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GRANT: Whoo! We love seeing bucks this time of year. Antler development is looking good and we can’t wait for season to open.
GRANT: I’ve recently had the opportunity to assist several landowners throughout the whitetail’s range and help them develop habitat improvement and hunting plans. During this episode, I’ll share how improving habitat works hand in hand with improving hunting opportunities.
GRANT: When I first start assisting the landowner, whether it’s boots on the ground or during a phone conversation, I like to use a map and look at the resources available on surrounding properties.
GRANT: Whether in timber or ag country knowing the resources available within a mile or two of the property where you hunt is very important information.
GRANT: One of my goals of improving the habitat on a property is for deer to spend more time on that property during daylight hours than the neighboring properties. If at least one resource, whether it’s food, cover, water, or security can be improved, so it’s better quality than on the neighboring properties, you’re certainly headed in the right direction.
GRANT: Let’s talk about cover. Cover is often the most misunderstood of the resources. For example, when I’m working throughout the whitetail’s range and landowners have, maybe, eastern red cedars or a thicket of saplings on there and they say, “Oh, I’ve got some great cover over here.” I think that’s because when they walk through there limbs are slapping them in the face.
GRANT: Quality deer cover is not at face height. Quality deer cover is zero to three feet above the ground. When you get down and look under a thick stand of eastern red cedars or saplings, there’s nothing growing there except eastern red cedars or saplings. Nothing at the ground level. It’s bare and that’s not good for most species of wildlife, including deer.
GRANT: When I’m working through the whitetail’s range, the area I most often see that could be converted to quality cover and is left ignored is closed canopy timber stands.
GRANT: Under a closed canopy forest, whether it’s hardwoods or pines, there’s usually nothing but a layer of brown leaves or needles. And that’s certainly not good cover or food for almost all species of wildlife. The bright side is that by using timber stand improvement techniques, the canopy can be opened – native grasses and forbs almost always thrive in that situation – and create super high-quality habitat.
GRANT: I’ve shared about one of our projects in central Missouri where the landowner had an 80-acre stand of timber with a closed canopy forest. Almost no sunlight was reaching the forest floor in that stand, and the area provided very little benefit to wildlife, and a few acorns were falling but not much else.
GRANT: We walked the entire stand, marked the trees we wanted to leave – that we wanted to survive – and had a crew come in and do hack-and-squirt on the rest of the trees. Within two years, there was a tremendous amount of native vegetation growing in this area from zero to three feet above the ground providing high-quality food and cover. In addition, the residual trees we left, those oaks, well they were able to expand their crown. And research shows they can make more acorns in that situation.
GRANT: For this TSI project, the crew used a hatchet and a squirt bottle of herbicide to terminate the trees. That left ‘em standing; there wasn’t a whole bunch on the ground at once. They’ll break down over time; small limbs falling. Finally, years later the stems will tip over. They will be (Inaudible) and turn into soil rapidly.
GRANT: Clay and I recently traveled to northern Missouri to assist a landowner with his habitat improvement and hunting plan.
GRANT: This property was 244 acres, and just to the east of it there was a lot of ag. But around the rest of the property was primarily closed canopy forest. Clearly, there wasn’t much food during the hunting season and almost no cover. This is typical for properties in ag country.
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GRANT: A couple of years ago this landowner made a really wise move. He had a contractor come in and do some TSI in this part of the forest just for improving wildlife habitat. The contractor girdled trees that he wanted to take out – in this case – a hickory, left other trees that were more valuable either for timber or for wildlife and opened up the canopy.
GRANT: When I’m looking up, I’ve got about the right amount of sun coming through. You can tell we’ve got good growth everywhere. We got food. This whole area is like a giant food plot and bedding.
JULIO: It looks night and day from what it looked like when I did this.
GRANT: I’ll bet.
JULIO: When I did this, I’d be sitting in a stand there, and I could see clear – I mean, I could see almost to the ten-acre bottom down there.
GRANT: Really, really?
JULIO: Yeah, it was just wide – it was wide open. I mean, to see it like this now it’s night and day, and it’s been two years. This is the second year.
GRANT: So, in a couple of years this area went from closed canopy forest then high-quality food and high-quality native browse. We recently toured a property where the landowner had done a bunch of hinge cutting and I’d like to compare the difference.
GRANT: First off, look how far you can see. If I’m a bow hunter, I can see a deer coming 100 yards, give or take, but the deer are still calm because they’re down here at the level where there’s plenty of cover. It’s like looking into a native grass field. And we all know how much I love hunting around native forage, native grass habitat, especially during the rut and pre-rut.
GRANT: If this area had been hinge cut, these trees laid over growing up 10, 12, 20-foot-tall limbs off those stems that were laying over, I couldn’t see that far. They’re shading out a bunch of this high-quality forage and cover. It’s just not the same. This is a great comparison if you’ve hinge cut on your property. Go look at it versus looking at the amount of food and cover here.
GRANT: Do you see all these little saplings coming up in here?
JULIO: Hmm, hmm.
GRANT: Next spring is the time to burn this. Because if you wait, once they get that much of a root system established, they’re going to jump. I don’t want the saplings, not necessarily that tall, but see how that’s got less than a half-inch at the bottom?
GRANT: So, a prescribed fire coming through – there’s enough leaf litter right here that that will top kill; it won’t kill the root system. It’ll come back out, put fresh browse out again. If you let it get this tall, tougher to kill with a prescribed fire that’s not damaging these bigger trees. When you burn here, whoever burns here, you definitely want to start up here and let it back down the hill. You don’t want to send the head fire up through here – you’ll kill a bunch of these residual trees. You definitely want a backing fire called a low-intensity fire.
GRANT: This is an excellent example of what high-quality habitat looks like in a hardwood forest. There was ample sunshine reaching the forest floor; native grasses and forbs had responded in just a couple short years providing quality food and cover throughout the area.
GRANT: As we continued the tour of this property, I made another observation. All the local crop fields were gonna be harvested about mid-October, give or take, on the year, but Mr. Rodriguez had ample fields to provide high-quality summer and winter food.
GRANT: In the past, he had not been managing all these fields to provide high-quality winter forage. He’d done a pretty good job by having beans in there in the summer, but there was so much more that could be gained by keeping the bean rotation but adding a cool-season food source.
GRANT: We have hardwoods and crop fields. And looking at winter photos – you know, you can go back in time and look at different photos – winter photos, all these crop fields are harvested. They’re production ag. They’re meant to make a crop. There’s almost no double-crop and, like, they’re not planting wheat in the winter or anything like that?
GRANT: No. So, the number one thing for your property is if we plant – and we don’t worry about harvesting it – and we leave beans, standing grain, in these fields, and then we drill right through there and have greens – because on warmer days deer want greens because you don’t get as many carbohydrates. You and I don’t use much energy off of a salad as we do some grains, some carbohydrates, right?
GRANT: And on colder days when they need energy – deer aren’t like us, they can’t go turn the thermostat – they’ve got to regulate their own body temperature through a couple of ways. One is piloerecting their hair, standing their hair up or down, makes it thicker, trap more air like a down coat – lay it down, it doesn’t trap air – and what they ingest, amount of calories are ingested.
GRANT: You have no food except acorns and a little bit of browse around you. And if you have the food, I promise you, there’s not a lot here, big ag, but here for a mile, here for a mile, here for a mile, a lot of deer are going to winter from, let’s just say mid- to late October, on, either on your property or feeding on your property every day. Every day.
GRANT: Let’s consider Mr. Rodriguez’s property the center of a Rubik’s cube and go a mile in each direction.
GRANT: There’s eight miles around that property and a lot of deer have a home range of a mile or more.
GRANT: Pick a number. Let’s say there’s 30, 40, 50 deer per square mile in that area. It’s ag country, highly productive areas.
GRANT: By drilling through the existing beans and adding a cool-season crop, Mr. Rodriguez will have bean pods and a cool-season crop growing.
GRANT: All of a sudden, post-crop harvest, Mr. Rodriguez has the best food, almost the only food in the neighborhood. It’s easy to see where the population of deer on that property could increase substantially during hunting season if he’s got the best food in the neighborhood.
GRANT: The deer that are here are going to come to your food. These are big deer. Look at what they’ve been living on, the best, some of the best dirt in the world. Right? Incredible ag all summer. You’ve got standing grain after, just using a round number, October 15th, I promise you those deer are coming here.
GRANT: I’m very confident Mr. Rodriguez will apply these techniques and he and his family will enjoy some great hunting. I hope we get to bring you an update in a year or two from this project.
GRANT: Every property and the surrounding properties are different. That’s why it’s so important to have a site-specific management and hunting plan. Recently, during Bass Pro’s Fall Hunting Classic, I had the privilege to visit with several fellow hunters and talk about habitat improvement and/or hunting strategies for where they hunt.
GRANT: It’s tough to get in bottoms without busting deer. The wind is gonna swirl in there, I can promise you that. If I was you, I would give up sign to make sure you’re hunting on a ridge top. It makes that much of a difference.
HUNTER 1: Hunt the ridge top?
GRANT: Hunt the ridge tops.
GRANT: I actually like this side better. It’s a little steeper right here but. So, you know, you’re going to have more northwest, southwest, west winds and if you’re here, your scent is going all the way through here.
HUNTER 2: Okay.
GRANT: So, I like this side a lot better.
GRANT: Yeah, I wouldn’t even mow the beans. I’d just broadcast it right in the beans.
HUNTER 3: All right.
GRANT: I’d leave your beans standing and let them make pods, and the green will come up, and you’ve got pods and greens in the same place.
GRANT: Learning to incorporate a property’s current and future habitat features is a key strategy to improve hunting.
GRANT: It’s just as important to look at the habitat features on surrounding properties.
GRANT: If possible, improve one or more of the food, water, cover and security resources on the property where you hunt no matter the size of the property. And if you can do that – have at least one resource that’s the best of that resource in the neighborhood – deer are very likely to use it. And if you do that and hunt it appropriately, you’ve got a really good chance of adding fresh venison to the freezer.
GRANT: (Gunshot) That got him.
GRANT: You probably have some buddies that you frequently discuss habitat improvement and hunting strategies with. If you think they would enjoy the content on GrowingDeer, please email them a link to our show.
GRANT: Travelling throughout the whitetail’s range and working on habitat and hunting projects is a great way to enjoy Creation. But no matter what you do each day be sure and take time to slow down, be quiet, and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.