This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.
GRANT: Across much of the whitetail’s range, many bucks have dropped their antlers and lots of guys and gals are out looking for sheds.
GRANT: My wife, Tracy, loves to take her lab, Crystal, out shed hunting and they’ve already found several small — that’s trophy size for a shed hunter — sheds.
GRANT: Recently while Tracy was out shed hunting, she found a matched set but not the way I hoped she’d find ‘em.
GRANT: Tracy marked the location of the carcass on her phone and, a few days later, Daniel and I went to investigate.
GRANT: That was a buck with some potential, too.
GRANT: My wife, Tracy, loves to shed hunt and I love it when she brings back sheds. But, I don’t like it when I’m traveling and I get a text from her that shows where she’s found a buck that died.
GRANT: When Tracy sent me a picture of this buck, I wasn’t sure which one it was. But when I got my hands on it and compared some of our notes, I knew it was a great young buck I’d had an encounter with about 150 yards over here when he responded to some Montana Decoys.
GRANT: (Whispering) I think a buck just stepped out the back corner back here.
TYLER: (Whispering) I think he’s (Inaudible).
GRANT: (Whispering) You better be making your mind up.
TYLER: (Whispering) (Inaudible)
GRANT: (Whispering) That’s a pretty good-looking deer. Is he three or four, Tyler? I think he’s three. Yeah, he’s three.
Tyler: (Whispering) Three?
GRANT: (Whispering) Yeah. Neck break is too high for this time of year. Got that racehorse look. Enjoy the show.
GRANT: (Whispering) Man, that’s beautiful.
GRANT: I passed the buck knowing he had great potential. And we’ve shown you in the past, passing bucks often results in seeing ‘em again the next year or even multiple years afterwards.
GRANT: (Whispering) He’s got good shoulders and his neck’s all the way down.
GRANT: (Whispering) There’s my shot if you want him. Do you want to take him?
UNKNOWN: (Whispering) Yeah.
GRANT: (Whispering) Whew. Man. That was super exciting. I was thinking about shooting him, but it was one of our really good three-year-olds that we call Highriser. Just didn’t happen to have that fully mature look.
GRANT: (Whispering) No. I’m good. I’ll make my choice up here.
GRANT: (Whispering) He looks good to me. He’s got a big chest.
GRANT: Sometimes when you pass a buck, it doesn’t work out like you think it will and that’s the case with this buck.
GRANT: When Tracy found the skeleton, it was way too far gone for any diagnostic work of why it passed. We don’t know if it got injured fighting another buck; maybe got wounded on another property; or possibly coyotes took it down. But, when I last saw him, he appeared extremely healthy.
GRANT: This area was clearly in the core of his range. Just about 50 yards over here is a plot we call Tombstone and we had a lot of pictures of him throughout the fall in the Tombstone plot.
GRANT: It’s upsetting when you find the skeleton of a buck you passed, but we’ve got to realize, it’s dangerous living in the wild. Deer face dangers every single day and not all of them are going to survive.
GRANT: Finding this deer is a bit more bitter to me because I had aged him at three on the hoof. But when I get this close look and see the jawbone, I’m calling him two.
GRANT: When I got the buck in my hands, I noticed his circumference of his beams and even his bases are relatively small. And that’s an indicator of an immature buck. Typically, they’ll grow bigger basal circumference as they age. We found a jawbone with this buck and you’ll notice the front three teeth, which are pre-molars – or what we’d say in humans, milk teeth. They’re shed and replaced with other teeth – are very white, which tells me they’ve just come in.
GRANT: Look at the staining on these teeth. The fourth tooth back is actually the oldest tooth in a deer’s head once they’re two years old or older. So, you can see more staining or tartar is built up on these teeth.
GRANT: These just replace the milk teeth and they haven’t been in the deer’s mouth long enough to be stained.
GRANT: That’s an excellent and accurate indicator of a buck’s age. That based on how high the cusps are on the fourth tooth and how little dentine is showing — well, it tells me this was a two-year-old buck. A super star for the Ozarks.
GRANT: Because a buck this big in the Ozark Mountains, that’s two years old, had a lot of potential. We hunters that elect to pass younger deer and allow them to mature, well, we’re playing the odds. And the odds are strongly in our favor.
GRANT: Most of them are going to survive if our property and some of the neighboring properties are playing by the same rules — they’re passing up deer to a certain age.
GRANT: If that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t see so many mature deer harvested. Unless you’re hunting in a big wilderness area, I promise you, during year one, two or three, someone gave that buck a pass.
GRANT: For a buck to get four, five, six, seven, eight years old, it’s probably been passed several times.
GRANT: This is the perfect reason I like deer co-ops where neighbors can get together; share ideas and maybe share the same management plan. Either way, when we find a buck like this, we can share with neighbors so they’re not wondering why they don’t see that buck next year.
GRANT: We’re gonna get ahold of the game warden; get a salvage tag — that’s required in most states; be able to take this head back; clean it up.
GRANT: Saturday morning, March 16th. Clay and I are on the road again, heading to a property in Kentucky owned by Mr. Gary Rymer. We’re gonna visit with Gary and help him lay out a habitat and maybe a hunting strategy plan.
GRANT: I’ve been studying the maps; I’m eager to get on the ground and lay out that plan.
GRANT: I really enjoy these opportunities. It’s a great way to meet a new friend; get outside and enjoy Creation and feel good at the end of the day because we’re doing a little part in helping improve habitat for wildlife.
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GRANT: Gary purchased about 170 acres in western Kentucky about a year ago and invited us over. Gary’s place is primarily contiguous hardwoods with a few stands of planted pines and a couple of small openings he had converted to food plots.
GRANT: Gary’s goals for this property are to increase his odds of tagging a mature buck and making a great place for his family and friends to enjoy.
GRANT: Early Saturday morning, Clay and I pulled up and visited with him and his two sons.
GRANT: If I have a choice between food, cover, water, and again, there’s water everywhere, I want cover. Everyone thinks food…
GRANT: …but cover is where deer spend their day.
GRANT: I hunt during the day. So, I want cover. So, with some hunting pressure, especially over baits sites. Bait sites – this research is really clear and no one wants to believe it. Because people kill deer over bait.
GRANT: But, big bucks get really conditioned to only going there at night. They associate that — there’s so much human scent; there’s so much going on.
GRANT: Actually, in Georgia, where you’re from, when they opened up baiting years ago in the southern portion, the first year, harvest per hour went up.
GARY: Hmm, hmm.
GRANT: It’s been going down every year since. Because people are so conditioned hunting over bait now and deer are just — they’ve learned.
GRANT: Once Gary answered my questions and we discussed his goals and objectives; it was time to go put some boots on the ground and explore the property.
GRANT: Early during our tour, I noticed all the greenbrier – some people call it catbrier or smilax – and honeysuckle had been heavily browsed. That’s a common observation when I’m working in areas that are primarily a closed canopy forest.
GRANT: This is smilax, greenbrier, catbrier.
GARY: Hmm, hmm.
GRANT: And I bet — we’ve been passing it. Look — I mean, you can see the fresh browse on here. It’s trying to grow.
GRANT: But, they’re eating it as fast as it’s growing. I’m sure there’s good bucks here, but they’re not expressing their full potential ‘cause they don’t have enough groceries. Right now is real important for antler growth.
GRANT: Greenbrier is actually fairly nutritious, but when they’re smacking it that hard — no. They’re hungry.
GRANT: So, we’ve got — we know we’ve got to get some food on the property.
GRANT: Seeing these two species that heavily browsed let me know that more preferred species, or what we call ice cream plants, have probably been totally decimated by deer.
GRANT: Fortunately, there’s almost always a viable seed source of these ice cream plants in the soil. And with some habitat improvement work – opening up the canopy, maybe prescribed fire – those plants will germinate and restock the area.
GRANT: It’s important to note that either several deer have to be harvested — probably does — or a lot of the forest canopy opened at once, so these plants aren’t once again targeted and consumed by deer.
GRANT: As we continued our tour, we went up a small ridge into a planted pine stand. These pines had been planted years ago and had a totally closed canopy.
GRANT: Hey, we’re on a property in Kentucky with Gary. Gary, thanks for having us over today. And we’re laying out some habitat management plans. We’ve just spent, I don’t know, 20 minutes or so coming through an old Virginia pine stand that someone had planted, I’m gonna guess, 30/40 years ago.
GRANT: And Gary and I have been talking. We’re gonna whack this; we’re gonna take all these trees out because, if you look around, it’s like a biological desert.
GRANT: So, we’re gonna turn this into a food plot here and there’s a point we just walk through down here. We’re gonna make that bedding. Deer love bedding on a point.
GRANT: That direction is south. So, on a south wind, Gary and his guests can come in through the north or this side like this and hunt deer coming to this plot out of that bedding area and those deer will never know he’s on the planet. So.
GRANT: We’re early in the day; got a great plan for stand one.
GRANT: As we continued touring the property, we entered a large stand of hardwoods that was primarily white oak, and it was obvious this stand had been high graded years ago.
GRANT: One thing that’s really amazing here is there are very, very few red oaks. I say that because white oaks — even to us — they don’t taste near as bitter. They don’t have tannic acids or tannins in ‘em which is a preservative.
GRANT: So, man, they’re sweet and when they hit, deer love them. I don’t care what you’ve got growing, they’re gonna abandon your food plots and go to acorns.
GRANT: But, the first warm rain, a lot of them will sprout or start rotting.
GARY: Hmm, hmm.
GRANT: They’re not built to have those tannin preservatives in there. So, late season, you don’t have the big red oak supply we have of deer going to food plots. Guaranteed. These white oaks will be done.
GRANT: Even if you have a huge white oak crop, they don’t weather like red oaks. So, they don’t make it through the winter. And so, you need food plots.
GRANT: So this area in the past, and don’t take this personal ‘cause every farm in America almost has, has been high graded. They’ve taken the best trees and left the rest. Even our really mature trees aren’t super straight or.
GARY: Hmm, hmm.
GRANT: The early guys didn’t know any better. I mean, they’re just cutting and running. Right? And then guys are trying to make a living and stuff. But everyone walks on the property say, “Well, we’re only gonna take 14 inches or higher DBH” – diameter at breast height, which is considered four and a half feet. “We’re going to take 14 inches or better and let your young stuff grow up and be marketable.”
GRANT: Well, a couple times of doing that, all the young stuff is crooked and gnarly and nasty and they’ve taken all the best.
GRANT: And now, you’re taking the low-grade stuff and leaving the best. You’re reversing decades of bad forestry, basically.
GRANT: In this case, there were so many small diameter trees, that there was not enough space, water, sunshine for them to grow up and express their full potential. There was simply too much competition.
GRANT: There were about 100 contiguous acres of this type of timber.
GRANT: Because, I mean, there’s just — take any ten-yard square area here…
GARY: Nothing to eat.
GRANT: There’s nothing to eat, except acorns. So, I would estimate, based on a lot of research others have done. Excuse me. You may have — excluding acorns — maybe 50 pounds per acre of forage in here. A deer takes over a ton a year. No wonder these deer are whipping over to the ag field. There’s nothing to eat here.
GRANT: As we continued walking through the hardwood stand, I heard a couple gobblers and then saw some turkeys in the distance.
GRANT: Clay is an incredible mouth caller — just uses his mouth to call turkeys.
GRANT: He gave a few calls; brought ‘em in to about 70, 80 yards, which is incredible, given there’s three of us just standing there gawking at ‘em.
GRANT: Seeing the turkeys in the hardwoods made me realize there’s no quality nesting or brood habitat in this area. That forest floor was about like the top of a pool table.
GRANT: And if I’m a turkey trying to nest and I want to sit here — think about a turkey, okay? So, she’s gonna drop an egg every day and she’s not gonna sit on the nest all day long. And she’ll drop, let’s say, 8, 10, 12 days, depending on the hen. Okay? So, now, that oldest egg has been on the ground 10 days.
GRANT: Let’s say she’s gonna lay 10 eggs. She’ll lay one egg a day. And then she sits and incubates for 28 days. And then the poults can’t fly until they’re about 14 days old. 50 days on the ground in here — and a coon, an opossum, a coyote, a fox, a bobcat, a domestic dog just has to get downwind of that. The chance of survival is so slim in this habitat.
GRANT: I shared with Gary that he could significantly improve the quality of native forage, cover and timber if he did some TSI – timber stand improvement – and converted this area to a savannah.
GRANT: A savannah is a timber stand where almost every tree has space around its crown so it can express its full potential. It gets plenty of water and sun and there’s enough space between the trees that native grasses and forbs populate the understory.
GRANT: Often, it may be 80 feet or more between trees.
GRANT: Savannah habitat was very common in the East and throughout the Midwest according to the writings of the early explorers.
GRANT: I recently listened to an audiobook of Daniel Boone’s biography and he described savannah habitat in Kentucky — lush vegetation between giant trees and lots of elk, buffalo, and deer. By the way, if you haven’t read or listened to that biography, it’s one I highly recommend.
GRANT: So you have to do what’s called a timber stand improvement or pre-merchantable – i.e. you can’t sell it — and get you a hatchet and in here you can use Garlon 3 ‘cause it doesn’t root transfer, or some other chemistry you could use.
GRANT: White oaks will — and other species, too, will – root-cross below the ground. So, it’s potential that you could put herbicide in here and kill that tree over there. Because they root graft below the ground.
GRANT: So, you need to spend some hours in here and you need to thin a huge amount of this pre-merchantable timber and let them return to soil. The minerals are staying right on-site.
GRANT: You’re letting ‘em return right there and get some undergrowth in here – some savannah habitat. And it will be way more productive for all species of wildlife — way more productive.
GRANT: I’ve suggested Gary use the hack and squirt method to improve the habitat.
GRANT: It’s usually one hack and I go at a 45-degree angle so it kind of makes a little cup in there.
GRANT: The only thing alive on this tree — let’s say this is a tree — is a cambium right inside the bark. That’s the circulatory system. You may remember the xylem and phloem from high school biology.
GRANT: Inside that is dead. So, really, whacking on it really hard — if you go at a 45 degree angle. So, if you think about it, if you go straight or we go at a 45 degree angle, you’re cutting more of the cambium if you go at a 45 degree angle.
GRANT: So, I do one hack per every three inches here. So, if this is a foot, I’m gonna hack here — and you don’t hack on top ‘cause you’re cutting the same vein. Right? The same cambium.
GRANT: So here, here, here and here. Whack, whack, whack, whack. Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt. It’s just one squirt — boom. Move on. It’s done.
GRANT: You want to use this technique when the sap is going down. I like to use the hack and squirt technique from about July to November or so.
GRANT: From December, January through about June, sap is usually coming up and can, literally, keep the herbicide from penetrating and being effective.
GRANT: A huge advantage of the hack and squirt technique is it’s much more labor efficient than using chainsaws. You don’t have all those trees on the ground all at once making a huge mess. When you use the hack and squirt technique, the small limbs, maybe a half inch or so, will fall off the first year, depending on the amount of rain, snow, ice. Maybe up to two inches the next couple of years.
GRANT: When the stem finally gets dry enough that a windstorm can tip it over, it’s almost rotten and becomes soil rapidly on the forest floor.
GRANT: As we continued walking, Gary showed us a couple of small openings he converted to food plots.
GRANT: Don’t leave these trees out in here ‘cause they’re gonna die with tractors going by ‘em and stuff. And, although, it looks cool the first year, I promise you when you’re the tractor driver, you’re going to learn to hate every tree out here.
GARY: Right. Right.
GRANT: There were less than five acres of these openings when Gary purchased the property. Based on his objectives, I recommended Gary expand these food plots as large as practical to provide more quality forage and some hunting destinations on his property.
GARY: And so, you’re thinking about just pushing it all the way to there?
GRANT: I’m, I’m fine with that. I’m fine with as many acres as you can afford to do here.
CLAY: This Is beautiful in here.
GRANT: Man, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
GRANT: But if it’s a food plot, always, on anywhere we go on your property, always, always, always — and this takes some patience. I want you to have the dozer, when he’s clearing stuff, go uphill. Because if it’s going down, the physics of it is pushing harder, compacting soil more.
GRANT: And don’t leave me a root wad pile on the edge of the food plot, because that just becomes a predator mobile home, or a predator home.
GRANT: Let’s burn, burn, burn, right in the center of the plot. When you can’t burn anymore, bury those stumps right there. Right in the center of the plot. Keep all those nutrients in there.
GRANT: Gary wants to jump on the food plot expansion project quickly. So, I recommended he plant Eagle Seeds Forage Soybeans. Those beans have several advantages.
GRANT: They produce a lot of forage quickly; they tolerate being browsed and continue growing. That’s important ‘cause a food plot in the middle of all this timber is gonna have a lot of browse pressure during the spring and summer.
GRANT: After clearing the brush and timber around the edges of these plots, there’s going to be a lot of weeds. And that’s another reason to plant these beans. You can use Roundup over the top of these beans, kill all the weeds and let the beans grow.
GRANT: After a thorough tour of the property, we returned to the truck, laid out a clean copy of the map and started marking out the plan.
GRANT: Today was super pleasant. It’s a great property — about 170 acres and a lot of potential. Because we’re in an area of surrounding hardwoods, they’ve been managed about the same — probably for decades. So, we can improve this and deer that are just maybe spending 20 percent of their time or drifting through, I’m very confident will now spend, not all, but the majority of their time here.
GRANT: So, we started walking here by the shed. And we went up to this old pine stand that’s doing nothing. It’s tall – 60 feet tall or so and bare underneath. So, we’re gonna take that to the ground, de-stump and make a food plot.
GRANT: So, why don’t you circle that. And I have people mark on the maps — you’ve probably noticed this from past videos, folks — because, you know, doing helps you remember. If I mark it, it’s one thing, but if they mark it, um, it’s a little bit better and probably their handwriting is better than mine.
GRANT: So, we’re gonna outline this — because we’re gonna clear cut this area and de-stump it — with red. And then we’re gonna turn it into a food plot.
GRANT: This is on a ridge top. So, the wind is going to be much more stable there than in a valley. It’s gonna be an awesome hunting place.
GRANT: And the way it is — if we have a north wind, we can come around here and hunt it. If we have a south wind, we can easily come up here, cut in and hunt it. So there’s multiple ways we can access this. So, I like that.
GRANT: We continued on through and got in a large area of, again, primarily white oaks. Saw some turkeys in there. Uh. There’s plenty of water; there’s little drainages all through here. On a wicked drought, they’re gonna go to the bigger ponds on your property and on the neighbor’s property. But, I’m just not worried about water features.
GRANT: Now, you have a lot of clay in your soil and when the guy is in here de-stumping this, it’s going to be some pretty good equipment. I would make a pond in each one of these food plots. So, the soil is going to hold. And I would do it where your approach and a tree stand or a blind is appropriate.
GRANT: The deer are going to go to water anywhere there. And when I’m talking a pond — maybe two to three times the size of a pickup.
GRANT: You know, I don’t want to be shooting 60 yards across the pond to the deer on the other side. So — and it’s, of course, deep on one end, but not a hole.
GRANT: Some people just make a hole in clay soil because it will hold. Right?
GRANT: I want it shallow because if a fawn or something gets in there, I want it to be able to get out.
GRANT: We went up here — and I’m gonna say — and you help me — but, basically, probably like that…
GRANT: …is TSI area.
GRANT: So, we’re going to take our orange and just outline it and then make some hash marks through there. And we’re gonna leave a bunch of the, you know, eight, nine, ten inch stuff. It’s just gonna be a — change this whole property.
GRANT: Then we went on around and here’s a food plot here and you’d had some, you know, some deer activity there, but — so, we’re gonna be able to make a larger food plot here. Actually, tie into this food plot.
GRANT: There was a drainage in the middle of that, so we’re gonna leave a buffer — 20 yards or so on each side. So, I’m not worried about that. But that will make a nice travel corridor through there and another hunting — break up your shot distance, all that stuff — and add a huge amount of food; huge amount of food.
GRANT: And we’re gonna see if we can salvage any of the trees here. Then we’re gonna tie into this and make another food plot here, down through here.
GRANT: So, now we went from really no planted forage — little, small hidey hole food plots. Our goal is to get up to about 40 acres.
GRANT: There was also an oak ridge in here. And you help me remember where that was? Yeah.
GARY: It was about right here…
GARY: …is where it’s at.
GRANT: So, let’s make another food plot there. And there, there will be some merchantable timber and we hope to harvest enough to pay for the de-stumping. If we make a profit, that’s great.
GRANT: And now, when we look at this, as a hunter, with either a firearm or archery equipment, now we have a bottleneck here; bottleneck around this; bigger bottleneck here; bottleneck here; bottleneck here; bottleneck here; bottleneck here.
GRANT: It becomes much, much more huntable now. I’m super excited about this plan. Super excited. And I hope that we return some day and share an update. ‘Cause I tell you, if this plan is implemented like this, three or four years from now, the hunting will be outstanding.
GRANT: Now, we’ve got the best food and the best cover in the neighborhood. So, let’s say a deer’s home range used to be like this; kind of barely on the property, but it ranges over here a lot.
GRANT: All of a sudden, the best groceries and the best cover are here. There’s a pretty good chance, either this range will slide, or they used to spend their 10 percent of their time here, and now they’re spending 80. And that’s the name of the game when you’re a property owner.
GRANT: So, super excited about this plan. And Gary, very appreciative of you allowing us to be involved in this project.
GARY: Well, thank you very much for coming.
GRANT: Yeah. And look forward to updates and seeing pictures of those grip and grin with those two boys. And just really — this is gonna be an awesome project.
GRANT: We created a Cadillac plan to improve Gary’s property. But he can progress at his own pace. He wants to start with the food plots and probably do some hack and squirt. But he can do as much or little as he has time each year.
GRANT: I’m extremely confident that when this plan is implemented, it will provide Gary and his family years of quality hunting. I’ve got to tell you, though, Gary’s sons are already enjoying the property.
GRANT: While traveling, I was saddened at the magnitude of flooding when we crossed the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. I was raised in Missouri, but went to school at the University of Georgia and Clemson. So, I crossed those rivers many times decades ago.
GRANT: And, normally, there’s a large agricultural field between the two rivers where I cross near Wickliffe, Kentucky. Clay and I crossed at dark, but on the way back, I turned the camera on and you can see on the Kentucky side, the river — the Ohio River at this point — is way in the fields and timber.
GRANT: When we get to the Ohio River, it’s up and rolling; when we cross the land that’s normally ag fields between the Ohio and Mississippi, that’s all moving water. And it looked fairly deep, based on how high it was up the trees, through the Mississippi all the way to the levy on the Missouri side.
GRANT: Given the extent of this flooding, I’m sure there’s been a lot of property damage, both above and below where we cross these great rivers.
GRANT: These observations should be a great reminder to all of us to enjoy every day that our families are safe.
GRANT: If you’d like to learn more about our habitat improvement plans and techniques, please subscribe to the GrowingDeer newsletter.
GRANT: Whether you’re with some friends or working on a habitat improvement project or simply taking a walk by yourself, I hope you slow down and enjoy Creation. But, most importantly, take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.