Techniques To Improve Deer Hunting And Habitat: A Summary of 500 GrowingDeer Episodes (Episode 500 Transcript)

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GRANT: This is the 500th episode of GrowingDeer. We’ve shared an episode every week about deer hunting and wildlife and habitat management. During that nine and a half years, we’ve never shared a repeat episode.

GRANT: (Whispering) you got him, you got him.

GRANT: There he lays. Here’s your big’un.

GLEN: That’s a good deer.

GRANT: That’s a very good deer.

GLEN: Yeah.

GRANT: You nailed it.

RAE: Yes. Yes!

GRANT: A gobbler! Huge!

RAE: My first one!

GRANT: Unbelievable!

RAE: Yes!

GRANT: If you are a longtime follower of GrowingDeer, you know we’re constantly striving to improve. This may mean research or experimenting in the field.

GRANT: We share our findings with hopes that you can enjoy your outings more by being more successful, maybe more efficient, and helping the wildlife resource even more.

GRANT: And look at that. In there, there is zero connective tissue. A little fat right here. Zero. Oh my gosh! That and a couple of scrambled eggs — you could climb Mount Everest. Oooo, it’s good.

GRANT: Our property, called The Proving Grounds, is located in southwest Missouri in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. It’s mountainous, steep, rocky and tends to be dry.

GRANT: These are harsh conditions for managing and hunting whitetails.

GRANT: It’s called The Proving Grounds because we believe if techniques work here, they’ll work anywhere throughout the whitetails’ range.

GRANT: (Whispering) You get ready; get ready.

GRANT: Head Turner is down. Can you believe that?

DANIEL: Oh my word.

GRANT: Head Turner. Look at that. Ozark Mountain stud right there. Whoo! Man, that’s cool. Big, ‘ole giant head on that rascal. But look at the coloration difference in his forehead versus his nose. Look at that big, ‘ole, huge nose. No doubt, a mature deer. What a gorgeous morning.

GRANT: When my wife, Tracy, and I purchased this property during 2002, I wanted to learn every nook and cranny. So, I took a paper topo map, gridded it out and started walking each block.

GRANT: During the first year of walking and exploring the entire property, I saw one deer. That was kind of upsetting, but it also gave me a great goal. What do I need to do? What techniques can I use? What can I implement to turn this into a wildlife paradise and a great hunting property?

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GRANT: Looking back, it’s amazing how young my daughters, Raleigh and Rae were when we started this project.

GRANT: I loved taking them hunting when they were young. It was full of excitement and lessons.

GRANT: (Whispering) When you’re ready, you can shoot if you’re right on it. You got it, girl. You got it.

GRANT: That was an awesome shot.

GRANT: All that BB gun practice and that archery practice paid off.

GRANT: My strategy for taking the girls hunting was to keep it exciting and fun. If it got really cold or I saw signs of them getting bored, we called it a day.

GRANT: (Whispering) You nailed him.

GRANT: And to this day, no matter if they’re off at college or some event scheduled, they make it back for opening day and several hunts throughout the season. It’s a wonderful tradition and makes dad very proud.

GRANT: A big goal was to make sure there was quality food throughout the year for all critters. And as I developed techniques, I shared them through GrowingDeer so you can improve the quality of habitat and critters on your Proving Grounds.

GRANT: We’ve got to totally control this sericea or it will take them over. Just mowing it won’t work. Spraying it with glyphosate won’t work. We will have to do a good job of controlling sericea this year, this fall; probably come in with food plots next year.

GRANT: Almost any property can be improved for whitetail and turkey hunting. Deer need three things — food, cover, water. Four things to be a great property. And that fourth is security.

GRANT: Another technique I used and I suggest everyone use is study the resources available in the neighborhood. Use aerial photographs, drive around, whatever you have to do.

GRANT: Figure out what’s the limiting factor. What’s in the smallest supply of – food, cover, water or security? And then provide that on the property where you hunt.

GRANT: There’s so few white oaks in here due to past forestry – those were the high dollar trees — that we’re marking every white oak to save. Even if there’s three close together, whatever it is. We save every white oak. Okay?

GRANT: Typical of most properties in mountain country, the entire area is primarily a closed canopy forest and cow pastures mixed in. Given this, one of my first priorities was to open up the forest canopy and let the sun reach the soil. Allow some quality forage to grow.

GRANT: Using the chainsaw and lots of sweat equity, I started cutting cedars on south facing slopes. I felled ‘em, let ‘em dry for a year or two, and then used prescribed fire.

GRANT: This technique resulted in tremendously high-quality native vegetation.

GRANT: Food plot acreage is extremely limited here due to the steep topography. And I knew I needed to make every acre produce as many tons of high-quality forage as possible.

GRANT: So, I planted Eagle Seed Forage Soybeans. Now there’s no soybeans for many miles or counties around here and everyone thought I was crazy.

GRANT: But you measured the whole plant, stem and all.

BRAD: Absolutely. Yeah.

GRANT: 40 plus percent protein. Now that’s just unheard of.

BRAD: That is.

GRANT: I’m thinking big antlers on that. I think I’m correct here that no one else in the whole soybean industry has spent 40 years selecting for these characteristics.

BRAD: No. I would have to say that is correct. Most, most are strictly grain.

GRANT: Yeah. So, they’ve selected and done everything they could to get as many bushels per acre of grain production.

BRAD: Absolutely.

GRANT: You have that, too.

BRAD: Yes.

GRANT: But – because we get great grain production here. But you’ve also got foliage production.

BRAD: Correct.

GRANT: So, we’re feeding all summer and then the grain feeds in the winter.

BRAD: That’s right.

GRANT: Man, I love that.

GRANT: My goal was to have the best food in the neighborhood for deer and I accomplished that using these beans and developing as many food plots as my budget allowed.

GRANT: There’s no production bean that produces near the tonnage of quality forage or pods as an Eagle Seed forage soybean. They were the ideal choice to meet my mission for food plots producing maximum tonnage of quality forage.

GRANT: I used to practice and recommend having about ten percent of the food plots on a property in perennial clover. I’ve learned I can add a strong annual clover to my fall blends.

GRANT: I plant fall blends in all my food plots now. Therefore, I have clover all throughout the property. And it’s extremely strong during that late winter / early spring period when does are finishing carrying fawns and starting to nurse them and bucks are growing antlers.

GRANT: In addition to adding tons of quality forage across the property during the critical time of year, it ended up being a cost and a time savings.

GRANT: An unexpected benefit is that dense stand of clover in all my fall plots ended up being a tremendous weed suppressor going into my summer plots.

GRANT: Since Tracy and I have owned The Proving Grounds, I’ve used a no-till drill. We started renting a drill from the local NRCS office. That worked pretty good, but I learned when it was prime planting conditions, there was a lot of competition to rent the drill.

GRANT: We saved our resources and I begged Tracy and we bought a used drill. And that worked pretty well, but it was a large tongue mount drill and I found it very difficult to turn around in small plots and it caused a lot of soil compaction because of the amount of backing up and turning needed to make corners.

GRANT: Then I got a Genesis from RTP Outdoors. It’s a three-point hitch model and that was a big game changer.

GRANT: This drill was much easier to calibrate than the previous drills I’d used and we ended up planting way more acres per hour.

GRANT: I believe this increase in efficiency was because it’s a three-point hitch model, much easier to turn and operate in the field, and it simply worked. We weren’t stopping to repair hydraulic lines and other issues that come with a tongue mount drill.

GRANT: I compare using my old tongue mount and the three-point hitch like using a traditional lawnmower and a zero turn. With the zero turn, you just mow wherever you want. You don’t think about backing up, stopping and turning.

GRANT: That’s when plants grow the best.

GRANT: And I never want to wipe out the earthworm. When you disc, you kill earthworms by the billions. Literally. I want them rascals working for me. They’re free. They’re working 24/7. They’re never late for work; they never steal from you; they never complain. Man, they’re like the perfect employee.

GRANT: For years I primarily planted monoculture blends or single species blends. And then I learned there’s several advantages to using polycultures or blends with several species.

GRANT: Polyculture blends work especially well in the fall because you’ve got something that’s palatable for deer early, mid and late season.

GRANT: We talked earlier about that annual clover. And it really doesn’t even show until late winter or early spring.

GRANT: As I studied, researched and experimented, I started to shift my food plot establishment and maintenance techniques.

GRANT: This developed into what we now call the Buffalo System, which is simply a system that replicates how the great, rich soils of the prairie were developed.

GRANT: In farming communities, this is called regenerative ag. And it recognizes everything starts in the soil.

GRANT: That’s true for wildlife also. Healthier fawns, bigger antlers — they all start in the soil. Healthier soil, healthier forage, healthier critters, healthier meat for us to consume.

GRANT: I’m gonna bet – oh that was a great one. And obviously that was random. Look at that big, ‘ole earthworm right there.

GRANT: This system improves soil quality. It doesn’t degrade it like traditional ag practices, including tillage and maximum synthetic fertilizer tend to do.

GRANT: It’s an extremely exciting, efficient and productive technique; not only here at The Proving Grounds, but with several friends of mine throughout the whitetails’ range.

GRANT: The Buffalo System saves time, money and, most importantly, produces great quality forage.

GRANT: The Buffalo System has resulted in building inches of rich, dark topsoil on top of what was once rocky food plots.

GRANT: As the native habitat and food plot forage has improved, so has the quality of all wildlife.

GRANT: During the first few years Tracy and I owned The Proving Grounds, I didn’t hunt and I didn’t let any guests hunt either. There simply weren’t enough deer.

GRANT: Once the population started responding to the habitat work, we started hunting, but it was buck only.

ROB: This is the first year that Grant has really decided to allow some limited hunting and I guess you can see what’s happening. We’ve seen deer every day when we’re going to the stand, when we’re coming from the stand.

ROB: Is he a three-year-old?

GRANT: I don’t know. He’s a two or a three. But he’s a great deer and he’s ours. He’s gonna be about a 12-year-old by the time we get to the top of this hill. That’s what it’s gonna be.

ROB: Okay. Let’s go. I got it under control. Don’t worry. Don’t send for help. I got it. He’s coming out.

GRANT: As the number of deer continued to increase, we were seeing more deer. But just as importantly, if not more, they were expressing much more of their genetic potential. We were starting to see some nice deer.

GRANT: Average fawn weights and antler size per age class were respectable anywhere and exceptional for mountain country.

GRANT: I’m about to take the shot. (Inaudible)

GRANT: He’s down. Handy’s down. Oh my goodness!

GRANT: You may recall that there was a massive outbreak of EHD, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, during 2012 throughout much of the Midwest.

GRANT: And super sharp again, almost hurting me. This deer died in velvet. No sign of a cranial or brain abscess.

GRANT: It was so severe, I estimate that more than a third of the deer at The Proving Grounds died.

GRANT: In areas with quality habitat, deer populations can increase rapidly. We backed off doe harvest for about two years and by the third year, I think there were more deer than ever at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: In fact, I likely harvested too late to increase the doe harvest and by that third year there was significant browse damage to the food plots.

GRANT: Folks often ask me how to determine how many deer are on a property. And I used to advise, and I did myself, intensive trail camera surveys. These were labor and resource intensive.

GRANT: As part of my continual journey to learn more about whitetails and whitetail habitat, I’ve changed my mind. I no longer do or advise people doing trail camera surveys.

GRANT: Rather, I monitor the amount of quality browse. If my browse is short or limited during the two critical periods — late summer and late winter — I know I have more deer than I have quality food and the deer cannot express their genetic potential.

GRANT: I’m not worried about how many deer are per square mile. Rather, I’m worried about the ratio of the number of deer to the amount of quality forage.

GRANT: This change has allowed me to be a much better deer manager and help folks reach their deer management objectives much quicker.

GRANT: The GrowingDeer Team and I really enjoy hunting. So harvesting does isn’t an issue for us. But an added bonus is we all love fresh venison. So, tagging a doe is more of a success story than, “Gosh. We gotta get it done for our deer management program.”

GRANT: This many years into a property, you would think it’s easy. But variances in weather conditions, acorn production, number of predators all make hunting difficult, especially in steep mountain terrain.

GRANT: So every year we’re scouting, moving stands and blinds, and adjusting our technique.

GRANT: To meet our objectives, there’s a lot of hunting pressure here at The Proving Grounds. And deer are very conditionable. They can learn for areas to avoid, which is another reason we’re constantly changing our hunting strategies.

GRANT: Of course, there’s some time-tested locations here at The Proving Grounds and you can bet we’ll be hunting them again this fall.

GRANT: We’re filming in a bottom and you’ve probably noticed there’s a lot of wind today. And some of the debris going by goes this way and then that way.

GRANT: In mountain country, the wind tends to constantly swirl; and the thermals carry our scent up and down the mountains like a wildfire.

GRANT: Growing up in the Ozarks and realizing these challenges, I had a separate washing machine just to do my hunting clothes in. I’d hang ‘em to dry outside and then hang ‘em in an old barn trying to keep ‘em away from any unnatural scent.

GRANT: That process took a huge amount of energy and, I gotta tell you, rats ate more than their fair share of my hunting clothes.

GRANT: As technology improved and I continue to learn, I now use a Scent Crusher system to clean my gear and use D/Code Field Spray when I’m out in the field for the final touches.

GRANT: Our scent control has never been better, and we’ve never harvested more deer per unit effort than we do now.

GLEN: Oh, mercy.

GRANT: Oh yeah. That is a trophy. Look at those big spurs. That’s a trophy. Big beard. Boy I would have had great footage if I had of just hit the record button.

GLEN: Well, you can’t do everything right, son.

GRANT: The team and I…the team and I also experienced a great loss of one I love dearly.

GRANT: (Whispering) There beside the tree. You got him, you got him. Very good shot.

GLEN: Ah huh. Thank you, son.

GRANT: Very good shot, dad.

GLEN: Well, we come down about two o’clock; drove down and seen him up on the ridge limping along a little bit. And we come on down. You said he might come by after a bit and he waited ‘til just about the sun went down behind the trees. Here he come. And Grant said, “Go ahead and shoot him, Pop.” And that’s what I done. I appreciate it.

GRANT: About a year and a half ago, my father passed – which GrowingDeer viewers knew as Pops. Pops was my best friend and taught me many valuable life lessons.

GRANT: Pops loved to hunt and joke with members of the team. I’m most thankful that he taught me to love the Creator and Creation.

GRANT: Methods may change, but principles never change. And the principle of loving Creation and loving to share it with my family, the team, and you will be a constant in my life.

GRANT: I have many great memories through the 500 episodes of GrowingDeer. Through this time, many super partners have come along beside us and supported us in ways that make it available for us to share every week with you.

GRANT: Producing 500 episodes in a row every week and never rerunning an episode, well that has a lot of technical challenges. But last year I faced an even greater challenge.

GRANT: I’ve been a kidney transplant patient for 25 years. But that donated kidney, which is a wonderful gift from my sister, Alice, finally failed. It wasn’t looking good. And my 19-year-old daughter, Raleigh, felt led to give me the gift of life. She donated me one of her kidneys.

RALEIGH: And so, like, people kept asking me, like, “Why are you doing this?” And, like, the simple answer is, like, my dad has given me my whole life – taught me so many things, how to hunt, how to shoot, how to work hard, how to enjoy being yourself and, just, so it’s the least I could do. To give him a small part of me so he can have a bigger part of his life. Because you only need one kidney to survive. Why do I need two? Like, it doesn’t make sense for me to have two when someone needs one of mine.

GRANT: Raleigh and I, our family, and the entire GrowingDeer Team had been praying intentionally about this surgery. And we went into it full of confidence.

GRANT: It went great as I mentioned. And by 9:00 p.m.- that afternoon, we went into surgery about noon – Raleigh come pulling her IV pole into my room to check on me. It couldn’t be any better.

GRANT: We’re both super healthy now, living a full life and can’t wait for the hunting season this fall.

GRANT: We have a lot of very cool projects going on right now and I look forward to continuing sharing them with you through GrowingDeer.

GRANT: If you would like daily updates, check us out on Facebook and Instagram.

GRANT: I hope we continue to inspire you to get outside and enjoy Creation. But most importantly, take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.

GRANT: If you know someone that would benefit from the information we share at GrowingDeer, please encourage them to subscribe to our newsletter.