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GRANT: It’s mid-June and I’m standing in an area I’ve managed for native habitat for more than a decade.
GRANT: When Tracy and I purchased this property, this area was totally covered with eastern red cedar. In the few gaps of cedar trees, I noticed the native species and quickly developed a plan to fell all the cedars and then allow prescribed fire to work its magic.
GRANT: I knew from other people’s research that if I fell the cedars and used prescribed fire, this area could be extremely productive for many species of wildlife.
GRANT: At that time, I didn’t know how productive the technique of felling cedars and burning would be. I will share that from the Redneck blind behind me I’ve tagged more mature bucks than anywhere else at The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: Managed appropriately, native vegetation provides food year around as long as it’s warm enough for anything to grow, and a lot of the stuff that grows will be palatable and nutritious even in its dormant stage. Think of other crops that are standing there not growing that deer still forage on, well that also occurs in native vegetation.
GRANT: This area was most recently burned last fall, and you can see the native grasses are all not quite knee-high on me, but they will be just tall come deer season.
GRANT: They will provide a lot of cover not only through deer season but all the way into spring.
GRANT: There’s lots of non-grass species in here that will provide high-quality forage not only now but throughout the hunting season.
GRANT: That’s one advantage of having huge diversity in native habitat. There’s something coming on and being palatable throughout the year.
GRANT: One advantage of managing native habitat – as I’m doing here – is it creates maximum diversity. When you look around, you probably see all different colors of flowers, all different heights of plants, and that’s not only providing benefit to critters but also doing great work to the soil below.
GRANT: Different species of plants react differently with the soil. We’ve talked about that a lot in the Buffalo System, and that’s one reason I prefer to plant blends at least one time during the year versus a monoculture. Well, the same is true in native habitat, but in this situation there are dozens and dozens of different plants interacting with the soil throughout the year.
GRANT: Where I’m standing, I can easily see more than a dozen different species, and I’m sure if I took time and really went through a larger area, I’d find 60 or 70 different species within an acre or two of where I’m standing.
GRANT: That amount of diversity not only provides a lot of different cover structures and food throughout the year, but it provides a lot of nutrients to the soil – and I said nutrients to the soil. We actually think about plants taking nutrients out of the soil, and that’s true, but plants leak out various different substances from the root system that can improve the soil.
GRANT: Ray Archuleta, a very famous soil scientist, says that we need to consider plants and soil as one. One doesn’t do well without the other, and in this situation both of ‘em are doing very well.
GRANT: I tend to be pretty vertical, and by that I mean I tend to focus on what we call the hook and bullet species – deer, turkey, quail – critters I like to eat – but really I’m focused on the whole ecosystem, and as I’m standing here, there are bees buzzing all around. It’s audible. I can hear different species of bees working the flowers close to me.
GRANT: There are many non-game species that thrive in this type of habitat, and we should expect that. The early explorers that kept journals talked about this type of habitat and the very large fire scars as they were exploring the Southeast and Midwest. Some of those species were getting fairly rare, but in areas that are managing for native habitat are flourishing, and that’s a good thing because that means it’s a healthy ecosystem.
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GRANT: I really enjoy introducing the value of native habitat to fellow hunters and landowners. And a couple of years ago I did just that to Tom Free, who owns a bit of land east of The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: On Tom’s property there were a couple large areas that I could tell on the edges where sun was getting down were rich in native species, but the bulk of the area had been shaded out by eastern red cedar.
GRANT: If you’re gonna do this right, you got to take it serious like you’re making a living.
GRANT: So like I’m not stopping my glade cut here. As far as I can see down through there, it’s useless for a deer. There’s nothing in there.
GRANT: So you and I walk through here and are going “Oh man, it’s thick; it’s cover.” But get down where deer, quail, and turkey live, there’s nothing. It’s a biological desert. Whack it.
GRANT: I designed a plan that included felling all those cedars right where they stood, waiting for them to dry, waiting a couple growing seasons, and then using prescribed fire.
GRANT: Tom followed the plan and recently Daniel returned to check on the progress of that project.
DANIEL: There’s just a bunch of beautiful, beautiful wildflowers. There’s grasses coming up, and it is just an absolute amazing result in just two years of work.
DANIEL: You can still see the skeletons of some of the cedars back behind me. Those will break down. They’ll keep using fires through here, but we’ve got sunlight reaching the ground. And these native grasses and forbs are just absolutely blowing up and it is absolutely beautiful through here.
DANIEL: I’ve seen deer browse. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff in here, and it is – there’s pollinators flying all around. There’s all kinds of insects flying around through here. You can just hear ’em humming, buzzing, and you can see ‘em landing on flowers – just an incredible, incredible habitat.
GRANT: An area that was almost totally covered by eastern red cedar was now just flourishing with many different species of wildflowers and native grass.
GRANT: The area was extremely lush and productive. It’s easy to see there’s gads of great quality forage and cover in the area and likely fewer ticks. Imagine this area was shaded, covered, which is good tick habitat, and now it’s had prescribed fire, which probably significantly reduced the number of ticks using the area.
GRANT: It’s also much more huntable. The cedars in this area were very large and tall, but now it’s easy to see they can replicate the success we’ve had here, put a Redneck blind up on a high spot, and overlook this big native vegetation area.
GRANT: And once again that diversity out there, well it’s improving the soil quality. Many different species of plants are leaking different exudates or mild carbonic acid into the soil, which helps break down that rock base and actually convert it to living soil.
GRANT: I’ve toured a lot of botanical gardens, and they’re a great place to learn, but I gotta tell you, something planted in rows is not near as pretty as the acres of this high-quality native vegetation at Tom’s property.
GRANT: The last couple of weeks I’ve shared some techniques to plant small hidey hole food plots. And I love food plots. They’re a great way to provide high-quality nutrition and attract critters so they’re a bit easier to see. But sometimes folks get so wrapped up in food plots they forget to manage the biggest portion of the property, which is an area where you can grow native vegetation.
GRANT: A lot of properties are like mine. You have a lot of areas that are steep or rocky, and it’s just not practical to put a food plot in those areas.
GRANT: Maybe you’re on a property where there’s more land than budget, and, again, you can’t put in as many food plots as you’d like to. In those situations, native vegetation is a great way to increase the carrying capacity to add more quality food and cover to a property.
GRANT: Both food plots and native habitat are great tools, and you should pick the tool or the combination of tools that’s appropriate for where you hunt.
GRANT: I’m often asked how frequently I like to use prescribed fire. And my answer is, I like to burn when God would burn. I like to burn when the humidity is low enough and there is enough fuel to have a successful prescribed fire.
GRANT: Because we burned this last fall, there’s clearly not enough fuel now to carry a fire. Of course, it’s really green right now, and the humidity is very high it wouldn’t carry a fire. Most fires are going to occur during the late winter – March, February, April, anywhere in there – or during the late growing season. In this area, anyway, here in southern Missouri, that’s the two times our humidity will get low enough to have a successful prescribed fire.
GRANT: And as far as the frequency of when I burn, I burn when the conditions are right and there’s enough fuel. In this situation, it will probably be a year or two before there’s enough fuel for the fire to carry from one place to another without me having to go through here and just light little pockets throughout the area.
GRANT: As the term implies, prescribed fire should be used to achieve a specific objective. In general, fires in that late winter, that dormant period, do a better job of encouraging native grasses. And fires during the growing season, that August/September timeframe, do a better job of encouraging forbs and legumes.
GRANT: If there were several hardwood saplings in this area I was trying to control, then I would prescribe a growing season or late summer fire, and that’s because most of the carbohydrates of sap is up in the leaf structure. And if I burn and girdle that sapling, it won’t be able to transfer those to the roots, and it’s more likely that sapling will perish through the winter.
GRANT: If I want a heavier stand of grass – maybe my whole goal is covering and not food – then I would do a late winter fire to meet that objective.
GRANT: This glade is a bit more mature than many other projects, and I’ve a great combination of grass and food. And to maintain that I kind of alternate burning during that late winter/late summer timeframe, but at this stage in this glade, I simply burn when there’s enough fuel and the conditions are appropriate for a safe fire.
GRANT: I realize not every property is plagued with big stands of eastern red cedar, although it’s pretty common anywhere from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, all the way through many of the eastern states.
GRANT: If you’re a property that’s blessed not to have a bunch of eastern red cedar, I’m gonna bet you probably got some timber stands that aren’t very well managed specifically for wildlife. In a couple weeks we’re gonna share techniques to improve those type properties.
GRANT: The beauty of native habitat is certainly an attraction to get outside and enjoy Creation. But no matter where you are or the type of habitat you’re in today – maybe you’re downtown in a big city – be sure and remember that the most important thing we can do is be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to us.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.