Managing Whitetails During Drought (Episode 86 Transcript)

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GRANT: Don’t really need a thermometer in the truck to tell you it’s hot, because the soybean leaves have flopped over trying to conserve moisture and get out of the heat. Corn’s all shriveled up and the clover is just flat and brown. The only green thing in a clover field right now is some type of really tough weed. That’s all the thermometer I need to know it’s really stressful on the deer herd, and Nathan and I. But the cup is always half full in my world, and this could leave for some outstanding hunting opportunities, independent of antler size. And that’s what we want to talk about today, capitalizing on the situation and what we’re doing right now to prepare for hunting season.

GRANT: Although the growing conditions are really rough in a lot of the lower 48, there’s a few pockets where they’re really good and one happens to be in a portion of west central Illinois. Now, Nathan and I got to go up there to Fulton County, Illinois this past weekend and be part of a field event hosted by the West Central Illinois Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association.

GRANT: (Inaudible) They’re gonna get up and have a snack, before they go out to the big corn and bean field. That’s typical deer behavior.

GRANT: I love these opportunities to talk about food plots, and hidey holes, and switchgrass, and cover, and elevated blinds, all this stuff, and also learn from the attendees. There were about 100 people there. Great time and I got to tell you, after everyone left one day, I slid out to the pond with Mike O’Reilly, one of the owners, and checked out his pond management. Check out that big old lunker there. Man, it’s always great to share with fellow hunters and especially, see something green, compared to what we have here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: But back at The Proving Grounds, we got to be realists and face these really tough conditions, and if it doesn’t rain – and I’m sure it will, but if it doesn’t rain – food plots just can’t grow with no moisture. And that leaves us to native vegetation, and primarily, acorn. Acorns are either a blessing or a curse. They’re a blessing, if you live like in northern Missouri, or places that are heavy in ag, or other land use practices. There’s just a few acorn trees, because when acorns fall, they’re like fudge, and deer just can’t pass up some when they walk by. So if you know where there’s a big white oak, or red oak, and it’s dropping acorns and it’s the only one in that section of land, you’ve got a hot spot. But if you’ve got acorns everywhere, like here at The Proving Grounds, it means deer can just bed, and move, bed, and move ten feet a day when the acorns are really dropping. And it makes deer really difficult to pattern and very difficult to hunt, because you can’t get between the bedding area and the feeding area.

GRANT: A lot of people get real excited about acorns. I usually don’t want acorns. I don’t like my deer eating acorns cause it’s really a low quality food source.

GRANT: No matter where you’re hunting, there’s a couple of things about oaks that are really simple to understand that may make you a better hunter. First, there’s two families of oaks, basically, throughout the North America. There’s white oaks and red oaks. Now, there’s tra – traditional white oak tree. It’s a species, Quercus Alba, the white oak, and then, there’s the red oak. The northern red oak and the southern red oak, but even live oaks, and Chinquapin oaks, and Blackjack oaks, and all the oaks and common names that are in your area, fall into either being white oaks or red oaks.

GRANT: So, there’s a couple of factors about white oaks that hunters really need to understand. They typically don’t have as much tannic acid, which makes them taste bitter, as the red oak family. So deer prefer white oaks, usually, over red oaks. Now, there’s always local variations but that’s generally true throughout the whitetails’ range. But that lack of acid, which serves as a preservative, means that white oak acorns don’t last as long on the ground as red oaks. So if you’re in an area that has both white oaks and red oaks, like here at The Proving Grounds, I want my early season stands around white oak trees and my late winter stands – if I’ve got a heavy acorn crop and I think there’s enough to last into the late winter – around red oak trees because the white oaks, after a bunch of rain or warm temperatures, will actually sprout and try to grow. And once they sprout, deer typically don’t go to them. Remember, acorns are just seeds.

GRANT: Now, here’s a little tip I don’t think a lot of hunter’s think about. Open grown oak trees, like on a college campus, or on the edge of a food plot, or the edge of a pasture, where they get to have a full canopy, or at least three quarters canopy, usually have limbs coming all the way to the ground. They’re catching more sunlight, more moisture, that roots can spread out without competition from other trees – tend to produce more acorns, and maybe even more frequently. But the negative there is, unless you’re hunting the first week of season, if there’s much hunting pressure in your area, deer will – especially mature deer – will avoid those areas during daylight hours. You’ll find all kind of scrapes, and maybe scat or droppings under those trees, but a lot of nocturnal activity. If you want to find where mature bucks are consuming acorns in daylight hours, it usually means taking a walk in the deeper woods, especially, after the first week of season.

GRANT: I’ve got a couple of buddies that really scout by walking around and looking at holes from last year. “Oh man, there’s a bunch of acorns under this tree last year. I bet it’s gonna have good acorns this year.” They forget their binoculars. They’re not looking up in July and August to see what’s coming on this year. That doesn’t work. So, in an ideal world, I’d like about 60% white oak and 40% red oak if I’m managing my forest for wildlife, for acorn production. And that’s a good example, and they never get perfect, but if I’m thinning trees, or doing TSI – timber stand improvement – I may thin the red oaks a little harder, if my white oaks are thin, or if my white oaks are really populated and I’m trying to favor red oaks. I’m gonna do a forestry practice. Now, hopefully, for the next generation, it will give me that 60/40, somewhere in there split, between white oaks and red oaks. So remember, you find a bunch of caps on the ground under a tree doesn’t mean there’ll be acorns there this year. It’s the weather conditions that determine whether there’ll be acorns this year. All these tell you is that tree is capable of producing acorns. All right, let’s grab our binoculars and go scout some more. ‘Cause remember, in a closed canopy forest, you’re scouting tool for acorns this time of year – July, August – is either a big ladder or a good pair of binoculars.

GRANT: Split tree right up there about 40. That thing is loaded on top. My gosh.

GRANT: Doing your scouting right now with a pair of binoculars and go ahead and hang your stands. Thinking about how the deer are approaching and we’re always thinking about that wind direction. Just like a food plot, I would like to be off 50, 100 yards, or more, from that acorn tree, instead of right on the little patch I find. That way I can catch deer in transition. Maybe let some does and fawns go by first, get that big, mature buck coming into the feeding area before it gets dark. But no matter what they are, we know come hunting season, deer are going to food. They got to have water. They need cover. There’s a lot of scouting that can happen right now, and that’s a great family activity that we can do and not worry as much about disturbance, but we really want to limit that disturbance come closer to deer season. Hey, thank you so much for watching, and I hope you consider sharing it with a friend.