Deer Management: How To Improve The Quality Of Native Browse And Food Plots (Episode 497 Transcript)

This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.

GRANT: Two months ago we used prescribed fire to improve the habitat quality of an area we call the 50-Acre Glade. We created a fire break around the entire area using chainsaws and backpack blowers.

GRANT: When the conditions were right, we started early and lit the fire along the firebreak on the top of the ridge. We let it back down the mountain a bit using that black area as an added fire break.

GRANT: This backing fire was a low-intensity fire, and it worked perfectly to increase the size of our fire break.

GRANT: There’s ample fuel in this area. Years ago it was covered with hardwood saplings but had Flatwood Natives come in, terminate those hardwood saplings, and that added sunshine allowed a lot more native grasses and forbs to grow in the area.

GRANT: You may ask the source of those native grasses and forbs. There’s a great seed bank in the soil of those native species. This ridge is too steep to have ever been plowed, and those seeds have just laid there dormant for many years.

GRANT: So it’s time to go back and see the quality of the habitat that responded to that fire.

GRANT: I’m standing in an area we call 50-Acre Glade, and we used prescribed fire in this area March 22nd of this year. I wanted to come back and see how it’s looking, and I am thrilled with the results.

GRANT: It’s tough to tell, given the height of the vegetation, but this area is also covered with cedar skeletons. When Tracy and I purchased this property, this area was full of cedars in between the oaks.

GRANT: We felled the cedars with chainsaws, did a prescribed fire a couple years later, and a bunch of hardwood saplings come up. We had Flatwood Natives come in, treat the hardwood saplings. We burned twice since then, and this turned into literally a wildlife paradise.

GRANT: In just a short walk in the burned area, I’ve already seen many great species that provide either food or cover.

GRANT: Some of the species that flower early are putting on a show. Many others will flower throughout the summer. There’s young ragweed everywhere, and young ragweed is typically 20% or more in protein and extremely digestible. It’s like a food plot throughout the entire 50 acres.

GRANT: As ragweed matures out of that high palatability, high-quality stage, other plants will come on. It’s like a time release food plot. The incredible amount of diversity here means it will provide food and cover throughout the entire year. It’s perfect fawn and poult habitat.

GRANT: There are areas that are really thick for cover, food; not only forage for deer, but bugs for turkeys, and open areas where they can move easier.

GRANT: Many of these species are what we typically classify as umbrella species — narrow at the bottom and bigger at the top – which allows turkey poults to get underneath there, be protected from avian predators, and forage on the soft insects that live below.

GRANT: This is native habitat. Wildfire created this type of habitat for centuries and centuries. We’re simply restoring native habitat to this area.

GRANT: It’s easy to focus on deer and turkey, and certainly this habitat will benefit both those species, but I’ve seen lots of butterflies and moths flitting around. I’ve seen some cool insects and imagine all the small insect species I’m not even seeing that are critical to maintaining healthy soils and overall a heathy ecosystem.

GRANT: We’ve had a huge amount of rain in the Midwest this year, but no sign of erosion here.

GRANT: While I was walking around, I noticed some Smilax plants with the young, tenderest part of the plant still on there. If you’ve watched GrowingDeer in the past, you know we’ve toured many properties, and every Smilax is bitten off.

GRANT: 100% of every Smilax I’ve seen so far is browsed. See there’s one right in front of you?

UNKNOWN: Yes, sir.

GRANT: Here we have ample food, lots of high-quality food, and deer are not selecting Smilax at this time.

GRANT: At this same time of year, I can assure you there are many properties, maybe where you hunt, where Smilax is heavily browsed.

GRANT: I talk about Smilax or catbrier a lot because it’s easy to identify, and it’s a good indicator species. If it’s browsed really heavily down into where the thorns are pretty large, you know deer in that area are hungry and not expressing their full potential. That area either needs fewer deer or more quality habitat.

GRANT: It may be that way when we get to August or the stress period of the summer, but right now there’s plenty of food at The Proving Grounds for deer and many other species of wildlife to express their full potential.

GRANT: We’re seeing a little browse out here on the native vegetation, but not very far down on the plant. There’s so much high-quality forage, deer can simply take the best and leave the rest. There are many advantages to having that much forage versus the number of deer on the property.

GRANT: When deer don’t have to browse as close to the ground, they don’t pick up near as many parasites in their diet. And deer with fewer parasites can express much more of their genetic potential.

GRANT: This is a tremendous habitat management tool that can be applied throughout the whitetail’s range.

GRANT: One of the big advantages of having a rich species diversity is that there’s usually something very palatable and nutritious for deer and other critters throughout the growing season.

GRANT: Some native species are palatable as soon as they come up. Others take a while to mature before they’re palatable, and others yet don’t even show themselves until later in the year.

GRANT: There are mature oaks scattered throughout the area making this a savanna habitat. These oaks provide shade in the summer; allows critters to cool off; acorns during the fall — high source of energy, but they’re thin enough — there’s just a few of ‘em scattered around that ample sun hits the ground throughout the day from different angles, and that allows all this great forage to grow. Savannahs are my favorite woodland habitat type.

GRANT: One of my favorite plants is sensitive brier. Really high-quality forage, makes a seed. It’s actually a legume. But the really cool thing about it is if you flick it or disturb it, it pulls its leaves in.

GRANT: Watch this. We’re going down here. There’s one. See how quickly it folds up? I just barely raked it with my finger, and it closes up.

GRANT: It is so cool to get out and explore Creation.

GRANT: I’m right on the edge of an area we call the 50-Acre Glade, and we treated it with prescribed fire a couple of months ago. Tremendous response. Tons and tons of high-quality forage and cover. Browse right here, a sensitive brier in here, really good stuff, Smilax right back there — all good.

GRANT: Take a few steps with me and look at this change. You’re gonna notice we’re getting in the shade. And as soon as we get in the shade, we just entered a closed canopy forest. The amount of bare ground is increasing with each step for a few bit, it gets more and more exposed.

GRANT: The same species of plants. Obviously, we went from tons per acre to a few pounds per acre. And the difference is this closed canopy forest. It’s catching the sun’s energy and not allowing it to reach the ground, causing that vegetation to grow.

GRANT: Both habitat types are important, but a lot of properties I work on have a lot of this and almost none of that. It takes a patchwork of open habitat, allowing the sun to reach the soil, and closed canopy forest to make really high-quality habitat.

GRANT: Because of this, a closed canopy forest could never be as productive from a food point of view to a white-tailed deer or even turkeys or other species as open areas.

GRANT: Both habitat types are needed, but unless I’m working in ag country, usually open habitat is in very short supply.

GRANT: If you’re hunting a property that’s primarily closed canopy forest, either large openings can be created, maybe through a timber harvest, or several small openings can be created by using the hack and squirt technique or other tools.

GRANT: If prescribed fire is always used during the same time of year, even if it’s a 1-, 2-, 3-year rotation, you will find that the diversity of species of plants growing in the area will decrease.

GRANT: To maintain the maximum amount of species diversity, which is always a good goal, you need to burn at different times of the year, and the reason is simple. If you always burn at the same time of year, you’ll take out the class of plants that are making seed at that time. I was extremely pleased with the results of our work.

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GRANT: A few weeks after we did the prescribed fire, we started planting Eagle Seed forage soybeans with the Genesis drill.

GRANT: Just before bow season started last year, we drilled the Fall Buffalo Blend, and it’s fed deer throughout the winter.

GRANT: The annual clovers in the blend were still providing high-quality forage for deer when we drilled in the soybeans.

GRANT: There are many advantages to the planting green technique, but some obvious ones are the ground is never bare; the soil is never exposed; and there’s no chance of wind or water erosion.

GRANT: We certainly proved that this year ‘cause during the last several weeks there has been many heavy rains at The Proving Grounds. There’s no sign of erosion, and the soil is still moist. However, there’s no doubt in my mind sometime during this growing season we will experience drought conditions.

GRANT: A huge advantage of the Buffalo System is that by planting green and crimping that vegetation down, it leaves a mulch cover across the soil. And we all know that mulch helps keep moisture in the soil rather than evaporating into the air.

GRANT: As a comparison, if there’s a disced field near where you live, you’ve probably noticed some erosion during all these heavy rains.

GRANT: Soil that’s bare, or what we call naked, tends to get very hot when the sun is shining on it or very cold if there’s ice or snow or cold rain. Because there’s growing vegetation year-round in the Buffalo System and a mulch layer, it moderates those extremes from the soil getting too cold or too hot.

GRANT: On areas that are disced or plowed, most of the life in the soil – earthworms all the way down to single-cell organisms – are killed. But in the Buffalo System where we never turn the soil, those populations expand literally by the billions.

GRANT: When it’s cold outside, those critters are still moving a bit, respirating, and that action helps keep the soil a bit warmer.

GRANT: This year we planted the first plots on April 10th, and after that there was several nights with temperatures in the low 40s coupled with cold rains. Those conditions often limit soybean germination or growth in areas where the soil has been plowed.

GRANT: As we’ve showed you, the beans are doing good here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: By the way, all that life in the soil I described, it’s commonly called soil biology, is doing more than warming up the soil a tad when it’s cold outside. It’s breaking down that mulch layer – the plant material laying on top of the soil — and making that basically great quality fertilizer for the new crop to use.

GRANT: The additional bit of heat generated by all that soil biology — well it means plants can grow a little earlier in the late winter and longer in the fall. And that results in more tons of high-quality forage being produced per acre. And who doesn’t want that out of their food plots?

GRANT: We shared with you last week that rather than an herbicide, we use the Goliath Crimper to terminate the fall crop. We do this after the beans are planted.

GRANT: The Goliath replicates the action of a herd of buffalo trampling down vegetation on the Great Prairie. Every time we show crimping, I get questions asking if we’re not killing the beans we’ve already planted.

GRANT: We went back out a couple days after we crimped. The beans are looking great and standing strong.

GRANT: It’s Wednesday, May 22nd, and we used the Goliath Crimper on this field two days ago. So I wanted to follow up quickly and show you what it looks like after two days.

GRANT: You can tell that all the fall cover crop, Eagle Seed’s Fall Buffalo Blend, is lying down. It’s not standing back up. But in just two days, right here in this little area, there are bunches of beans sticking up and coming through the mulch. They’re looking great. This is going to end up being a great stand of forage soybeans.

GRANT: You can probably see my hat flopping a lot. It’s really windy today, and that would evaporate the soil moisture rapidly, but this layer of mulch we created by terminating the crop with the crimper is protecting the soil, shading it, and keeping the wind from evaporating the moisture.

GRANT: Some of the beans are just now coming through the mulch. They’re being protected in that young, critical stage from being browsed on. That’s another advantage of the Buffalo System.

GRANT: If you’re using conventional techniques including discing the soil, especially on these wet, cold years like we’ve had this spring, you probably don’t have crops in the ground or they’re not out of the ground yet.

GRANT: Nationwide, it’s way behind on planting soybeans. But the Buffalo System allowed us to plant, get beans growing, and feed those does that are now nursing fawns and bucks that are producing antlers.

GRANT: If you like the content we share at GrowingDeer, please consider sharing it with some of your friends.

GRANT: June is a great time of year to start practicing with your bow, and we’ll be sharing some of our techniques to make sure we’re all able to make that shot under stress this fall.

GRANT: But whether you’re outside shooting or just enjoying Creation, I hope you take time every day to slow down, be quiet, and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.

GRANT: Colten, Daniel, and I are out filming some habitat stuff today. Daniel and I were over here working and right during an interview I get distracted ‘cause I see Colten reaching down right where I’d just been walking. Picks up this nice shed. Great job, Colten.

GRANT: Y’all may not know Colten ‘cause he’s behind the scenes; he’s one of our editors. He does some great work, although I may keep him in the office and not let him come out in the field much more.