How To Get Better Deer and Turkey Hunting In The Pines (Episode 503 Transcript)

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GRANT: Grant. That’s some good bumper music.

GRANT: The GrowingDeer Team frequently travels throughout the whitetails’ range to tour properties and assist landowners with wildlife and habitat management plans.

GRANT: What some folks may not realize is we also assist landowners developing habitat management plans by using high-quality maps and phone conversations.

HEATH: Good morning.

GRANT: Good morning, Grant here.

HEATH: Morning Grant. It’s Heath and Ransome is grabbing something off the printer and he’ll be here.

GRANT: I recently assisted Heath and Ransome from South Carolina with a habitat management and hunting plan for their property.

GRANT: Good. Yeah, I am too. I’ve got your maps out, and your notes, and an iPad, and computer, and I am rocking and rolling this morning.

GRANT: Their primary objective was to increase the turkey population and turkey hunting opportunities on their property.

GRANT: Hey, Ransome. Well, it’s a beautiful day in the Ozarks.

GRANT: They own about 500 acres, which is primarily production pine with thin hardwood strips along the narrow creeks. If managed appropriately, that type of habitat can be extremely productive for turkeys and deer.

GRANT: You’ve highlighted turkeys as your priority, and the most important factor we can have is great brooding and nesting habitat, and then…

HEATH: Right.

GRANT: And in this pine property like this, with this amount of forestry, there – you know, that two-year-old pine stand over there is tremendous, both brooding and nesting habitat. And all of ‘em on yours where you’ve done the recent logging and what-not.

GRANT: But I first want to talk about – because the majority of your property is timber management. And right now, based on the data you sent me, there’s 11.75 acres of food plots, which is 4.6% of your total holdings – 508 acres.

HEATH: Yes sir.

GRANT: So, timber management – unless we expand a lot of food plots or create new ones, which will be part of my plan – is extremely important to what you’re doing.

HEATH: Right.

GRANT: And in some of your notes there, you mentioned that you had some seven and eight-year-old stands of pines, but there was a lot of underbrush underneath there. Is that sweetgum primarily?

HEATH: Yes sir. We have it in – so six is –

GRANT: Even though the sweetgums scarred up almost two feet tall, the fire was relatively intense right here — you can see the green leaves coming out. Prescribed fire, once sweetgums are this size, are not an effective tool to remove them from the landscape.

GRANT: This is a neat pine stand for comparison. A couple years ago, the landowner allowed the forester to do a small treatment with herbicide to limit the re-sprouting of hardwoods.

GRANT: Without that herbicide, where these pines had been thinned, this would be choked out with sweetgum trees. Now, you see all kind of green – blackberry and annual forbs – which is great deer food, turkey food, nesting habitat, and fawning cover.

GRANT: In those areas, those sweetgums are going to come back with a vengeance. The only way to control them – if you, you cannot burn them hot enough to root kill, unless you do a summer burn, and if you burn it that hot, you’re gonna kill all the other trees too. So, it’s going to have to be an herbicide application, and your best option, by far, is some of the Imazapyr chemistry.

GRANT: Imazapyr is a great option, and it actually favors about 176 different species that are very beneficial to wildlife – grasses, forbs, stuff like that.

GRANT: So, I’m going to spray when the sweetgums and other invasive hardwoods are about four to five feet tall, because I need ‘em to get that tall: a) to have plenty of leaf surface areas so I get a good kill, and b) I don’t want to spray before most of that seed base in there has started growing.

GRANT: I want to focus on making your place super attractive for turkeys. There’s brood habitat – just being honest. Man, there’s brood habitat all around you. So, we can’t conquer that by having the only brood habitat.

GRANT: Because when we have nesting and brood habitat during the latter part of breeding season, that’s where all the gobblers are hanging out. But that’s all around you. So, we have to take a different approach. And it’s on you too.

GRANT: So, we want to make sure we’ve always got some open timber with vegetation two feet, or two and a half feet tall, three feet tall.

GRANT: Anything from a foot to three feet is perfect. We want that hen to just sit there, be able to stick her head up, see around if there’s any predators, and stick her head back down.

GRANT: That – and fairly thin so the young poults can move through without getting hung up. They don’t want to walk through a foot deep of oak leaves or pine needles. That’s not easy for a brand new poult to walk through.

GRANT: So, and also, the number one thing in a poult’s diet is soft insects. Think about ants, spiders, stuff like that.

GRANT: So, when you have an area that to most people looks weedy and bare soil beneath it, that’s called umbrella habitat.

GRANT: Think of ragweed that kind of, one stem comes up and big leaves coming across the top. That’s umbrella habitat. That is idea poult habitat. It does not get any better.

GRANT: And so, let’s go through the seasons of that. Before primary breeding, toms like open areas to strut. And you’ve got food plots, and when we get there, I’d like to design some more.

GRANT: Short vegetation food plots are awesome strut areas. Recently burned is awesome strut areas.

GRANT: I believe you all will have, if you’ll implement it, a more intense burning regime than your neighbors – and again, fresh fire. I’ve seen turkeys literally in areas where there was still smoke drifting off logs. They love a fresh burn, because it exposes all the insects.

GRANT: When you burn, you know…

HEATH: Okay.

GRANT: …three, four, five inches of duff off the ground, all those insects are available, and man, that’s a turkey smorgasbord.

GRANT: They run – I don’t know how they know it. It’s like they smell a fire or something. I don’t know how they get there, but they run to it.

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GRANT: And it’s obvious you’re in this industrial pine stand with a lot of really early growth pines, which is, again, excellent brooding and nesting habitat.

GRANT: The guys had added a few food plots, but most of them were planted primarily with only chufa.

GRANT: Chufa can be a great attractant for turkeys. Not many other critters use it and chufa can be hard to manage.

GRANT: You’ve said on a couple of your food plot listings here that, you know, we’ve had chufa here last year; no plants have changed. If you plant, keep planting chufa in the same plot over and over and over, that’s very bad for the soil. I mean, you, it’s gonna go downhill. I promise you, it’s gonna go downhill.

GRANT: I’d like for you to consider something. I think you can maintain a small clover plot much easier and probably less expensive. And I haven’t seen too many turkeys walk by a clover plot that didn’t get out there and feed in it.

GRANT: Young clover at that time of year attracts a lot of insects. Now, I’m not saying chufa’s not attractive.

GRANT: We just discussed some of the difficulties of maintaining a good chufa plot. But if I’ve got a young clover plot that’s managed, looking good, and deer are keeping it mowed down, or whatever, it’s looking good, it’s gonna be full of insects.

GRANT: There is no telling how many gobblers are tagged out of a clover plot in the south every year, but it’s a ton of ‘em. It’s a strut zone; it looks good.

GRANT: And you know, and you can keep a couple of chufa plots, you know, and just rotate ‘em in and out.

GRANT: You’ve got a clover stand that needs to be redone. Chufa is a good alternative for that for a year.

GRANT: I just wouldn’t have all your food plots in chufa. And of course, deer don’t care anything about chufa. Hogs love chufa. Squirrels like chufa. When you plant a clover stand, you’re benefitting a lot more critters.

GRANT: As I studied the onX map of their property, it was obvious that quality food sources were a limiting factor – not only on their property, but the neighboring properties.

GRANT: But on the maps I’m looking at, I don’t see much food plot activity at all. You all plant food plots, critters are going to pour into this property.

GRANT: And let’s talk about that just a second.

HEATH: Okay, yeah.

GRANT: They’re not going to be like over at Mr. Stuck’s and go, “Oh my gosh. They’ve got great food over here. We’re going to walk 10 miles over here.”

GRANT: The critters’ home range has to overlap your property, or it doesn’t even know it’s there. It’s not like us. We’ve got a cell phone and “Oh my gosh. They’re having a special down at the pizza place. Let’s drive down there.”

GRANT: They have to overlap it and be there every now and then to know there’s food there.

GRANT: I also shared with them, based on my experience – you know, that school I went to, the School of Hard Knocks – not to leave hardwoods in the middle of a plot.

GRANT: You may have a beautiful hardwood tree there that you’re thinking either drops acorns or is a great tree stand location.

GRANT: But hardwoods have a wide-spreading, shallow root system, and the equipment that’s clearing the plot, or used later to plant the plot, will damage those shallow roots, and the tree will often die.

GRANT: In the fall, when all that native vegetation and all the young pine stands around you hardens off, and you’ve got lush food plots, you’re going to own those critters.

GRANT: You cannot compete with bedding.

HEATH: Gotcha.

GRANT: You can’t complete with bedding. There’s thousands of acres of it around you. If you zoom out to a two-mile radius, there’s thousands of acres around you.

GRANT: You can’t compete with bedding. Water’s everywhere. You win this battle with food. And you’re going to have the best native vegetation…

HEATH: Okay.

GRANT: … because you’re burning a lot. And hopefully you’ll have the best planted vegetation.

GRANT: So, your two keys to meeting your objectives of all of the pages you sent me, is absolutely the best wildlife-oriented forestry plan and the best food plots.

GRANT: If you will do that, I promise you, you will meet your goals and be very happy.

GRANT: In both pines and hardwoods, if they have a closed canopy, the technique of harvesting timber and allowing more sun to reach the forest floor will produce better wildlife habitat.

GRANT: No sunshine, or very limited sunshine, reaching the forest floor, then there’s not much growing in the reach of a deer or turkey.

HEATH: Okay.

GRANT: So, we’ve gotta have a lot of sunshine, which means we’re not going to have the maximum amount of trees. Some sun is coming through the canopy of those trees.

GRANT: On the revenue side, the tree that will make the 2×12 is more valuable than a tree that will make a 2×4; and a tree that will make a telephone pole is more valuable yet. Because there are very few pine trees left that will make a telephone pole. So, you’re not making as much money as quickly, but over time, you will make more money if you manage for a little bit more mature timber.

GRANT: But one of the big differences is simply the difference between the north side of the ridge and the south side of the ridge. South side’s going to have more moisture evaporated, so the tree can’t grow as much. North side is better growing conditions.

GRANT: Even before seedlings are planted, how that site is prepped is a huge determinant in the future habitat quality.

GRANT: So, I’m going to site prep the least invasive way I can. So, I don’t like mechanical site prep. And I absolutely despise windrowing.

GRANT: You know, you’ve seen it. You drive around there where they’ve took a dozer…

HEATH: Oh yeah.

GRANT: …and just pushed everything up in a windrow. So, I definitely do not like – I would not allow any mechanical site prep on my property.

GRANT: My favorite pine stand establishment technique is to use a selective herbicide that controls hardwoods, which will be the biggest competitors for the pines coming on but allows the native grasses and forbs to flourish.

GRANT: When this technique is used, the slash from the site from the previous harvest is not removed. It’s allowed to lay in place and decompose, adding fertilizer to the site, which grows bigger pine trees and better critters.

GRANT: But a disadvantage of that is those sites must be hand planted. You can’t drive a machine that drops a pine tree over all that slash.

GRANT: So, better habitat quality, but it needs to be hand planted when it’s reestablished.

GRANT: You won’t have quite as high of seedling survival when you hand plant. You know, just because the guy (Inaudible) doesn’t dig the hole right or whatever. But your other trees will grow probably a little better because they’ve got nutrients everywhere.

GRANT: So, that’s step one.

GRANT: So, I’m going to plant my trees at 10×10 or even 12×12. Fewer trees per acre – they will grow quicker and be to thinning size quicker – there’s the tradeoff. And I have less stems, but it’s probably better quality wood.

GRANT: If I plant them really thick, it shades out and goes from pretty good wildlife habitat to a desert really quickly in three or four years. Because you’ve seen stands planted so thick, and there’s some on your property – I can tell by the maps – that were planted so thick…


GRANT: … they went to just shading out everything on the ground. It’s pine trees and pine needles is all there is.

GRANT: And then, I thin — as soon as I can, that’s, that there’s a market for it. And this is, again, another variable. You know, some years the pulp market is really high, and, man, they’re buying a little bit smaller than normal. Other years, there’s plenty of pulp wood everywhere and you’ve got to get a little bit bigger to get a decent price.

GRANT: The advantage of thinning a little heavier is, again, more sunshine reaching the soil. Turkeys and deer don’t care diddle about a pine tree. Nothing. They’re just taking up space that could be habitat.

GRANT: So, I thin thinner to get more sunshine down to the forest floor. It is maximizing the wildlife potential of that property.

GRANT: In production pine areas, proper management, starting with the number of seedlings planted per acre, the right thinning schedule, all the way to the final harvest, can produce tremendous wildlife habitat and great income for the landowner.

GRANT: In pine production areas, just like here at The Proving Grounds, using both dormant season fires and growing season fires will result in a more diverse native plant community.

GRANT: So, I like to mix my rotation on fire burning up as much as I can. I’m probably going to do my first burn – because there’s a lot of slash, a lot of fuel on the ground – in that, what’s called dormant season, early February or March – that timeframe.

GRANT: And my next burn is probably going to be a growing season burn. And you’ll find when you burn during the growing season, you get a – you’ll controlling hardwood competition a lot of better. Right? All that sap’s in the tree, and b) you get a lot more legumes and really high quality forbs coming back.

GRANT: When you do winter burn after winter burn after winter burn, or dormant season, dormant season, you get a lot of – that favors grass. When you do growing season burns, that favors forbs.

GRANT: Realistically, is there a chance you’ll interrupt nesting for a couple of hens? Yes. But you’re improving the habit so much, it’s a great trade off. You’re looking at the long gain, not any one year.

GRANT: And if you, if you – big turkey hunters in the south, you know this – nothing attracts turkeys, and I mean nothing, except maybe a corn pile, like a fresh burn.

HEATH: Grant.

HEATH: When you say, “growing season,” are you saying, in South Carolina, kind of like, kind of like April/May?

GRANT: No, I’m talking July/August.

HEATH: May/June or? Okay.

GRANT: Here’s when I like to burn. Here’s exactly when I like to burn. I like to burn when God burned. I like to burn when it’s dry.

GRANT: You should only burn in all leather boots. Leather boots. People – I see this all the time. People are wearing, you know, a really high-quality, synthetic, nylon woven boot, or whatever, out there. And if you do step in a stump hole and get your foot in some hot coals or something like that, that plastic, if you will, is just going to melt to your skin and a doctor’s going to cut that off.

GRANT: And it’s real common to bring out the 550 dozer and a big ‘ole fire plow behind it and just plow a break.

GRANT: That’s massive disruption to your soil. It can lead to erosion; get weeds in there stirring up. I would much rather blow a line or use a row than plow a line — much rather.

GRANT: Improving the native plant community on Heath and Ransome’s property, well, that’s going to be a game changer. Because all their neighbors are production pine. In most areas, the result of allowing more sun to reach the forest floor is a big growth of native grasses and forbs.

GRANT: Many of the native forest species have an umbrella structure, such as ragweed, which is actually a beneficial plant to many species of wildlife.

GRANT: By umbrella structure, I’m talking about a big, leafy top and a stem that holds it up. That shades the ground; it’s ideal habitat for many soft insects – beneficial insects – which is the ideal food for quail poults, turkey poults, and other critters.

GRANT: It also provides that cover that keeps those young poults from being predated on by avian predators.

GRANT: We’ve managed for this type of native habitat here at The Proving Grounds, and our turkey numbers are way better than they were when Tracy and I purchased the property.

GRANT: And one last thing I want to share with you all. On these thin pine stands that are already thinned – and this is a major, major tool. Please listen to this.

GRANT: When you have a thinned pine stand, it is relatively easy to just spray with glyphosate and clear some duff out and plant right up that thinned row.

GRANT: You want to plant, if you have an option, the north/south facing – where the pine’s been thinned, in a north/south orientation. And the reason is, if it’s thinned east/west, it gets full-day sunshine and it will dry out more. It will be droughty more, but if it’s north/south…

HEATH: Okay.

GRANT: …it’s in shade more. And you’ll still get half-day sun, and the plants will grow fine. And what I do, is I plant a…

HEATH: Okay.

GRANT: …thinned row, skip a thinned row. So, like normally they’re doing every fifth row thinning, right? So, it’s not every other row of trees.

GRANT: They thin a row and they do selective thinning in between, and then they thin another row over. I’m going to plant a row, skip a row – and that becomes cover, nesting cover, and then I’m going to plant again. So, now you have food cover, food cover, food cover.

GRANT: You can stack critters in there at an incredible density, and everyone says, “Well man, that’s really tough to hunt.” Not at all.

GRANT: Because the critters are so calm in there – and I have done this a lot, guys, in South Carolina. The critters are so calm in there because they’re never more than a step, or a jump, or whatever, from cover, that you can get up on them super easy.

GRANT: So, if you’ve got a north/south orientation, you’ve got a little bit of a north wind, you just walk along the south side of that stand, and you’re peeping in these planted rows.

GRANT: It’s the best spot-and-stalk hunt on the planet – period. It’s short of one that’s the same. I love hunting Christmas tree farms that have been thinned.

GRANT: In production pine areas, a great way to add more food plots is plant the thinned rows. Thinned rows are usually in young pine plantations where they take every fifth or every third row to allow more room for the residual trees to grow.

GRANT: Unlike hardwoods, pines have a deep tap root and don’t impact surface moisture much. I’ve been amazed at how well forage crops planted in a thin row prosper, especially during a drought, when the shade is reducing the amount of moisture loss to evaporation.

GRANT: Gobblers love to strut in these long, narrow food plots, and deer are extremely comfortable feeding there. Deer are always comfortable feeding on quality forage when they’re only a jump or two away from thick cover.

GRANT: Because the critters are so comfortable, it makes stalking super easy. It’s not like stalking across an open field.

GRANT: This will be even better – by far better than your five-acre square food plots. Your five-acre square food plots feed critters. Planting these thinned pine stands will be where you harvest many critters – turkey and deer.

GRANT: It’s incredible brood habitat, because that hen and poults can be in cover and walk out. And it’s not a predator food plot like the streamside management zones, because there’s just so much of it.

GRANT: It’s not one of these out in the middle of a hundred-acre clear cut. It’s just line after line after line of it. It’s – it will be the best habitat on your property by far. It’s food cover, food cover, food cover, food cover.

GRANT: I really enjoyed working with Heath and Ransome. And I’m confident if they implement the plan, they will benefit from significantly improved habitat, wildlife populations, and hunting opportunities.

GRANT: You may have a job that keeps you inside more than mine, but it’s still important to get outside and enjoy Creation when you can. But no matter where you are, slow down every day, be quiet, and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.