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>>GRANT: We’ve shared about habitat and the benefits of native habitat. But today I wish to dive a bit deeper into that subject and share about some ongoing research.

>>GRANT: Many folks across the whitetails’ range hunt in areas with a closed canopy forest. These may be hardwoods, pines, cedars, sweetgums or some combination. Whatever the case may be, these areas aren’t getting enough sunshine to the forest floor to stimulate the growth of grasses or forbs which make high-quality habitat. And it’s important to really remember that a lot of species make a living from zero to three feet above the ground.

>>GRANT: With proper management, native vegetation can provide high-quality cover and food for many species.

>>GRANT: We’ve been seeing a lot of turkey poults this summer here at The Proving Grounds and they’re triggering our Reconyx cameras.

>>GRANT: And you may say, “Hey, Grant. I’ve heard there’s a good hatch,” or “there’s a good hatch this year where I hunt.” And I certainly hope that’s true. But we’ve been blessed with good hatches for a number of years in a row. And I believe that’s directly a result of the habitat work we’ve done here and our work to balance the amount of predators with the prey species, so the prey can thrive.

>>GRANT: High-quality nesting habitat reduces the chances of a predator finding the nest. Now, it doesn’t eliminate those chances, but it certainly reduces it. And then once those eggs hatch, the poults need high-quality habitat with a lot of soft insects – those are critical to their diet at that stage – and cover that hides them from avian predators.

>>GRANT: Native habitat often includes many umbrella species, plants that have a stem at the bottom and grow out and branch out. Umbrella cover allows poults to run around on bare dirt or lightly vegetated areas, hunt for bugs and not be seen by avian predators.

>>GRANT: This is also great habitat for hiding fawns and providing high-quality forage for lactating does and bucks developing antlers.

>>GRANT: Remember, many native species are also high in minerals, in addition to protein.

>>GRANT: You may recall that last summer we took clippings off native vegetation down about the level where deer were browsing on the same vegetation close by, sent it off to a lab for a forage quality analysis. And the results showed clearly that many of the native browse species had very high-quality forage.

>>GRANT: Smilax, which you may know as catbrier, tested about 20% protein here at The Proving Grounds. So, that level may go up or down throughout the year. But that’s still high-quality forage anywhere.

>>GRANT: As another example, giant ragweed tested 19% crude protein. Imagine that. About the same protein level out of ragweed that you get out of high-dollar deer feeds you put in the feeder – 2% crude fat and 4% calcium. That’s really high-quality forage and 68% of it was digestible. That’s really high.

>>GRANT: Yeah, it’s tough to admit, but common ragweed, one of those plants a lot of people suffer because of the pollen, also tested extremely high protein.

>>GRANT: Keep in mind that deer are very selective feeders. You notice their muzzle is very narrow, where a cow’s mouth is very wide. They want to shovel it in, and a deer is just taking a bite here or a bite here.

>>GRANT: And having high-quality native vegetation with lots of different species means a deer can take a bite of the best, leave the rest and move on.

>>GRANT: And they can also select for the minerals they need, or it’s called adjusting their diet. I mean, if they’re high on one thing they can eat something else to balance it out and native habitat really allows deer to have a very balanced diet.

>>GRANT: Many other researchers know this and even more information. One of them is Mark Turner. He’s a Ph.D. student under my good friend, Dr. Craig Harper.

>>GRANT: They’re collecting data throughout the whitetails’ range and kind of comparing native vegetation and different soil types. Basically, different habitat types and matching that with the antler size or deer size produced at that area. This is extremely interesting information.

>>GRANT: You may recognize Mark as he was a GrowingDeer intern years ago. Mark and his crew recently returned to The Proving Grounds as part of his research. And they were collecting random samples; So it included collecting vegetation within closed canopy forests, food plots and areas we manage for native vegetation – a very thorough analysis of what’s standing here at The Proving Grounds this time of year.

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>>GRANT: Hey, I’ve got a great project here at The Proving Grounds today. Mark Turner was an intern here, how many years ago, Mark?

>>MARK: I think it would have been four or five.

>>GRANT: Four or five years ago. So, we saw a lot of this. We’ve maybe seen a little progress. Mark’s now in his Ph.D. research and he’s looking at native vegetation, not only here but a bunch of sites. Like what, dozens of sites, Mark?

>>MARK: 45 sites across 26 states.

>>GRANT: 45 sites in 26 states. So, very, very heavy research. We’re honored to have him and his crew here. And just going to tag along a little bit today and maybe learn a few tips and try not to get in the way while Mark’s collecting data from native plant species.

>>GRANT: Would you mind just sharing a little bit about the gist of your research?

>>MARK: Right. So, we’re basically just trying to look at how land cover and forage availability across all these properties – across about 26 states, like I said – influences deer antler size and deer body weight.

>>MARK: So, we’re going to take the harvest data that y’all have been collecting on deer that you’ve taken on the property –

>>GRANT: Sure.

>>MARK: – we’re going to compare that to how much forage is out here, both in the native stuff as well as in the food plots and in the woods. And then, we’re going to compare that – how that ranks with a lot of other properties that we’re going to – some of which are high-quality habitat –

>>GRANT: Sure. Sure.

>>MARK: – that, you know, might – might have a bunch of soybean fields, agriculture – some of which might just be closed canopy woods.

>>MARK: So, we’re looking at a variety of sites across a variety of states with, you know, a lot of different soil and vegetation types. So, it should be interesting to see what we end up with.

>>GRANT: So, super, super-quality research that all of us as land managers, deer hunters can apply to wherever we hunt. Man, we’re just excited to have you here. Let’s – let’s see what you’ve got going on.

>>MARK: Yeah. Absolutely.

>>GRANT: There you go.

>>GRANT: So, you know, a great thing in the Ozarks is you can count on rocks. And we’ve got, you know, some percentage of our sample area here is – is pure rock – not going to be providing much forage. Which is representative of the area, right? That’s good science.

>>MARK: Absolutely.

>>GRANT: You throw out a random placement and where it lands is where you should take your measurement.

>>MARK: Yep. We’ve got some – this looks like purple prairie clover –

>>GRANT: Yes.

>>MARK: – which we’ll collect. And then, obviously some grass, which deer don’t eat. But –

>>GRANT: Right.

>>MARK: – provides cover during various times of year and you gotta have some of that to carry fire, too.

>>GRANT: Got to have it to carry fire. I see where they’re – they’ll eat the grass just a little bit when it’s first coming up. Very first in the spring.

>>MARK: Um hmm.

>>GRANT: I think it’s actually high in a couple of different vitamins.

>>MARK: And basically, we’ve broken the property down –

>>GRANT: Sure.

>>MARK: – into various vegetation types. And then we’re going to collect the forages that are here.

>>GRANT: And you will dry this and do a standard forage analysis on it?

>>MARK: Yes. We’ll dry all of it and then we’ll take a sub-sample from each species and age on each property and send it to Clemson to do analysis on.

>>GRANT: Um hmm.

>>MARK: And then we can apply whatever nutritional constraint that we would like to it.

>>GRANT: Sure.

>>MARK: But probably –

>>GRANT: Sure.

>>MARK: – 14%. We’ll probably try running it with a 6% and just see what better explains the data. I’m just glad we’re able to do this. And like I say, I think it will be some really interesting stuff after –

>>GRANT: Absolutely.

>>GRANT: – we break it down.

>>MARK: I mean, of course, a lot of people might look at it and say, “Gee whiz. The deer are bigger where there’s more food.” But I mean, a lot of people blame, you know, deer size on soil and genetics and everything else under the sun.

>>GRANT: Yeah. There are so many things that are much simpler than some people want to make them or, somehow, they get contorted as. But yeah, you give a deer some high-quality groceries and remove other stresses, water, predation, whatever out of its life, it tends to get big. It’s pretty –

>>MARK: Yeah.

>>GRANT: – pretty interesting.

>>MARK: Yeah. Absolutely. One of the things that will be really interesting to look at is, you know, a lot of the time, we look at even, with like, distribution of animals, you know, Bergmann’s rule was tossed around.

>>GRANT: Sure.

>>MARK: But there’s been some stuff recently coming out of a couple of professors out of Texas that kind of, basically, think that Bergmann’s rule is more related to how much forage is available –

>>GRANT: Yes.

>>MARK: – during the summer on sites.

>>GRANT: Yes.

>>MARK: And – because you look at, you know, the tropics, for instance, where we see these small animals. People are like, “Geez, there’s tons of food.” But during the time of year whenever animals are growing, especially mammals, there’s really not as much food as, as you would think. And then you look at temperate areas and there’s a lot of food.

>>GRANT: Yeah. You know, I got that a long time ago, just by happenstance. A gentleman killed a 440-pound deer in central Georgia.

>>MARK: Um hmm.

>>GRANT: And before that, the record was out of Maine. And so, you know, the record out of Maine – Bergmann’s rule. Bergmann’s rule means the further north tend to be bigger bodied to keep body heat and what-not. And, you know, deer in south Georgia / central Georgia, they want to shed heat.

>>MARK: Right.

>>GRANT: They’re not worried about conserving heat. But it would – of course, that deer was around where there’s a lot of soybeans and –

>>MARK: Um hmm.

>>GRANT: – other high-quality crops. And he got big; right?

>>MARK: Um hmm.

>>GRANT: All right.

>>MARK: Absolutely.

>>GRANT: Cool stuff.

>>MARK: So, we’ll see how it turns out.

>>GRANT: Take us out of here.

>>GRANT: So, I asked Mark to break off his intense research just a bit here, take a little walk with me. And we’re just going to point out some stuff deer eat on. You know, some, maybe, higher value species or they only eat a certain time of year. So, just whatever you observe as you’re going, Mark.

>>MARK: All right. Yeah. So, the first one that I’m seeing is one that’s not a, you know, an uncommon one in a lot of the country.

>>GRANT: Sure.

>>MARK: But it’s still occurs here. This one’s common ragweed. Very high-quality plant. Deer eat it readily. It’s going to be producing over 20% crude protein pretty much anytime throughout the year.

>>GRANT: Wow.

>>MARK: Deer really like it. It produces seed the quail eat. Also, great structure, but, for broods. But I mean, from a deer standpoint, really hard to beat that one.

>>MARK: So, another one – this one’s also really common or there’s several species. This is a species of croton. This one’s more common, kind of in this part of the world. But throughout most of the eastern U.S., you’re going to find croton species. Deer like it. Dove love the seeds.

>>GRANT: Dove love it. Yeah.

>>MARK: Quail love the seeds.

>>GRANT: And we see a lot of dove in this area, of course, later in the fall.

>>MARK: Um hmm.

>>GRANT: Late summer, fall, a lot of dove in here. So. So, Mark, you can tell the difference here. We’ve got a lot of, you know, woody species kind of trying to encroach. And we’re far enough down the slope, we tend to burn this with a head fire.

>>GRANT: We’re – we’re on a big, long ridge and we’ll light both sides, let them meet in the middle is the theory. It doesn’t – it’s usually one side or other –

>>MARK: Um hmm.

>>GRANT: – somewhere in there. But we’re far enough down the slope over here we don’t get much heat build-up. So, it’s not able to set back these woody species like it is once it kind of gets cooking on out here a little bit. So.

>>GRANT: You know, if your objective using prescribed fire is to set back woody species, you’ve got to have a pretty good fire. And we find more success when we do that in a growing season fire than a dormant season fire.

>>GRANT: And as you and I were just talking off-camera, it’s tough to do growing season fire some years. It’s just too wet, the humidity is too high, you’re not home on a day it is dry enough.

>>GRANT: So, Mark and I were just sharing. I think you would agree from your professional point of view is a lot of debate on when we should burn. And oftentimes, for a realistic, practical land manager or landowner like me, it’s when you can burn more than when you should burn.

>>MARK: Right. And I think it’s – it’s tough for people not to, you know, get caught up in the timing of fire. It’s – it’s fun to think about. But I think for a lot of folks, it’s just realizing you can burn outside of that typical February, March, April –

>>GRANT: Sure.

>>MARK: – timeframe that a lot of people are really, really stuck to right now.

>>GRANT: Yeah. Which is a great time to burn, but it doesn’t always work out.

>>GRANT: And burning different times of year, I believe that we’ve seen on this side anyway, is it creates more diversity of species.

>>MARK: Um hmm.

>>GRANT: Which makes sense. Some species are flowering at different times of year and you’re going to interrupt that flower cycle if you always burn at the same time for those species.

>>MARK: Um hmm.

>>GRANT: Well, good. Well, man, this is great. I’m sure we’ll get more even out. But I know it will be a year or two – these research projects are long.

>>MARK: A couple of years.

>>GRANT: Couple years.

>>MARK: That would be my guess.

>>GRANT: Hopefully, you can come back or give us an opportunity to share your findings with other people at that time.

>>MARK: Yeah. Love that.

>>GRANT: And everybody out there, just, man, pay attention to Mark Turner. I’m sure he’s got social media and what-not. Because he’s a wealth of information. And he’ll be sharing and helping land managers like me and you make our property a little bit better.

>>MARK: Absolutely. Appreciate it. Thank you.

>>GRANT: This is very exciting research, at least, to me, because it’s very meaningful to hunters and landowners.

>>GRANT: Now, it will take Mark a while to compile all the results because there’s sampling in a bunch of states. But when he does, I hope we can get Mark to return and share his findings with us.

>>GRANT: Quality native habitat not only provides food and cover for critters, but it can also create some great hunting opportunities.

>>GRANT: I really enjoy hunting these areas, especially during the pre-rut and the rut. It seems does will get in these areas to try to avoid pesky bucks. And bucks will cruise the downwind side of these areas trying to find a receptive doe.

>>GRANT: This has been an extremely productive strategy for me. The scenery is great, and I’ve brought home a lot of venison and antlers from hunting over native vegetation areas.

>>GRANT: Spending time with Mark and learning more about his research was a great way for me to get outside and enjoy Creation. And I hope you have an opportunity to get outside and enjoy Creation this week.

>>GRANT: But more importantly, I hope you take time daily to be quiet and listen to the Creator’s will for your life.

>>GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.