This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.
GRANT: Last year we shared that Daniel Stefanoff and fellow Pro Staffer, Brandon Pittman, harvested two good bucks on Daniel’s farm in Oklahoma.
UNKNOWN: Oh, gosh.
GRANT: Several years ago I laid out a habitat and hunting improvement plan on the smaller property Daniel owned. He spent some time fixing it all up and someone wanted it more than he did, so he sold that property and bought a larger parcel in the Cross Timbers area of Oklahoma.
GRANT: On this new property during the past few years, Daniel’s opened up the forest canopy, used prescribed fire to stimulate the growth of beneficial native species and established several high-quality food plots.
GRANT: When Daniel first got this property, there weren’t many critters in the area because there wasn’t any quality habitat in the neighborhood.
GRANT: But as Daniel started improving the habitat, more and more critters were there and their quality also improved. There are now several great looking bucks using Daniel’s property.
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GRANT: Quality habitat not only increases the quality of bucks, but it also results in an increase in the quantity of deer.
GRANT: Once established, to maintain quality habitat, it’s very important to balance the amount of food that habitat can produce with the number of deer using the area.
GRANT: Based on Daniel’s observations of the number of deer he’s seeing and the amount of forage that’s being produced on his farm, he knew this year it was important to set a quota for doe harvest and to reach that quota. He needed to reduce a number of mouths competing for the quality forage.
GRANT: Oklahoma’s deer season opens the first of October and Daniel and his property manager, Owen, who you may recognize as a past GrowingDeer intern, were eager to get in some stands.
GRANT: Typically, the vast majority of days throughout a deer season will have a northwest/southwest or west wind. East winds tend to be fairly rare. So, it’s important that you design most of your hunting locations to be approached from the east. That way, you’re not alerting deer when you enter or exit your hunting location.
DANIEL: (Whispering) It’s Saturday, October 3rd. Owen and I are finally hunting. We’re sitting in a set of Summits in a big food plot. We’ve got west wind. So we came in from the east; wind in our face. Got up here nice and quiet. There’s a pile of does that go in this field every night.
DANIEL: (Whispering) We’ve done a bunch of habitat improvements. Our carry numbers are way up. So, it’s time to thin that down. I’m super excited – like the rest of you guys – and this has been a hectic year for me. I’m thankful to be up in a tree, thankful my family’s healthy and looking forward to a great hunt and a great season.
GRANT: The location they chose to hunt overlooked a food plot that had been planted this fall with Eagle Seeds Fall Buffalo Blend. The area Daniel’s farm is located has been in a wicked drought for several weeks, as had much of the area throughout the Midwest.
GRANT: The drought conditions, as well as the number of deer, are limiting the amount of quality forage produced in Daniel’s plots.
GRANT: White-tailed deer typically eat about six to eight percent of their body weight daily. That means if a deer weighs 100 pounds, they’re gonna consume six to eight pounds of forage every day.
GRANT: So, let’s take that a bit further. Imagine five, six does and fawns coming to a one- or two-acre plot. And the average weight of all of them combined this time of year at the start of deer season is 100 pounds; does weigh a little bit more, fawns a little less.
GRANT: Goodness, that’s 40 or more pounds of forage they’re taking a day. And that’s significant if you’re talking about a plot that’s recently been planted in dry conditions.
GRANT: I doubt the plot’s producing that much forage. And the deer can actually browse it and limit its ability to produce forage later during the season.
GRANT: A good illustration of this is what Daniel and Owen observed as they spotted a group of does, head down feeding. While watching those deer, another doe appeared to the right.
GRANT: The does milled around in the timber close to the tree where the stands were hung, and Owen watched them as Daniel was scanning the plot.
DANIEL: (Whispering) She’s down.
DANIEL: (Whispering) She made us work for that one.
GRANT: If you’ve ever been at full draw waiting for a deer to maybe move a little bit and present a shot, you know they can all of a sudden take some steps and change the distance between the hunter and the deer significantly.
GRANT: That can mean the hunter needs to let the bow down, range the deer again and come back to full draw. That’s a lot of movement that may result in a missed shot opportunity.
GRANT: Fortunately this year, Daniel started using the Burris Oracle sight. It’s a sight that allows bow hunters to range anytime they want.
GRANT: So while Daniel was still at full draw, he could continue ranging the doe and when there was a shot opportunity, he was ready, the pin was set and all he had to do was make a good release.
DANIEL: (Whispering) Doe number one for the 2020 season is down.
GRANT: I’m very proud of Daniel for all the work he’s put in to improving the habitat for many species, including white-tailed deer, and for understanding and accepting the responsibility that we don’t only improve habitat, but we, as hunters, are also wildlife managers.
DANIEL: Owen and I wrapped up a great first hunt. This year at our farm, we call the farm the Cross Timbers 440 – 440 acres dead in the heart of the Cross Timbers ecosystem. And these deer make their living off of eating acorns and smilax.
DANIEL: There’s no ag anywhere around here. I would dare to say that we’re probably one of the bigger ag producers in this county.
DANIEL So, the benefit of that is we’ve done a lot of habitat work. Our deer are thriving. But we’ve got too many deer. So, this season is about removing mouths and taking this doe down is a start of about 16 that we need to get off the property.
DANIEL: Properties have a certain carrying capacity and if we don’t control our does then we’re going to have too many deer for the carrying capacity of this property and that’s going to be to the detriment of our bucks.
DANIEL: So, we’re trying to get big bucks up here and big bucks need good nutrition. So, we’ll pull down a bunch of does this season and super excited about the rest of the opportunities that we’re going to have.
DANIEL: Owen and I are going to load this thing up in the Yamaha; go up and get it processed. And I’m going to have some fresh venison to put on my grill this weekend.
GRANT: I’ve received many questions recently from throughout the whitetails’ range asking why their food plots had failed. Some of those folks included a picture and when I studied it, it was obvious the food plot didn’t fail; it simply couldn’t produce enough forage for the amount of deer feeding in that area.
GRANT: I’m not surprised by the number of questions on this subject. Because the number of does harvested throughout the whitetails’ range has decreased versus staying the same or actually increasing.
GRANT: When the number of deer in an area increases, but the amount of quality forage it produces stays the same, or even decreases, bad things happen.
GRANT: One of those is that the deer will seek out all the best plants – what we call “ice cream” plants – and literally browse them to the ground. If this continues for several years, they may reduce the seed base for those native species in the area.
GRANT: As habitat quality decreases, deer are forced to eat lower-quality plants. And when they’re eating lower-quality plants or not getting enough groceries, their health is going to decrease also.
GRANT: When I evaluate food sources in an area, I’m most focused on the quantity of quality food during the late summer and late winter. Those are the two typical bottlenecks for available food for white-tailed deer.
GRANT: In some areas, due to land ownership patterns and other factors, it may be impossible to provide enough quality forage for the amount of deer in the area. And in that case, hunters need to accept the role as wildlife managers and realize every time they pull the trigger or pass a deer, they’re making a management decision that impacts the herd’s health.
GRANT: In areas where there is ample quality food, it may be a wise decision to pass some does and allow that deer herd to increase in number.
GRANT: That’s rarely the case because it’s important to realize a healthy deer herd can increase its population by about a third each year if they’re in a high-quality habitat.
GRANT: Well, it doesn’t take too many years for that deer herd to double and not many places can handle twice as many deer.
GRANT: Maybe you’re in an area where there’s been a recent outbreak of EHD – epizootic hemorrhagic disease – a really bad outbreak, like during 2012, and deer population numbers decreased significantly where you hunt.
GRANT: if that’s the case, simply back off the doe harvest for a year or two – not five. Because in a year or two, again, increasing that a third year, the numbers will be right back to where they were before that disease outbreak.
GRANT: Those are rare situations. Throughout most of the whitetails’ range, there’s more deer than quality groceries. And we know that by the amount of fawns surviving to six months of age or the average body weight of any age class.
GRANT: Achieving an ample doe harvest can be difficult if only one or two hunters in the area have that objective. It’s often better to have a little meeting somehow; get the local hunters together and just share. “Hey, have you noticed that food plots aren’t growing as well?” Or, “Certain species of native vegetation isn’t present anymore?”
GRANT: And to turn this around before the deer herd plummets, we need to all pitch in and tag a few more does this fall.
GRANT: Sometimes, an individual landowner can make a difference and I’ll use my good friend Mr. Terry Hamby’s property in western Kentucky.
GRANT: We had noticed that the food plots were struggling to produce a lot of forage and the native vegetation was being browsed pretty hard. So last year several of Mr. Hamby’s friends, including me, all committed to tagging a bunch of does.
GRANT: I tagged seven does and one buck because I wanted to do my share in managing that deer herd to improve the herd and habitat quality.
GRANT: As a result of all of us really pitching in and Mr. Hamby working hard to have good quality food plots this year, I gotta tell you, he’s growing some whoppers this year and I’m eager to return and hunt with Mr. Hamby.
GRANT: To be really candid, I visit with a lot of hunters that know they need to harvest more does. But they say the same thing year after year after year. “Well, I’m gonna wait ‘til late season or until after I tag a buck before I start hunting does.” And in that case, they almost never reach their doe harvest objective.
GRANT: There’s several reasons why. As season progresses, there’s more hunting pressure. Those old nannies get pretty wise and they can be tough to harvest.
GRANT: And then, the hunter has hunted quite some time. He may not feel like getting out in the cold and going hunting.
GRANT: The best strategy, if you know the habitat needs some relief; If you need to work on balancing the amount of deer with the habitat quality – if you need to harvest does – you need to start the opening day of season.
GRANT: You need to accept the role as a wildlife manager. Even if you’re hunting on public land and you’ve noticed, gosh, there’s a browse line; poison ivy is browsed up six feet tall or all the lower limbs have been browed on.
GRANT: Whatever the indication is – maybe it’s body weights seem to be getting lower and lower each year. You need to accept that role, fill your doe tags, fill some of your doe tags, anyway, and help be a manager.
GRANT: Help improve the habitat and the deer herd by taking the necessary amount of does so that habitat can recover.
GRANT: In addition to each hunter accepting their role as a wildlife and habitat manager, no matter where they hunt, let’s never forget the hunter’s original role. And that is of a provider.
GRANT: We need to provide meat for our family, friends, maybe our community. And harvesting does to benefit the habitat and help others is a critical role – almost a badge of honor – that every hunter should accept.
GRANT: If you’d like to learn more about wildlife and habitat management, or processing venison, check out our social media.
GRANT: Making observations about habitat quality is a great way to enjoy and understand Creation. But more importantly, I hope you take time every day to study the Creator’s Word and apply it to your life.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.