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>>GRANT: It’s mid-August. Of course, we’re all pumped up about hunting season. Daniel’s leaving in a couple days to go on an antelope hunt. But that doesn’t mean that excitement trumps the need for us to continue improving the habitat here at The Proving Grounds and sharing techniques so you can improve the habitat where you hunt.

>>GRANT: One of the best techniques known to man, literally, if we go back in Lewis and Clark journals or other journals from early explorers, that improved the quality of native habitat was fire or what we call today prescribed fire.

>>GRANT: Just a few days ago, the guys built a fire line around this unit – it’s just short of 30 acres – including our last intern for the summer, Kole Karcher. The others had to return and get ready for school. Kole’s school started a bit later, so Kole got some beautiful experience of preparing a fire line and actually implementing a prescribed fire.

>>GRANT: We knew this area needed a growing season burn based on our records and just walking through looking at the amount of saplings out here and watching the weather.

>>GRANT: And it was forecast for the humidity to get below 50%. That’s an oddity for this area this time of year, so the guys were ready. I happened to be working in Pennsylvania and New York at that time, but they implemented a great fire.

>>GRANT: And the first rain that hits this area, it will be stunning green. There will be food all throughout this area. We’ve set the grasses back a little bit. This probably won’t be a bedding area this winter – certainly not one when it’s really cold – but it’ll be a major feeding destination for critters in this part of the ranch.

>>GRANT: Our objectives here were simple. This area hadn’t been burned in a couple years and had grown up fairly rank, including some hardwood saplings and more native grasses than I like.

>>GRANT: Now, grasses are wonderful cover, but they don’t provide much food for wildlife. When you do a springtime or a dormant-season burn, the dominant response of plants will be grasses because they set seed the fall before – they maybe fell through the winter. And then you come through with fire and prepare a perfect seedbed, the grasses are gonna take over.

>>GRANT: Again, grasses are beautiful nesting habitat for turkeys and bedding habitat for deer, but I like a blend of grasses and forbs, not only in the same unit but across the property.

>>GRANT: So, by spreading out your burns – if you’ve got three or four or ten or whatever units you’re gonna burn on your property, not in the timber but in a savanna where there’s the occasional tree or an area like this, which is much more open. You want to mix up the burning time. You want to burn sometimes in that dormant season before spring green-up and what we call a growing season burn.

>>GRANT: Typically, growing-season burns are going to be late summer. A lot of plants are starting to mature and dry out a little bit and you get a low-humidity day, then that’s a good time to use prescribed fire.

>>GRANT: And another benefit of burning that time, critters aren’t nesting or fawning. The young are big enough to move out of the way of the fire.

>>GRANT: So, for wildlife managers those dormant-season burns – before critters are nesting or fawning – and then a late-summer burn or a growing-season burns are about ideal times to conduct prescribed fire.

>>GRANT: Looking around, I call this burn a huge success. Almost all the saplings are not only brown, but when I bend one, I mean, they just snap. There’s no sap coming up in there just a few days later.

>>GRANT: A fire this time of year will do a better job of totally killing a hardwood plant versus top killing. And this is why it’s really important to include in your rotation on any area a growing season burn.

>>GRANT: Dormant-season burns – when you come through before plants have greened up, well, hardwoods are still holding most of their energy in their root system below the ground. And that’s where they get that big flush. They mobilize all those carbohydrates up through the roots, up through the cambium and into the leaves, and man you get a big flush quick.

>>GRANT: You know, you’ve said this before. You drive by, “Oh my gosh, last week that wasn’t green, and this week there’s full leaves.” That’s all those carbohydrates coming up through there.

>>GRANT: So, if you burn and get it hot enough to girdle – you see the fire wasn’t so hot this all fell over. But it got hot enough to girdle the stem right at the ground level, and you do that in the spring with all the energy below the ground, it just pushes up new chutes. There was one chute and then that year it will be 14 or so.

>>GRANT: But when you do a growing-season burn, typically late summer burn, and all that energy is up in the canopy – up in the leaves – and there’s only marginal energy in the root system. You know, it’s just living, but it’s not storing while the plants are not photosynthesizing.

>>GRANT: Because in the summertime these plants are photosynthesizing and they don’t have much fuel stored for maintenance – and it gets hot enough to girdle that tree and these leaves can’t move energy down into the root system, well, there’s a good chance that tree will literally starve to death or not have enough energy to survive that long dormant season we call winter.

>>GRANT: Here’s a great example. It looks like it was probably a young maple. Of course, it’s snappy dead. There’s no green in there. It’s – it’s truly dead. But the fire wasn’t tall enough really probably to rage up through here – just barely browned these top leaves up a little bit. But when you look down, you can see how black this is down here. There was a lot of heat down here.

>>GRANT: At this portion of the fire, it was a head fire. This wasn’t backing downhill. This was racing uphill, so it got really hot. That heat is rising.

>>GRANT: Of course, fire burns about 16 times faster on average going uphill than backing down and is more intense. So, that heat probably cooked all the cambium in here, and all the energy of this tree – or most of it – was up in these leaves.

>>GRANT: A pretty good chance we’ve terminated this tree and not just top killed it. So, we won’t have to worry about this sapling growing back and competing with grasses and forbs in this area.

>>GRANT: That’s why a really good program is not to go more than three rotations. You may have two dormant-season burns, but that third one needs to be a growing-season burn. And the secret is or the difficulty of accomplishing that mission is, that it’s much easier – there are more days typically to do prescribed fire in that early spring dormant season than there is growing season throughout much of the whitetails’ range.

>>GRANT: Now, we all see the huge fires out in Colorado, and man they’re a massive shame. Those are destroying people’s homes and even killing some people. That’s horrible. But it’s important to remember it’s common in that area for the daily humidity to be less than 10%, and it’s a tinderbox. If they don’t do enough dormant-season burns to reduce the fuel load and they get a lightening strike or a man-caused fire during the late growing season, well, we see the results. It spreads almost uncontrollably. But here, we beg for a day to get down to 30, 40, 50 percent humidity.

>>GRANT: You know, if you live anywhere this side of Kansas all the way to the east coast and you’re in August and humidity drops down 30, 40 percent and you get up and you walk outside, you go, “Ooh, boy it feels good today. It feels like hunting season. I’m ready to go hunting.” Because typically our humidities are, you know, 90% at night and maybe 80% or higher during the day, and with the humidity that high – that much moisture in the air – the firing fuels are actually absorbing moisture, and they simply won’t burn.

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>>GRANT: You know, and I’m walking around looking. Of course, I see ash on here, and I see all these other plants. Well, the ash and these plants that were terminated, they’re gonna fall over and be ideal slow-release fertilizer.

>>GRANT: Now, any one inch or inch or two of that plant, it wasn’t really highly nutritious. So, if a deer were browsing that, even if it’s green, they’re not getting a whole lot out of that. But that whole plant, obviously, had some nutrients in it. That’s how it was growing. And that’s just gonna fall down and break down throughout this fall growing season and add nutrients to the crops that germinate and come on there.

>>GRANT: Now, I can tell by looking, we’re in a patch here that had a lot of native grasses, which is wonderful. I love that in my habitat. You can see the grass clumps. And this is actually a really good thing to talk about. We talk about this type of habitat being so good for turkey poults because it’s umbrella. It covers from avian predators up here, but the small chicks that are really small when they’re newborn can get around and hunt for insects.

>>GRANT: So, just follow this. So, this was a grass clump, and this was a grass clump, and this was a grass clump, and this was a grass clump. But a turkey poult or a quail poult could easily work through these clumps. And I’m sure when they were burning this, this was waist tall or chest tall – big bluestem, little bluestem; it looked really thick.

>>GRANT: But down where those poults are making a living, it was like little subterranean tunnels, but it wasn’t tunnels really, with all kinds of soft insects and ants – the critters that provide that critical protein for those little poults – and tremendous camouflage cover from avian-based predators.

>>GRANT: This will green back up. A lot of these native grasses will survive, but it will give a little space for forbs to grow in here. I see very few forb stems in here. This had become a grass monoculture, which is not the best native habitat. It’s okay here and there, but you don’t want the whole thing a grass monoculture. And by setting this back, there’d be another flush of forbs in here to provide food as well as cover.

>>GRANT: The plants that are going to germinate. Well, it’s going to favor forbs. And a lot of the native forbs are legumes. So, this area, again, just less than 30 acres, it’s kind of like a 30-acre food plot; not a 30-acre food plot like a 30-acre bean field where every bite is probably pretty good.

>>GRANT: There’ll be some plants that germinate that aren’t palatable, but most of them will be. You know, in that first week or two after they germinate and they make a seedling and they’re growing, at that stage most plants are very tender and easy for deer to digest.

>>GRANT: As that native vegetation starts maturing, well, some will grow out of being palatable and/or digestible to deer. As plants get a hard stem and there’s what we call lignin, the lignin increases – a really strong substance in cell walls that make it very stout – deer can’t digest that. They can’t digest fescue or those type grasses that are high in lignin content, but young ragweed, young partridge peas, some of these are really high-quality forages.

>>GRANT: Here we are in mid-to-late August, and let’s say it rains later this week like it’s forecast, and stuff germinates and sprouts and takes a little time getting volume. And let’s say in a month we’ve got three, five hundred pounds of high-quality forage per acre, and there’s about 30 acres of this. Well, that’s a lot of tons that wouldn’t have been present when these saplings were shading out the ground.

>>GRANT: So, again, we’ve got great cover and another area similar to this right over the ridge and right over here. But we’re gonna have a big destination feeding area that will be better for the health of the herd and make it easier for us to pattern deer.

>>GRANT: Almost like a snow, right after a fire is a great way to find active trails. So, you can see the deer have been walking right through here so much they beat the vegetation down. There wasn’t hardly anything to burn. There’s no ash in this trail unless a plant fell over or on it.

>>GRANT: So, this was a growing season – right before a deer season – trail and those are probably more important than ones you find during February or March way after season.

>>GRANT: You know, one thing that makes me extremely happy, I walk into a big, black area like this, and it doesn’t rain for a couple days. Just, you know, get that on your hands, feel it, makes me smile, is we killed a gazillion ticks with this fire.

>>GRANT: Now, they probably heard the fire coming – however ticks sense, I’m not sure – and they got down in the ground an inch. And, of course, heat rises, it just rode over the top of them. But ticks must have moisture on their exoskeleton – what we’d call skin – their exoskeleton. And they come out looking for a meal – a blood meal, a host – and they hit this black stuff. There’s no moisture here. It hadn’t rained, you know, since before the fire; there’s no moisture. They try to navigate through here. They’re dead tick walking. They’re not gonna make it.

>>GRANT: So, when you turn an area black, you’ll kill some ticks. They may be up here, and the fire catches them, and it roasts them. But the majority somehow sense it’s coming and get down below the soil or below a rock, and if it doesn’t rain right away and they come out looking for that next host – that next blood meal – again, they’re terminated.

>>GRANT: So, this will green up and it’ll be the best feeding in the area. And deer and rabbits and turkeys be in here feeding and shed more ticks, but no doubt the population has plummeted in this area.

>>GRANT: And if you do enough fire – you know, you rotate year after year and you burn this area this year and this year and next year in this area, you just keep doing it, you will reduce the amount of ticks on your property.

>>GRANT: I’m gonna give this project an easy “A.” What’s not to like about it? It’s gonna add tons of quality forage going into the hunting season. It’s going to attract deer. They’re probably not gonna cross this whole area during daylight. They’re going to go around each edge, so it’s gonna be easier to pattern deer.

>>GRANT: Going into the spring, the vegetation will be fairly short. Those old toms are gonna want to strut here, and by nesting season, parts of it will be tall enough for turkeys to nest in, and it’s a big enough area predators won’t be able to find those nests easily.

>>GRANT: If you’re not including late growing season burns in your management plan, I hope you look at this – and we’ll give you some updates as it greens up – and use it as a launching pad to get serious about using growing season fires to improve the habitat where you hunt.

>>GRANT: There’s going to be a very diverse amount of species that populate this area, and there’s gonna be food during the early, mid, and late season. It’s just part of the overall Release Process™. Those same principles can be applied to native habitat just as they can to food plots.

>>GRANT: Implementing habitat-improvement plans, whether it’s on your property or you’re helping a buddy, is a great way to get outside and enjoy and learn more about Creation. But more importantly, I hope you take time every day to be quiet and seek the will of the Creator and apply it to your life.

>>GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.