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>>GRANT: It’s a given that quality habitat provides many benefits to game and nongame species and provides better quality hunting.

>>GRANT: This week I’d like to share a habitat and hunting improvement plan we recently prepared for a property that’s about 40 acres and primarily covered with hardwoods in Central Missouri.

>>GRANT: Summer interns, Samuel and Kole, joined me as we drove to the property and visited with the landowner. It’s extremely important to understand the landowner’s goals and objectives for the property before creating a plan.

>>GRANT: Oh, yeah.

>>GRANT: When I called up the property on HuntStand, it was easy to see that that property and most of the neighboring properties were contiguous, hardwood, closed canopy forest. Whether it’s hardwoods, pines, cedars or a mix, closed canopy forests offer few benefits for most species, and that’s because there’s no sun reaching the forest floor and, therefore, no forbs or grasses growing.

>>GRANT: The only food available is acorns, cherries or some type of fruit or nut and those are only available during a short period of time.

>>GRANT: In areas where quality food is limited, creating quality food sources on a property could make it the central focus of critter activity in that neighborhood.

>>GRANT: Well-managed native vegetation and food plots can improve any hunting location. And I’d like to share how we use both of these resources to improve this property.

>>GRANT: There are many factors that should determine the size, shape, and location of a food plot.

>>GRANT: When designing how large a food plot should be it’s important to consider the management and hunting objectives of that project. Large food plots are better at providing maximum tons of forage. They don’t have tree roots competing for moisture during as big a percentage of the plot. More sunshine is reaching it for more photosynthesis. It’s more like an ag field.

>>GRANT: Very small plots can be utilized to attract deer during the hunting season. Clearly, they’re not going to provide as much forage but that may not be necessary to see deer at close range.

>>GRANT: An important part of designing a food plot is the consideration of how hunters can approach, hunt and exit without alerting deer. And this design might be expanded to include a bottleneck between a bedding area and the food plot; so, hunters can go to the bottleneck and let deer pass in the morning and afternoon and be able to approach and exit without alerting deer because they’re at one location or the other.

>>GRANT: If there happens to be existing openings that meet the above criteria, those are great places to put a food plot. That was the situation at this project. There were some unmanaged fescue pastures right on the ridgetop and it would be easy to convert these to food plots.

>>GRANT: There would be no need to remove trees and do all that soil disturbance. And even further, the fescue could be treated with an herbicide and then a no-till drill could be used to plant seed right in that dead duff. Or if a no-till drill is not available, the fescue could be treated with a herbicide, wait until it dries up, then a prescribed fire could be used to remove that duff, seed could be broadcast, and it would make seed to soil contact.

>>GRANT: Red oaks always have a burr…

>>GRANT: In a few areas of these pastures, hardwood saplings had sprouted. They just were let go. It’d be a pole stand or closed canopy forest that wouldn’t serve any purpose for wildlife. So, it’s better to terminate them now and convert that to grasses and forbs or a food plot.

>>GRANT: In many cases there will be invasive exotic species in or around the edge of the pasture and even in the adjoining timberland. Now these species tend to make a lot of seed; that’s why they’re so invasive. And it’s better to control them right off the bat versus making a good seedbed and letting birds and other critters deposit those seeds that will compete with the food plot.

>>GRANT: In many areas, such as row crops that have been intensively farmed for decades, a lot of tillage and harsh herbicides used; if you’re not in that type of situation, there’s almost always a high-quality bank of native seeds in the soil and using prescribed fire is one of the best ways to stimulate those native seeds to sprout and flourish.

>>GRANT: Using these techniques, a landowner can quickly convert unmanaged pasture into very productive habitat – either food plots or native vegetation.

>>GRANT: Looking at the plan we developed on HuntStand, it’s easy to see that the center of this property is going to be the hub of wildlife activity in the neighborhood.

>>GRANT: From a hunter’s perspective, these food plots and native vegetation areas are going to be easy to access on the ridgetop – much easier than a side slope. The wind almost always swirls on a side slope and it’s almost impossible for a hunter to get in there without alerting deer. And in addition, in those areas where the wind is swirling deer feel very comfortable and I prefer making bedding areas on those side slopes versus feeding areas.

>>GRANT: The way we design the food plot and native vegetation areas on the ridgetops creates additional bottlenecks. Currently the landowner says it’s a little bit difficult patterning deer that tend to willy-nilly through there. But now there will be destinations – the food plot, the edge of the food plot becomes a bottleneck or headed to cover. This will be much easier to hunt and see deer on a more regular basis, pattern deer, than the existing conditions.

>>GRANT: It was obvious, based on the size of some of the white oaks in and on the edge of these pastures, that those pastures have been opened up many decades ago. Those trees have received much more sunlight and much larger than trees just a few yards in that closed canopy forest. Half of the tree, the tree out towards the pasture, would have great big limbs and full canopy; and the part of the tree toward the timber, there wouldn’t be much. When those trees were getting a lot more sun, they’re able to produce a lot more acorns.

>>GRANT: And, in fact, while I was walking the edge of one of those pastures, I found a white oak that was already loaded with young acorns. And if they go ahead and mature, this is going to be a feed tree. It’s going to be a tree where deer want to come feed. As a matter of fact, it had more acorns on it than any tree I’ve seen so far this year in Missouri. And I suggested to the landowner, go ahead and put a blind a comfortable distance away for his shot from that tree because he’s going to be seeing deer at that location.

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>>GRANT: The habitat improvement plans we’ve shared so far tend to be what we call phase one – taking advantage of any openings at good locations on a property. Phase two, we tend to move into the timber and do some timber stand improvement.

>>GRANT: Improving timber to meet a landowner’s objectives can range from producing high-quality wood for the market to maximum wildlife habitat value or somewhere in between. On this project the landowner’s primary mission was improve the habitat value.

>>GRANT: We’ve outlined that as phase two for this project.

>>GRANT: The most common tool for doing TSI – timber stand improvement – in hardwoods, such as this, that have been high graded in the past, means we want to remove the low-quality trees and leave the best quality trees. And we’re going to use chainsaws typically to fell cedars or hack-and-squirt / double girdle to terminate the low-quality hardwoods and just leave them standing in place.

>>GRANT: The objective of these techniques is to allow the residual trees, the trees that are left, to express more of their potential. And we just shared a project that we toured recently where we had completed a TSI four years ago, left the best, terminated the rest. And it’s extremely productive wildlife habitat today.

>>GRANT: Each property and landowner combination is unique. And habitat and hunting improvement plans should be tailored to that combination.

>>GRANT: Once the plan we’ve designed has been implemented on this property, it’s going to provide the landowner some great hunting. And in addition, he can hunt this property during any wind direction.

>>GRANT: In summary, it’s important to identify the limited resources in the neighborhood. That may be throughout the year or limited to during the hunting season, and then provide them on the property where we’re working and do that in such a way that attracts deer during the daylight hours. Put that all together and you’ve got a great hunting property.

>>GRANT: It’s usually faster to complete habitat improvement projects that are already open and it’s a bonus if they’re on a ridgetop because the winds will be much more constant in direction at that higher elevation.

>>GRANT: Timber stands, especially high graded timber, shouldn’t be ignored because those can be managed to provide high-quality native browse and extreme high-quality cover.

>>GRANT: I really enjoyed visiting with and assisting this landowner with a habitat and hunting improvement plan. He’ll be able to use the map we created, not just to see the outline of the plan but click on each feature and see our detailed notes about establishment, maintenance, or maybe hunting techniques for that area.

>>GRANT: As an additional bonus and a reason I got away from long, written plans is that when he calls me up in the future with questions, I’ll have a copy of that map. Maybe he’s altered it; maybe he says, “Hey Grant, I made this food plot a little bigger,” or something. And I can see exactly what he’s talking about.

>>GRANT: Daniel and I really enjoy helping landowners with a habitat and hunting improvement plan.

>>GRANT: I hope you have a chance to get outside and enjoy Creation where there is some high-quality habitat. And, more importantly, I hope you take time every day to be quiet and seek the Creator’s will for your life.

>>GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer!