar skeletons. If we had waited a year, more moisture would have come out of the cedar skeletons and there would have been more consumption of those.

GRANT: This isn’t necessarily positive or negative but consuming those cedar skeletons early on will release more nutrients to the soil and a little bit more aesthetically pleasing. You don’t necessarily like seeing all these burnt skeletons around. But the positive is – and you can see it right behind me – the vegetation is a little thicker right in this skeleton. They kind of act as a utilization cage.

GRANT: Because there’s food all over in here, deer don’t want to stick their head right down in that skeleton. And that permits really desirable plants to mature, and make a seed base and make sure the area is re-populated with desirable plants.

GRANT: So, the skeletons aren’t bad. But now, because they’ve been charred, it will be several years before they break down.

GRANT: It was really interesting. That fire came through, killed some of the oaks that had been left standing, consumed a bunch of cedars. And there was already a great mix of native vegetation growing in the area.

GRANT: You kind of expect that. I mean, that’s part of the plan, but another lesson was right on top of the hill – was a stand of mature oak timber that we had not yet treated. It was closed canopy; it had not been thinned.

GRANT: Even during the spring – obviously the fire was carrying well. The conditions were right for a fire to go. It hit the shaded area of those mature hardwoods, laid down and barely did any damage.

GRANT: I think some folks see raging fires on the news in California or out in the west somewhere and think, “Oh, I can’t do prescribed fire. It will get away from me.” And you need to be very cautious with fire. But the humidity out West, compared to anywhere else, is much different. In those shaded areas, it tends to trap humidity in there and the fire just slows down to creep, if it burns at all.

GRANT: Given what Tom had seen, he was super excited to treat the other areas where the cedars had been felled with prescribed fire.

GRANT: We introduced Tom to one of our friends and a contractor that does a lot of prescribed fire for private landowners. During February Jess went to that property and he and his crew had a very successful and safe fire.

GRANT: Jess and his crew did a great job. There was a huge amount of fuel out there, but there was no issues. And it created the perfect seed bank for many native species.

GRANT: Jump forward to June 2020, and Daniel got invited to once again return to Tom’s property and take a look. When he got there, it was nothing short of stunning.

GRANT: Daniel had high expectations seeing this process here and other properties before. But what he found at Tom’s place was extra special.

DANIEL: Well, out walking a property here in southern Missouri that Grant laid out a habitat improvement and hunting plan in 2018. That landowner has done a lot of work and the results speak for themselves.

DANIEL: You can see back behind me, there is just a bunch of beautiful, beautiful wildflowers. There’s grasses coming up and it is just an amazing result in just two years of work.

DANIEL: You can still see the skeletons of some of the cedars back behind me. Those will break down. They’ll keep using fires through here and those will eventually break down. But we’ve got sunlight reaching the ground and these native grasses and forbs are just absolutely blowing up.

DANIEL: Of course, the great thing about this is there’s such a diversity of species. You know, there’s flowers that are actually mature. They’ve gone to seed and they’re actually wilting and dying. And then there’s flowers and forbs coming on underneath that haven’t even flowered yet.

DANIEL: So we have this wide span of time that these forbs are coming on and are palatable at different times for wildlife. So, we get a long range of native browse for wildlife.

DANIEL: This area – it is rocky, rocky, rocky. But we didn’t even have to plant this stuff because these native grasses and forbs were already in the soil. We just needed to release them with the use of prescribed fire and sunlight reaching the ground.

GRANT: There were gads of species and wildflowers in bloom, pollinators working the whole area and Daniel had to just sit back and take it in.

GRANT: Sometimes when you’re on vacation or something, you take a picture and then you go home and tell your buddies, “Man, it’s better than the picture captured.” That’s what Daniel tells me. Tom’s project was over the top. It was beautiful, providing cover and food and many, many hundred-fold better for wildlife than what it was when the cedars were robbing all the sun and keeping it from hitting the soil.

DANIEL: This is so cool. Of course, we have so many species throughout this area. But what’s great about this is deer actually select the most nutritious leaves. They can actually sense and select leaves that have the best nutrition.

DANIEL: Here’s a great example. There’s deer browse right there. And if you look, there’s more browse here and there’s browse back here. But then there’s plants and leaves that don’t have browse.

DANIEL: Those deer were able to come in and just browse exactly those specific parts, those leaves that had the best nutrition. So, we’re creating a habitat that’s not only offering cover but quality deer browse.

GRANT: Reflect when I was there the first time and I had to get down just to see very far. I had to get down and look under the cedar trees where they’d shaded out their own limbs. Imagine hunting in that type of environment.

GRANT: And now think about getting in a Redneck blind on the edge of this area and watching deer and turkey come feed or use the area for cover.

GRANT: It’s not only much more productive for wildlife, it’s much easier to see critters the way it’s managed now.

GRANT: Often, folks want to focus most of their time and resources on food plots. And that may be appropriate on some properties. When I got to Tom’s place and toured, I saw the potential to have really lush native vegetation that provided food and cover.

GRANT: So, maybe in reverse of what some folks do, I designed that and then strategically placed food plots around that area knowing deer would utilize both of them. And we have travel corridors in between making everything interrelated and much easier to hunt.

GRANT: Oftentimes when I’m assisting landowners, they may not recognize the potential to develop high-quality native habitat on their property. Native habitat work can often occur outside the hunting or planting season and allows us to be more engaged with the property throughout the year.

GRANT: Managing all the resources on a property results in better quality critters and better quality hunting.

GRANT: Hopefully, we can share more updates from Tom’s project and other landowners we’ve assisted with a habitat improvement plan.

GRANT: Whatever project you’re working on, I hope you slow down and enjoy Creation. But most importantly, take time daily and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.