New Property: Designing A Hunting And Habitat Management Plan (Episode 479 Transcript)

This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.

GRANT: Oooo, we’ve got a very busy spring planned.

GRANT: And I’ve successfully killed…

GRANT: We are already planning for the 2019 GrowingDeer Field Days which will be March 29th and 30th. I will be teaching the Buffalo System of food plot management and sharing our techniques for improving native habitat.

GRANT: Richard Hale will be here teaching how to field estimate a buck’s score. And Clint Cary, a professional trapper, will be here teaching how to trap coyotes and spending one-on-one time with folks teaching them whatever they need to reduce predators on their property.

GRANT: My friend, Scott Hook, and several champion turkey callers, will be here teaching folks how to owl hoot, and turkey call, and giving some individual instructions.

GRANT: It’s difficult to transport a lot of people around The Proving Grounds and the instructors’ voices will only carry so far. So, we limit registration to 100 folks. If you’d like to join us at the 2019 GrowingDeer Field Days, simply register at this link.

GRANT: I’ll also be speaking at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania February 5th and 6th and at Hamburg, Pennsylvania at a QDMA workshop March 9th. To register for QDMA’s workshop in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, simply get ahold of Steve.

GRANT: There were a lot of acorns in Indiana this fall where my friend, Charles, hunts. Like many of us, he put a trail camera in the woods to try to find where deer were eating acorns.

GRANT: It appears deer were raiding where a squirrel had stored several acorns at the base of this oak. This may be a new scouting technique – watch where squirrels are storing acorns and then hang a stand.

GRANT: Thanks, Charles, for sharing these cool videos.

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GRANT: I really like helping others enjoy Creation. And one way I’ve found to do this is visit with landowners and help them create a habitat management and hunting plan so they can get more enjoyment out of their property.

GRANT: Recently, Tyler and current GrowingDeer interns, Owen and Ricky, and I traveled to northeast Arkansas to visit with Nate and help him develop a plan for his property.

GRANT: He recently purchased this property and hadn’t started any habitat improvement projects. I reviewed a map of the property before the trip and noticed it had a lot of potential, but currently it probably wasn’t very productive wildlife habitat.

GRANT: The property is 360 contiguous acres and I noticed a good-sized creek ran through it.

GRANT: The neighborhood is primarily oaks and so it seemed to me right off the bat that water was not a limiting resource and there wasn’t much for food or cover in the area.

GRANT: After we arrived and greeted Nate, I pulled out one of the large maps we had plotted and went over the initial plan with him.

GRANT: So, when I started studying this, I noticed there’s a huge amount of timber for miles around and some fescue pastures.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: No crop land. No row crop land here. So, if we do – pick some areas and make some food plots in select areas and some bedding because it’s mature timber.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: You said recently there’s been cutting here, but mostly mature. So, there’s acorns everywhere. And when there’s a big acorn crop everywhere, we’re not necessarily gonna hold deer right here. That’s just, you know, we can’t make your acorns…

NATE: Right.

GRANT: …taste any better than the guy’s over here’s acorns. But if we have bedding and food – because deer do like a little bit of variety in their diet. So, if we have quality food plots and bedding, I’m really confident for the deer to have a home range that surrounds your area, we’ll be able to put a majority of ‘em on here in daylight hours. So, very excited about that.

GRANT: It’s – you want to be one or the other. You either want to be all ag – and you’ve got the cover…

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: …or all cover and you’ve got the food.

NATE: Okay.


GRANT: A lot of great information can be gained by studying maps, but nothing beats boots on the ground.

GRANT: As soon as we started exploring the property, I noticed some of the key species had been heavily browsed.

GRANT: See where it’s been browsed off these tips here?

NATE: Yes, sir.

GRANT: And that one’s browsed off. 100%. Look at all these little ones here. 100% of every smilax I’ve seen so far is browsed. See there’s one right in front of you?

NATE: Yes, sir.

GRANT: And you can tell it’s all browsed. And you can tell it’s the deer because, of course, deer do not have incisors on top.

NATE: And you can see the tops…

GRANT: They have a cartilaginous palette. So when they come up, they tear. So you can tell it’s torn. It’s real ragged…

NATE: Right. You can.

GRANT: …and torn.

GRANT: Gosh, 20 yards into touring his property and right off the bat, we’re here at a smilax plant and I can see some big plants. Gosh, this has got to be 3/16th of an inch or so that’s been browsed off. So, these are briars – the genus or scientific name would be smilax. A lot of people call it catbrier or greenbrier.

GRANT: And the leaves are pretty high-quality forage. Eating almost a quarter inch thick briar – you know deer are really hungry.

NATE: Right.

GRANT: And the other thing is, you know, I’m six foot tall; I can touch an eight foot ceiling; and over my head is the first leaves. Deer have browsed; they’ve stood here, literally on their hind feet, reached up getting everything.

GRANT: So, you wouldn’t think deer would browse on a briar. The smilax is native to the area and the ends tend to be very tender and nutritious.

GRANT: When I find smilax has been browsed so hard that the stems are almost a quarter inch across or slightly less, I know there’s more deer in the area than quality forage.

GRANT: We’re going through the property here and we’re down in a lower bottom area and Japanese honeysuckle is growing up through here. But the only portion that still has leaves is kind of tough to get to. It’s – I don’t know – five and half feet tall or so above the ground and through some brush – I’m holding this vine down here.

GRANT: Anywhere else where this used to be honeysuckle vines, they’ve killed, basically. So, just another indicator there’s way more deer than quality food. This is not quality food. It’s more of a survival type food.

GRANT: You’re not going to grow big antlers or healthy fawns off honeysuckle.

GRANT: Japanese honeysuckle is an exotic and an invasive species and it’s not that palatable. When I find it browsed about as tall as I am, I really know there’s way too many deer for the amount of food in the area.

GRANT: Here’s eastern red cedar. It’s very undesirable, very undesirable – starvation food. It’s been browsed a lot. This one right here’s a perfect example. Obviously, this has been browsed on; it’s not shaded out; there’s no limbs there because the sun’s not doing it. It’s been browsed on. And that’s extremely low-quality food. Extremely,

GRANT: You know, that, when you put your fingers into that, even that young, it hurts my hand…

NATE: You bet.

GRANT: …let alone eating that; digesting that. So, yeah, we’re going to have to open up ….

GRANT: I did not know how many deer were using the property, but I knew unequivocally there were more deer than the amount of quality forage on the land.

NATE: I’ve got to see all kinds of sights today that I didn’t know about.

GRANT: As we continued touring the property, I noticed there were a lot of trees per acre. In fact, there were so many they were competing with each other and limiting the amount of quality timber they could produce and hard and soft mass. I suggested the landowner explore local markets that might harvest some of the smaller, lower quality timber and use it for pulp or other products.

GRANT: Every timber company is going to want to take that big red oak there and the big white oak right down there.

NATE: That’s right. That’s right.

GRANT: And we want to do the opposite – we want to thin from the bottom up. So, you’re gonna need a pulp wood buyer…

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: …to take the smaller trees and leave the bigger ones.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: Your property is so short of big trees. It’s been logged like mine in the past. And so if we take, you know, that tree, and that tree, and that tree, and that tree, and leave all these stems, we haven’t gained anything.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: We’ve still got way too many stems per acre. We need to come in here with a pulp wood market, which takes smaller wood. And most people will say, “Well, we’re only going to cut 14 inches or up.” That’s a really nice way of saying high grading.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: They’re taking the best and leaving the rest. We want to do just the opposite. If it’s 16, 18 inches – anywhere near – we want to leave it. You know, unless it’s a diseased tree or, you know, it’s a big hollow top – it’s gonna die anyway. And we want to take a bunch of the smaller stuff out.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: This technique is called TSI – timber stand improvement. And the goal is to remove the smaller, lower-quality trees; leave the better trees so they can mature and produce high-quality timber and allow sun to reach the forest floor so native grasses and forbs can thrive.

GRANT: We were touring Nate’s property and I found a place I’m super excited about and it’s a pinch point. It’s tough to find – really to find pinch points in all timbered areas. But, we’ve got a pretty major creek that comes, juts way in and back out. So, it pushes everything here – probably a 20 foot, not bluff, but really steep area. And then an old cedar that’s fallen over and right within that cedar there was scat and there was several rubs come through here. And the topography is that it flattens out back this way and narrows down right here.

GRANT: Not only is it a physical pinch point, when it’s cool – pre-rut or rut – your scent’s going right down to that creek. That’s going to be cold and it’s just gonna pull down and your scent is gonna go down pretty late in the morning.

GRANT: So, man, you can approach by kayak if you wanted; you can come up 100 yards off the creek; climb up a tree – deer will never know you’re in the world. And there’s a pile of rubs right down through here.

GRANT: They’re gonna cross right here. This is the best place on the property I’ve seen so far. It’s just a natural, God-built pinch point. I would hunt here.

GRANT: This has got a really big “U” here. That’s a pretty good indication it’s a female because it’s gotta have the birth canal. Males have a tight “V”. But even more important, there would be some big knots right here called tuberosities. And those are some connective tissue or tissue that holds your scrotum up – base here.

GRANT: Females also don’t have the knots there. By several factors – the top of the skull, this big deep “U”, birth canal – pretty mature deer. And the reason I know that, if we look – there’s actually multiple bones going in here. And right here, you would still see the suture lines where the bones fit together if it’s a young deer. And as it matures, it all calcifies. And so, this is, probably, I’m guessing three years old or older.

GRANT: And, yeah, at least. Maybe a lot older.

GRANT: The top jawbone is not near as good for aging as the bottom.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: But see how much – think of a chocolate ice cream cone dipped in vanilla – just the opposite of normal.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: And there’s enamel on the outside and dentine on the inside.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: The more they eat, the more they wear – especially these back teeth. The more of the center shows – like the chocolate ice cream cone.

GRANT: The tops don’t wear as evenly as the bottoms with – there’s a lot more brown. It’s faded, but it would have been brown and white showing. So, mature deer for sure.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: Mature deer.

OWEN: It’s deeper over there.

GRANT: As we continued walking, I noticed a few small patches of high-quality native grasses and forbs, which told me there was a good seed bank in the area.

GRANT: These species would likely thrive if we removed some timber and allowed sun to reach the soil.

GRANT: As we continued, we found several fairly large stands of eastern red cedar.

GRANT: So, let’s find exactly where this little cedar thicket is on the map.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: And we’ll mark this one out ‘cause this is definitely gonna be a food plot.

NATE: See the tip of the creek there? And we’re at the red dot. So, yeah, I’m gonna say right around in there.

GRANT: The neighbors all have acorns, too. We looked at the map. But what I want to do is save every one of those big white oaks. And there’s, you know, I don’t know, four or five per acre. You know, that’s gonna vary. Let’s say three for average or something.

GRANT: But, I want to take out, you know, gosh, 50 stems or more per acre of this smaller stuff. And those trees will flourish and we’ll get some ground cover to have summer time food and cover.

GRANT: And this area, originally – when we look at the notes of explorers come through here – was savannahs. This is a product of bad timber in the past and everything just grew up everywhere.

GRANT: But when the earlier explorers came through, this was a savannah which meant a tree every 100 feet, 200 feet, and a lot of native grass and forbs in between, and that was super productive habitat.

GRANT: Although cedar is a native species to the area, it wasn’t near as dominant before European settlement and wildfires frequently swept the area.

GRANT: Once fires were controlled and areas were open, like pastures, if those pastures weren’t constantly maintained, cedars would take over and cover the whole area.

GRANT: A lot of folks believe that cedars are good cover for many species of wildlife. But if you squat down and look under a cedar stand, it’s usually pretty barren underneath.

NATE: That’s kind of what the summer time.

GRANT: If you get down, I can see, gosh, I don’t know, 80 yards or something through there. So, that’s not cover. It hits us in the face when we’re walking through, but where a deer or a quail or turkey live, it’s a biological desert.

GRANT: If closed canopy cedars are the only type of cover in an area, which was the case here because they’re surrounded by open hardwoods, deer will use that area.

GRANT: That doesn’t mean we need to settle for low-quality cover habitat. We can simply cut all these cedars; leave them where they fell; let ‘em dry for a couple years; and then use prescribed fire. That will reduce all the cedars to fertilizer; and it will allow the native grasses and forbs to explode making extremely high-quality cover and a feeding area.

GRANT: Right here, if I could just cut a core out of that, there’s hardly any nutrients in that. This whole tree’s been sucking phosphorous and potassium out of the ground for however old that tree is. And when you push all that in a pile, a huge amount of nutrients grow right there and that will be really green and everything else will be yellow.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: You want all of these decomposing right here.

GRANT: Folks naturally want to clean up, it seems. And they want to bring in a dozer or skid-steer and pile all the cedars in one area and then burn them.

GRANT: But let’s think about what that accomplishes. Cedars have been extracting nutrients out of the soil for years and years. You put it in one pile, you’re basically depleting nutrients from a large area.

GRANT: If you’re creating cover, simply fell the cedars and leave ‘em lay where they are; use prescribed fire and that keeps the nutrients spread out over the area.

GRANT: Now, not – this is gonna be a food plot. So, that’s not gonna be the case here. But if you’re making, like, the native bedding area up there, native vegetation bedding area, where they fall is where they stay.

GRANT: If you’re making a food plot – and this is real important – you’re gonna make this a food plot because it’s very flat and it looks like pretty good dirt – I want ‘em always pushing uphill. When you push down, it’s compacting soil more. There’s more pressure on it.

GRANT: And then, also, when you push up, more dirt comes out of the root ball and stays in place. So, dozer operators want to go down; it’s easier on their equipment. Right? Gravity is helping or whatever. Always – I’m really picky about this.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: I mean, you may have to come downhill the first 50 yards off of that; the rest of the time, it’s going up. And there are going to be several piles in here.

GRANT: You’ve been to my place. You know how many acres of cedar we’ve cut.

GRANT: So, my testimony is clear. If it was mine, I’d cut it. You may not be able to do it all the first year.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: You kinda do it in sections, you know. I’m gonna do ‘x’ acres this year – which I’d do on that side, so you get food plots in first.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: And ‘x’ acres this year; ‘x’ acres this year. If you can do it all in one year, all the better.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: I couldn’t at my place.

GRANT: Myself and several others have had great hunts overlooking an area that used to be covered by cedars with no visibility.

DANIEL: He’d down; he’s down. He’s rolling.

GRANT: He’s down; he’s down.

GRANT: At Nate’s property, the wildlife would also benefit from some sources of high-quality forage. We designated several areas to be larger food plots. And I asked Nate to plant these during the warm season with Eagle Seeds Forage Soybeans and during the cool season with Eagle’s Fall Buffalo Blend. That’s a great crop rotation that not only provides high-quality forage year ‘round, but if managed appropriately, also serves to improve soil quality.

GRANT: (Inaudible) Literally in this white oak.

GRANT: So, we are…

NATE: We’re right here. The main (Inaudible).

GRANT: Yeah, that’s the old herbicide…

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible)

GRANT: After the tour, we laid out a clean map and started outlining the projects we discussed.

GRANT: So, this – a good bit – there’s even a couple of low terraces in there. So, a lot of this, like, from about here that – we said the edge of this field?

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: Here to pretty far up in here was food.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: So, let’s, let’s hatch that.

NATE: So, you want to come up this area here?

GRANT: Yup, yeah. To the edge of the field. We want those fully grown trees to give us a buffer between someone possibly driving past here and seeing in there.

NATE: Okay.

GRANT: It’s one thing to walk around and lay out some projects, but when you put it all on a map, you usually find additional benefits.

GRANT: So now, start looking at some bottlenecks. Right? Boom, boom, boom.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: You’ve got definition to the property now, where before it was contiguous. And to be really, you know, this I thought was a great bottleneck here and over here.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: But the rest of it was pretty hard to hunt.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: You just might see a deer; might not. But, envision, these areas – either bedding or food – now you’ve got all kinds of travel corridors. Right? Because a buck doesn’t necessarily want to cross a big opening during daylight. He will, but not always.

GRANT: So, now we’ve got bottlenecks and structure.

NATE: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: And it’s much more of a huntable property. And, obviously, much more nutritious. All these cedars are blocking the sun from getting to the – there’s nothing growing underneath ‘em. They’re sucking up a lot of water. 40% of the rain that hits a cedar never hits the ground. It’s either taken up by the tree or evaporated back off.

GRANT: So, total property change here.

GRANT: After we marked the map with the areas for food plots, bedding areas and timber stand improvement, we noticed that pattern created some really great bottlenecks.

GRANT: Oh my gosh, what a bottleneck right here.

NATE: You bet.

GRANT: Oh my gosh.

GRANT: These bottlenecks created a much needed type of habitat on this property and that is hunting locations besides food plots.

GRANT: It can be very difficult to pattern deer in large areas of continuous timber. By creating bottlenecks, it’s much easier to pattern timber and figure out how to approach, hunt and exit, without alerting the deer you’re trying to hunt.

GRANT: I love this plan. And it looks so simple. But, we’ve laid out a lot of work right there. I mean a lot of work.

GRANT: And then you have these great natural areas to hunt when deer are really chasing acorns, traveling the creeks. I like your ridgetops a lot better.

GRANT: They’re going to travel the creek, but the wind swirls down there a lot. Those ridgetops are where we found that bottleneck. Over here or what-not are tremendous bow hunting stands.

GRANT: This one here – on any kind of cold day, it’s going right down the creek. You’re not gonna get busted there at all.

GRANT: I mean, you could spend years doing this. I cut a lot of them on my place with some buddies. Or you can hire Flatwoods and they cut – I think they cut 108 acres, was it? 108 in, was it nine days or 14 days?

UNKNOWN: Nine days.

GRANT: In way tougher country than this. Much steeper.

GRANT: Yeah. Water is a non-issue. You have no food. Any food development is gonna be huge and going to attract deer, except when there’s acorns on the ground.

GRANT: You don’t have any good bedding. Notice how we saw sign just in the cedar cover because that’s the best cover to have right now. But, when we look below it, it’s a biological desert. You drop all these and there’s great native grass and forb component in here now; burn it; let that really grow; stimulate that. Man, it’ll be awesome.

GRANT: It will be like my place, except better ‘cause it’s flatter.

GRANT: We look forward to following the progress of this project and sharing with you the results from Mr. Elliott’s hard work.

GRANT: If you can sell a few of these big trees and let (Inaudible)…

GRANT: I’m scheduled to visit several other property owners in the next few weeks. If you’d like to learn about their property and the techniques I prescribe, simply subscribe to the GrowingDeer newsletter.

GRANT: You don’t have to work outside like I do to enjoy Creation. Just find a little time and take a walk. But more importantly, take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.