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GRANT: This week I wish to share several tips and techniques to improve the habitat and hunting at your location.
GRANT: Whether you hunt public or private land, every property is unique. And understanding the resources in that area and how deer use those resources is critical to being a successful hunter.
GRANT: I always enjoy touring properties and visiting with fellow hunters. This week, I want to share some of my observations and recommendations from three properties I recently toured.
GRANT: But we could turn this into a thousand or two thousand pounds per acre with high-quality native vegetation.
GRANT: Mr. Hill owns 200 acres in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee. The ridges are steep, and the ridgetops were very narrow.
GRANT: So, the key to all deer growth, it’s all based on photosynthesis. Well, this tree is photosynthesizing, but look – I mean, deer don’t eat those leaves, A, and B, 90% of it is out of the reach of a deer, or 100% or whatever. We have to get more sun –
GRANT: – down to where it’s doing good. Deer live, make a living zero to three feet off the ground.
GRANT: Well, on your property, like mine used to be, the vast majority of the sun is being captured way above that. And everyone says, “Well, what about acorns?” Well, the best thing – this is research out of Tennessee, actually. The best way to make a tree make more acorns and better acorns, better quality acorns, is not fertilizer or something else, it’s kill every tree around it so it gets maximum sun.
GRANT: While touring Mr. Hill’s property, it became obvious that improving the native habitat would be key to his plan.
GRANT: When we look at the ground here, I mean, this is a desert. We’re – we’re talking way less than 50 pounds of forage per acre. Well, that’s nothing.
GRANT: But we can turn this into 1,000 or 2,000 pounds per acre with high-quality native vegetation.
GRANT: So, I want to fell all these cedars and – and you think about it. Let’s say it costs, you know, pick a number. I’m just saying average of $230, $250 or whatever a acre.
GRANT: Well, you can’t get a dozer in here or a track hoe and make a food plot for that.
GRANT: Now, you’re taking $1,000, $2,000 an acre by the time you de-stump and do all that. So, some people don’t really understand the value of native vegetation. It’s really inexpensive to impact a lot of acres –
GRANT: – versus pulling stumps out of the ground and buying a tractor, buying it – you know, all that. I love food plots, don’t get me wrong.
GRANT: But with a chainsaw and some work, you can make high-quality habitat just by returning this to native vegetation versus these invasive cedars.
GRANT: Working here today in eastern Tennessee, foothills of the Smokies, and this property, like a lot of properties, has been cleared at some time in the past and is now covered with eastern red cedar. And over here in the east, Virginia pine.
GRANT: Neither are doing any good for wildlife, so when I look down this little, narrow ridge, you can see both sides have been encroached on with eastern red cedar and Virginia pine and the prescription I have here is to bring a crew in. It’s pretty steep, so we’ll do it by hand – is chainsaw all these cedars and pines.
GRANT: You can’t ever plant it with a machine but we can have great native vegetation, so fell it, wait those two summers; let it dry really good, bring in prescribed fire and we’ll turn both sides of this narrow ridge into super high-quality native vegetation and cover. And that will be a magnet to attract wildlife in to this property.
GRANT: I want to mention that there is no market for eastern red cedar or Virginia pine in his neighborhood.
GRANT: Currently, there’s little to no growth on the forest floor because it was a closed canopy forest and no sun was reaching the soil.
GRANT: Most of the ridgetops and valleys at Mr. Hill’s property were very narrow. And in this situation, it became obvious, food plot locations were limited and the most important part of the plan would be improving the native habitat.
GRANT: By improving the native habitat, we can significantly increase the quantity of quality browse and cover on the property.
GRANT: There were a few long, narrow ridgetops where it would be appropriate to establish food plots. And these will be ideal locations once the eastern red cedars or pines are felled on both sides, creating cover. Deer will cross back and forth, cover/food, cover/food, across these long, narrow food plots.
GRANT: It would be awesome to put a Redneck blind at either end so that you can hunt that no matter the wind direction.
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GRANT: If the property has features that are favorable for creating food plots, it’s important not to just lay out big squares and create food plots. But design them in such a way that not only provide quality forage but excellent hunting opportunities.
GRANT: Take Mr. Pritchard’s property, for example. His property is in north-central Kentucky. Mr. Pritchard’s property had several small food plots that he had planted with Eagle Seeds Fall Buffalo Blend late last summer.
GRANT: These plots were offering critters quality forage and certainly provided good hunting locations. However, when I look at Mr. Pritchard’s property as a whole, I knew we needed to add more quality forage to allow deer in that area to express their full potential and create more hunting locations.
GRANT: Much of Mr. Pritchard’s property was covered with hardwood forest. And most of those acres had been high graded years ago.
GRANT: These timber stands are fairly homogenous and there wasn’t anything in the stands to direct or guide deer movement, making it very difficult to figure out where to put a stand or a blind.
GRANT: When I tour a property where the majority of the acres are in unproductive habitat, you can bet I’m going to prescribe a change.
GRANT: Before prescribing habitat improvement projects, I always study the neighborhood. And in this case, there were several large ag fields on neighboring properties. And I’m certain these fields provided quality forage for deer and other critters throughout the summer.
GRANT: Once those crops are harvested, there won’t be much quality forage for critters in the area.
GRANT: By designing food plots that provide both high-quality summer and winter food, we’ll do a better job of keeping deer on the property year-round – feeding there in the summer and certainly feeding there during the hunting season.
GRANT: I worked with Mr. Pritchard to design food plots that not only significantly increased the amount of quality forage produced on this property, but laid them out in such a way to create several bottlenecks; bottlenecks that would be favorable for almost any wind direction.
GRANT: Designing and establishing resources that are limited throughout the rest of the neighborhood not only attracts and benefits wildlife but makes that property much easier to hunt.
GRANT: Folks often ask me what they can do to hunt larger, more mature deer. And certainly, improving the habitat and making sure all the critical resources are available is important.
GRANT: But another component that’s just as important is managing the hunting pressure. If you’re hunting in an area that has incredibly nice habitat, but it’s hunted all the time, it’s likely mature bucks and does will be nocturnal. Finding a method to manage that hunting pressure is key to improving the quality of the hunt.
GRANT: Whether you hunt on five or 5,000 acres, the property is going to have neighbors. And sometimes, those neighbors don’t have the same deer hunting or management objectives.
GRANT: I have found through the years that if hunters work together, they can not only improve the quality of the habitat, but the quality of the hunt.
GRANT: There are many folks throughout the whitetails’ range that are part of a deer cooperative or a hunting club. And in those cases, when they’re all pulling the same direction, they can really work to provide high-quality habitat and great hunting opportunities.
GRANT: I recently had the opportunity to tour a long-established hunting club in western Tennessee. This was a great opportunity to meet with several hunters and share some habitat improvement and hunting techniques.
GRANT: So, culling never works, right? Some deer express their, their potential early, some later. Genetics are sex-linked trait mitochondrial DNA to the female side. 72% of antler traits come from the doe. So, until we can tell its got a bigger right ear or it holds its tail to the left or whatever, there’s no chance on a free-ranging herd you can make any difference by culling. That only works in captive deer where you have a pedigree and you know who bred who for generations.
HUNTER: Any benefit to protecting deer that show exceptional antler potential?
GRANT: Sure. I mean, there’s – its risk/reward relationship, right?
GRANT: Something could happen. Deer break legs running, chasing does, fighting. So, there’s risk. We pass deer. I live on and own 2,400 acres and we lose deer every year to the neighbors.
HUNTER: Should we continue to perform a deer census? You know, we kind of talked about it.
GRANT: We talked about it; I don’t do a camera survey on my place anymore. It’s never a census. You never count everything. It’s really a survey. You – it’s an indicator, an estimate. Do I have more or less deer than I had last year? I can tell that by simple utilization cages.
GRANT: It’s neat to see all the pictures. You do it in August. Most of ’em change portions of the home range they use by hunting season. So, it’s not a big hunting advantage. You just know they’re there. Well, you’re gonna know they’re there if you put some cameras on food plots or whatever during the summer anyway.
HUNTER: Hmm, hmm.
GRANT: Hunting pressure is a misused term. If you’re hunting appropriately, to be successful with you – and I’m not talking about the club, but to be a successful with you. You’re going in minimal disturbance and I don’t – that’s not riding down the road. That’s the wind’s right for the hunting location you pick and what-not. I don’t care how much you hunt.
GRANT: We’re on our farm – someone’s on our farm close to seven days a week.
GRANT: What I am worried about is people carelessly hunting.
UNKNOWN: Hmm, hmm.
GRANT: “Hey, it’s a pretty afternoon. Football game doesn’t start ‘til dark. I’m just gonna go sit in stand X ‘cause it’s convenient.” And the wind is all wrong.
GRANT: Because deer have memory. We know this from great research. Deer have memory. They tend to – their memory tends to be better, almost like humans, until they get senile, which is about seven for a lot of deer, depending on nutrition. It’s nutrition related.
GRANT: So, man, you can educate deer and if you educate deer right the first of the season, it’s kind of like – it’s also like us. So, you know, that break of season until the next season, you kind of forget that you need to keep every receipt until next tax season. Then you do it again.
GRANT: And deer kind of forget, “Well, man, last time I was in this field it thundered really loud and there was a white belly over there,” by the next deer season.
GRANT: So, if you boo-boo the first two weeks of season, you’ve got a tough season ahead. I’m fine with more roads just because it makes it easier. Deer and turkey love to walk roads, all that stuff. That’s – to me, that’s an either way.
GRANT: I would rather your members drive the buggy within 100 yards of their stand/blind than walk a quarter mile. Unequivocally. Absolutely. Every single time. Because when you’re in the buggy, I mean, hopefully someone, I hope someone is on a buggy every day on this property. And condition deer that it’s – don’t be shooting out of it.
GRANT: Condition deer. That’s just like deer in Nashville in the city park. They don’t care if a Chevy drives by. They could care; they don’t even pick their head up anymore.
GRANT: So, I want buggies – the same buggies. What I don’t want is opening day of deer season, someone bust out the big, brand new, you know, whatever, that’s totally different and rips through the whole property.
GRANT: But I hope you use the property year-round.
GRANT: And, you know, and you’re not ripping and roaring, but you’re just driving through normal and condition deer; that’s a non-issue. And then when you’re walking, of course, you’re respirating and the wind’s blowing it somewhere. It’s – or the thermals or whatever is happening. But when you’re in the buggy, it’s fumes and they’re so used to it, it’s no big deal.
GRANT: And especially, what I really like, and we do this on our place, is, I want people to come pick me up out of the stand and spook the deer out of the field, or the oak flat, or wherever, I’m hunting with the buggy and not me walking out.
GRANT: That is critical. That’s one of the biggest things you can do for your property.
GRANT: I was thrilled that this group of hunters was working together at many levels to improve their hunting opportunities and often share those opportunities with others.
GRANT: I gotcha. Sounds like it’s meeting your objectives, then.
GRANT: Cooperatives are similar to hunting clubs. They allow sportsmen and women to learn from each other, share experiences and work toward everyone having a fun and safe hunting opportunity.
GRANT: If you’re not part of a hunting club or a cooperative, you might consider starting one. I’m part of a local deer cooperative and I really enjoy learning from the fellow co-op members, hearing their hunting stories at the end of the year and working together to improve wildlife in our area.
GRANT: We know weather conditions don’t follow a calendar. No matter the conditions where you are, I hope you take some time to get outside 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.