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>>GRANT: I’m gonna take a moment and reflect on the real reason we have Memorial Day – or now known as Memorial Day weekend, but originally it was Memorial Day – and it’s a federal holiday set aside for us to slow down and honor those great Americans, men and women, that gave their life serving our nation.
>>GRANT: It’s Memorial Day. We should remember those folks and the tremendous price them and their families have paid.
>>GRANT: You know, this year do what the Woods family is doing. I want you to not only thank a veteran, but really sit down with your family – especially if you have younger children – and explain the definition of Memorial Day and how important it is, how blessed we are to have this nation we call the United States of America and people willing to defend our freedoms every day.
>>GRANT: Recently, we’ve been sharing some food plot tips and techniques. Of course, this time of year we’re establishing what’s normally known as spring, or warm season, food plots.
>>GRANT: Another way – just as important, I believe – to provide high-quality forage, and in this case coverage also, for many species of wildlife is managing native vegetation.
>>GRANT: There’s a lot of sources of information about managing native vegetation, but to me the best ways to manage native vegetation is replicating what was here pre-European settlement – or what was here before we started altering the habitat.
>>GRANT: This area in the Ozarks is called a bald. You may have heard of Baldknobbers, and that was a group of people about the Civil War era that were basically vigilantes, and they would meet on balds or these south, southwest-facing slopes where there were almost no trees. Hence, they called them balds.
>>GRANT: The reason balds primarily occur on south, southwest-facing slopes is it’s much hotter and drier there. The sun’s impacting it many more hours of the day than let’s say a north-facing slope, and so it would dry out and be much more susceptible to frequent wildfire.
>>GRANT: Those areas contained the best grasses and forbs in the whole region, and so when European settlers got here, of course, they fenced those areas in and that’s where they grazed their cattle. You would graze them there versus in the woods.
>>GRANT: Years of grazing just in that one place and, just as importantly, the exclusion of fire, allowed these balds to become what’s now known as cedar glades. And if we look around, there’s cedar carcasses in here. When Tracy and I purchased this property, this was covered with cedar – eastern red cedar – very low-quality habitat for white-tailed deer, turkey, quail, and a lot of game and non-game species. We felled all those cedars with a chainsaw and started using prescribed fire.
>>GRANT: Several rotations of fire later, there’s an extremely rich diversity of native grasses, forbs, and legumes in this area.
>>GRANT: I talk a lot about when creating a food plot blend to plant, how important it is to have a diversity of species – legumes, grasses, forbs. Well, here we have that diversity, but it’s multiplied by many, many fold.
>>GRANT: Just in a few feet around me, I’m probably seeing a dozen or two dozen different species right now, and that’s just this time of year.
>>GRANT: Some of them are flowering or have flowered, and they’re about to be done for the year. Others aren’t even close to flowering for this growing season.
>>GRANT: Through the years of watching this and watching deer use this habitat and reading or working with other professionals, I know that often in these areas deer will eat some of these plants during the early, mid, and late growing season. Almost none are palatable all the way through, or deer would eat them up and they would not produce flowers or seeds.
>>GRANT: And that’s, I think, the natural plan – to have a diversity of plants covering the soil and have some that are palatable all throughout the year – and that provides excellent quality cover and food.
>>GRANT: Research has been done. We have another graduate student coming here this summer to work on this, but I’m going to guess in this area, we’ve probably got a thousand pounds or more per acre of high-quality native forage. I’m talking, oh, 20, 20 plus percent digestible protein, very low fiber – when the deer choose to eat on that – and really good trace minerals in this crop.
>>GRANT: In addition, what you’ll find in native vegetation even more so than oats or wheat or something that’s been bred year after year, over and over, try to get it just to produce grain, you’ll find in these species a lot of secondary and tertiary chemical compounds.
>>GRANT: Research is really just starting on that, but it’s showing there’s a lotta parasite control in those compounds, disease control. It’s how animals were extremely healthy before European settlement.
>>GRANT: Remember, I’m talking a thousand pounds of dry weight this time a year. It’s very lush, dark green, growing. These plants probably are about 70% water content – depending on which plant we’re talking about and their stage of maturity.
>>GRANT: You know, deer eat on average about 5% of their body weight a day. So, if you’ve got a hundred-pound doe, probably eat about 5 pounds dry weight. Five pounds dry weight, you know, and a high percent moisture, that doe could be eating 10, 15, or more pounds of something a day, and that moisture is going to come out – of course, in the form of urine – and they’re gonna keep the nutrients in their body and pass the fiber out the back end.
>>GRANT: So, if you were managing just one acre of this type of native vegetation, deer could wipe out all the good stuff fairly quickly.
>>GRANT: But I don’t like cover areas smaller than about 10 acres. I don’t want them long and narrow where a predator – a coyote, raccoon, whatever – could walk on the downhill side and at night when those predators are most active, the thermal’s rushing downhill. And it smells every fawn, every turkey nest, every songbird nest in here. So, I like bigger, oval, square cover areas.
>>GRANT: This area we happen to be standing in is, gosh, it’s about 20 acres or more, so 20,000 pounds of forage through the course of a year, and I burn it one time every couple years. That’s very inexpensive, high-quality forage.
>>GRANT: I know the effectiveness of this area firsthand because out of the Redneck blind behind me, I’ve tagged a lotta good bucks in this area.
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>>GRANT: Beautiful! My goodness!
>>GRANT: That time of year, there’s not a lot of food, especially by, you know, mid-November, the rut here in Southern Missouri. But it’s outstanding cover. There will be some food. There’s a lot of plants that are called biennials. They’ll form a basal rosette that first year and then bolt or stick up a head with seed on it the second year. Some of those are pretty palatable, and deer will eat those basal leaves throughout the winter.
>>GRANT: To get the amount of diversity you see in this stand we have used a technique of what I call burning when God would burn. When it’s dry, we use prescribed fire, and that may be in the spring or what’s called a dormant-season fire, before stuff greens up. That may be in August or early September, if we get in a real drought and we can control the fire and set that back. And what you’ll find – if you burn primarily during that spring-growing season or the dormant season, late winter season – you’ll have more grasses responding. Because they shed seed during that August/September/November timeframe, and you burn and make a great seedbed, and those seeds get sun, and moisture, and germinate and grow.
>>GRANT: Just the opposite is true. If you burn during August/September, that’s going to favor a lot of forbs to flowering plants and legumes. There’s about 11% of the vegetation here is native legumes based on some studies or walk-throughs with botanists that we’ve done here at The Proving Grounds.
>>GRANT: So, for years we’ve burned this when the conditions were appropriate for a wildfire or a fire to go through the area. Now we have really good control breaks. We’ve never had a fire leave The Proving Grounds, and there’s just a rich habitat here.
>>GRANT: Of course, fire reduces ticks. You kill ticks by desiccating them primarily, and you turn this area all black, and it gets warm for a day or two. That sun comes out, it’s gonna greatly reduce ticks. It’ll kill the ticks that are here primarily. But as soon as it greens up, deer, rabbits will start feeding in here again, and ticks will shed off those animals and repopulate the area.
>>GRANT: I kind of think that was the original plan, right? You get a fire every two or three years, really set back that tick population. That tick population would expand a little bit, and it gets set back again.
>>GRANT: I think that’s the plan, and we’ve excluded fire for so long in so many areas, well, tick populations have been allowed to grow way higher than they were when buffalo were roaming this area.
>>GRANT: We talk about The Release Process™ as kind of the process we use to establish and maintain food plots. But that term is not meant just for managing food plots. It’s also native habitat. And felling the cedars and using prescribed fire when there’s enough fuel and when it’s dry enough to burn, we’ve released huge potential – huge, very high-quality amounts of native habitat in this area.
>>GRANT: If Tracy and I would have purchased the property and just said, “Uh, let’s cover the cedars. We can’t do anything about it.” We would’ve never released this area to show its potential of having very high-quality habitat.
>>GRANT: Not everywhere is covered with cedars. A lot of areas are; they’re native, but they spread readily. Songbirds – some songbirds consume those seeds and deposit them as they fly or perch in different areas.
>>GRANT: You may be more in the southeast and have a huge issue with sweetgums – you know, the pines or oaks, whatever’s harvested. And an oak sapling comes up; it’s pretty palatable to deer. I almost never see where deer are browsing on sweetgums. They’re a proficient seed producer also. So, you cut all the oaks out, there are a few sweetgums left, and all of a sudden, the whole area becomes a sweetgum thicket.
>>GRANT: To release the potential of that area, you have to use The Release Process™ and terminate those sweetgums, introduce fire back into the area, and maybe get either native grasses or forbs or higher quality hardwoods growing in the area.
>>GRANT: I’ve been blessed to work throughout the whitetail’s range, and I do mean throughout the whitetail’s range. And I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that was just pristine, perfect native habitat. All of us, no matter where we live or where we work with land, can use The Release Process™ to improve the quality of native habitat.
>>GRANT: Improving the quality of native habitat is a very important tool for wildlife managers. And, unfortunately, it’s often not used in favor of just a few food plots or something else. I think it’s extremely important to improve the quality of native habitat throughout the whitetail’s range for many reasons. Game and non-game species – gosh, this is taking a lot of carbon out of the air, pumping it in the soil, giving us clean air, recycling water. It’s the way it was meant to be.
>>GRANT: I hope you have a chance to get outside and tour some high-quality native habitat, maybe really understand it, and then go home and implement it where you get to work with the land. But 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.