Tips For Deer Hunting And Improving A 90 Acre Property (Episode 343 Transcript)

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

GRANT: Throughout my career, I’ve noticed you can grow great deer anywhere in the whitetails’ range if the habitat quality is there. Last week, Adam and I jumped on a plane and traveled to a state most people don’t associate with having quality deer hunting. But when we got there, it was obvious this area could be as good as anywhere in the whitetails’ range.

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GRANT: Portions of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia lie between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. This area has extremely rich soils and for years has produced giant bucks. There’s a lot of intensive ag in the area. But even with this history, it’s still a sleeper to most whitetail hunters.

GRANT: In fact, Delaware is about 35 to 40 percent ag land. When most of us hear Delaware, we think about urban, east coast areas – but nothing could be further from the truth.

GRANT: The area where Adam and I were working is composed of relatively small farms. Hunting pressure in the Delmarva Peninsula can be fairly intense. The smaller land ownership patterns allow a lot of hunters to stack in a relatively small area. That’s why sanctuaries and controlling the hunting pressure can be critical for any land owner in this area.

GRANT: We were thrilled to get an invitation to help Terry and Matt Megee design a habitat and a hunting plan for their 90 acres in Delaware.

TERRY: …here. I hunted this farm 40 years ago as a guest.

GRANT: No kidding.

TERRY: And my, uh, my mom’s cousin had permission to hunt it – took me a couple of times. And when I had the chance to buy it, I was excited. I said, “You know, this is pretty neat”, because…

GRANT: Sure.

TERRY: I’m looking at a farm somewhere else. And I said, “This is really where I’d like to be.”

GRANT: Sure.


GRANT: We always start learning about a new project by considering the sources of food, cover, and water and security. Some folks confuse cover with security. But imagine a 10 acre block of CRP grass with folks driving through it or walking through it daily. I don’t think deer will consider that area very secure.

GRANT: And we want security cover on this farm, on this size farm. And every property is different, but on this farm, we want it pretty central. We don’t want them, a cover block right on the edge of your farm – if this is a border and just as likely go this way as they are this way.

GRANT: Terry and Matt’s property is about 90 acres. And before they purchased it, someone had created about a 12 acre ag field almost dead center in their property.

GRANT: So we want…

TERRY: That’s the problem with this field being in the middle of my property.

GRANT: Well, there’s advantages and disadvantages. When we were coming in, I’ve studied your map – you sent us some maps and Adam and I studied it before we got here. One of the advantages of it – this field where it is – is you can approach with a fairly favorable, uh, minimal impact approach. As you mentioned in our conversation already – to hunt this field with not disturbing deer.

TERRY: Right.

GRANT: So, late season when the local ag fields have been harvested and a lot of the acorns are gone – I – this would be planted every year, if I owned it. Absolutely. ‘Cause late season, this could be dynamite.

GRANT: It’s always the most efficient to use the existing resources when developing a new plan. So, we knew right off the bat that that centrally located ag field would be our primary feed destination.

GRANT: In previous years, Terry and Matt had done a little TSI – timber stand improvement – in one corner of their property.

GRANT: Well this is a swamp chestnut here. See this, see this big, tall, white bark tree right here?

MATT: Yeah.

GRANT: That’s a swamp chestnut. It’ll have a much larger acorn than any other oak up here. And, and that would be the deer’s favorite – they love – when those are on the ground, they’re not going anywhere else. Literally, I promise you.

MATT: Those big ones?

GRANT: Those great big ones. Some people call ‘em cow oaks – may call ‘em cow oaks here locally. It’s a swamp chestnut – Quercus Michauxii. And they pretty good about producing – and, and they’re huge. I mean just slightly smaller than a golf ball – huge acorns. And when they’re on the ground, deer will be there.

GRANT: I would know where every one of those big mature swamp chestnuts on my property is located. And then I would have one pretty close to your lodge – to the camp. And when it’s dropping you know the others are gonna be dropping, most likely. And I would focus on, you know, where the wind is that day, how I can hunt the best location ‘cause they are coming to those trees – guaranteed. That is a gold mine.

GRANT: So, one of the things I’m probably gonna end up recommending for ya’ll is do some more logging. This, this closed canopy forest – deer are gonna pass through it and there may be a, you know, a couple of swamp chestnuts dropping. They’re gonna key in there, but very difficult to pattern deer in that closed canopy forest; difficult to hunt; no attraction; it’s the same as your neighbor’s.

GRANT: We’re walking around Terry and Matt’s property and one thing I’ve noticed is a high percentage of it is open closed canopy timber like we’re in now. There’s no reason for deer to bottleneck or funnel or really have a pattern moving through here. The pattern would be determined on minute wind thermals or hunting pressure on other properties. So, one of the things we’re gonna do is layout doing some timber management. And an easy way in this type of timber is the hack-n-squirt technique.

GRANT: In trees like this, three, four inches dbh. We’re simply gonna take a hatchet, go in at about a 45 degree angle, use the appropriate herbicide, one to two hacks on the opposite side of the tree, squirt-squirt, walk away, and that tree will die without impacting the surrounding trees. So, when I look through here, they’re literally a couple hundred stems per acre of these trees that are shaded out. They’re not going to mature. They’re not gonna ever produce any timber value. And we can make the property more attractive for wildlife and more valuable by doing some TSI or timber stand improvement.

GRANT: Adam and I took time to walk their entire property crisscrossing certain areas. And during that time, visit and learn as much as we could from Terry and Matt.

GRANT: So, we’ve walked the entire property, made kind of a circle. And couple observations. When the local forest is producing acorns, there’s no difference between acorns on your land and a neighbor’ land. There’s no really a reason for deer to be anywhere. They’re just eating acorns where there’s the less pressure – where they feel the less danger.

GRANT: But in those years where there’s a late frost, and there’s a low or no acorn production, and all these ag fields have been harvested, combined, and you have this nice field with standing soybeans – grain and greens in there – then all the deer that touch your property are probably gonna concentrate on that food source.

GRANT: Now, if they’re over here five miles, and their home range doesn’t include your property, they don’t know there is a food source there. That would be a rumor, but …

GRANT: After we walked the entire property, we pull out some maps and had a little planning session. It became obvious that we needed sanctuaries in most corners of the property. Areas where deer would feel secure. Allow them to filter in to the primary feeding area in the center of their property but we needed something to reduce the pressure from that central feeding field.

GRANT: They’re gonna be here 30 minutes an hour before they’re out there. And this is just an incredible staging area set up. That, with the, the correct wind, in an afternoon hunt – this is an afternoon hunt – you slide up, you know, sun’s up out in the middle of the field, not alerting anything at all. You get to your tree stand somewhere over in here. You’ve got his hidey hole food plot, staging area plot, that deer are absolutely gonna stop by before they go on over there.

GRANT: One of the keys to their plan will be one of the same tools we successfully use here at The Proving Grounds – hidey hole food plots or staging areas. We’re gonna put the sanctuaries near the outside edges of their property because the feeding area was already developed in the central portion. But between those sanctuaries, in that central feeding field, we’re gonna develop some staging areas or hidey hole food plots. This will allow Terry and Matt to go in, no matter what wind direction, to a specific hidey hole food plot around their property and catch those mature bucks that are staging there before they enter that primary feeding field – primarily after dark due to years of pressure in that area.

GRANT: While touring the property, we happened to see several red fox active even during the daylight hours. That is a welcome sign. They shared with us they’d never had a trail camera picture of a coyote on their property and one of the neighbors had only had one picture of a coyote.

GRANT: I noticed the deer we observed, were fairly relaxed. I think that’s probably due to limited pressure from coyotes. I’ve seen similar things in areas where guys have went in and intensively trapped coyotes to reduce that population. When deer are under constant predation pressure from coyotes, they tend to be alert all the time. If they can avoid coyotes, they can certainly avoid dumb two-legged predators.

GRANT: It’s easy to make two predictions about this neighborhood. One: When coyotes arrive in full force, the red fox population will go way down; coyotes love to eat red foxes and are very successful at catching and killing them. And secondly: I strongly suspect the deer will be much more alert and more difficult to hunt.

GRANT: Another technique I’ve advised Terry to use is – once coyotes populate the neighborhood – have his property trapped intensively. Remove as many coyotes as he can. Lots of research has shown that deer readily adapt to using portions of their range where the coyote population is lower.

GRANT: The Megee’s property had several neat features. And I’m confident by increasing the number and size of sanctuaries, adding some strategically located food plots and a great hunting plan, they will take more than their fair share of mature bucks in that neighborhood.

GRANT: Designing hunting plans always gets me excited for deer season. Another reason I’m really excited this week is Hook’s Custom Calls just announced that the Messenger Grunt Call is finally available.

GRANT: You may recall that last spring and summer, the Growing Deer Team studied our entire library of footage of bucks grunting. And more importantly, what the grunts sounded like that other deer responded to. We took that information to Hook’s Custom Calls and asked them to build Adam and I some custom grunt calls to use during the fall.

GRANT: We were able to get about 24 of those calls and let our Pro Staff and Adam and I use them throughout last fall’s hunting season. I was able to tag a mature buck using that call and watch several other bucks respond.

GRANT: Look at that chest, I mean, th – look how far that is.

GRANT: Raleigh, my daughter, harvested a nice buck that responded to Adam using the Messenger just before dark last year.

GRANT: In addition, several members of the GrowingDeer Pro Staff tagged nice bucks that were responding to the first prototype of the Messenger Grunt Call.

HEATH: Big ole nine pointer.

GRANT: Based on our research the Messenger Grunt Call is designed to sound like a subordinate buck tending a receptive doe. And that sends the message to other subordinate bucks and mature bucks in the area that they can likely come in and take that receptive doe from the buck.

GRANT: That sounds good doesn’t it? I mean not too commercial – that just sounds good.

GRANT: Next to my bow, the Messenger Grunt Call has become one of the most important tools I take to the stand each day.

GRANT: All of us want to stay healthy enough to hunt, and unfortunately, tick-borne diseases are becoming more common throughout the United States. Many of these diseases have serious implications for human health.

GRANT: One of our bedding areas we’ve prepared with prescribed fire in the past years and it’s about perfect poult and fawn habitat. High quality fawn and poult habitat will be thick at ground level. It doesn’t necessarily need to be thick above that. In fact, ideal poult habitat will be thick for a foot or two tall – allow that hen to periscope or look for predators above that.

GRANT: Unfortunately, that habitat is also ideal for ticks. A couple days ago, we had a Reconyx picture where a fawn’s eye was almost totally enclosed by ticks. When you get that many ticks on there, it’s easy to get a secondary infection or other problems that result in death.

GRANT: When deer have that many ticks on ‘em, there can be a lot of problems, including a secondary infection that could result in death. Lots of research has shown that ticks and other parasites can actually reduce fawn survival and/or antler size by 15% or more.

GRANT: Not only are ticks a concern for several species of wildlife, there are several tick-borne illnesses that can have nasty impacts on humans.

GRANT: We’re currently testing several methods to reduce ticks here at The Proving Grounds. Research out of Oklahoma has shown that prescribed fire can be an effective tool at reducing ticks. But there is a limiting factor. If you’re only burning 20 or 30 acres, about the time that greens up – of course it’s attracting deer and other animals to the new forage – they’re repopulating the area with ticks almost as quick as the vegetation is growing. Where ticks can be reduced by fire, is when the fires are large, several hundred acres, and animals aren’t penetrating the entire area right off the bat – repopulating it with ticks.

GRANT: This is a 26 acre burn unit. But it’s long and narrow, football shaped. So, this morning, we’re gonna have some of the interns walk through here – it’s been burned twice in the last couple of years – and check out the tick population in an area that has been treated with prescribed fire.

GRANT: When I was younger, one of my favorite television shows was Wild Kingdom. And I used to notice the lead guy would always sit in the safety of a blind or truck while the workers would go out and wrestle the 30 foot anaconda or the sabre-tooth tiger, or whatever it is. I thought, man, when I grow up that seems like a smart thing to do. So, this morning, interns Chance, Mark and Mark are gonna go collect ticks while I stay back here at the data collection station ready to count ticks when they return. (Laughter)

GRANT: This is something you can literally do at your hunting club. You need some white pants or some white cloth. Just simply put it in front of you and bust the brush just like you would think about a doe going to check on her fawn.

GRANT: We’re gonna have them go out for five minutes, just walking little circles in here. They’re gonna take masking tape because ticks might get on this slick material and then get knocked off – unlike deer hair where they can grab on and hold on. So, they’re be collecting ticks with masking tape, come back and we’ll do a count.

GRANT: So, gentlemen, I’ve got my stopwatch ready, you’ve got five minutes. Let’s go get as many ticks as we can gather.

MARK: They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!

GRANT: Don’t walk. Yeah, spread out – spread. Yeah, work it around; don’t be scared of the tick stuff.

GRANT: How is it the camera crew got more than the tick collector?

GRANT: Our interns gathered 39 ticks in five minutes. And I imagine that deer with their head down and browsing in here, or especially a fawn laying still and breathing – because what we exhale is what attracts ticks – might attract even more. Well, you can see where that’s definitely a problem.

GRANT: Ticks are a serious problem to human and deer populations. That’s why we have ongoing studies here at The Proving Grounds to try to find practical and inexpensive ways to reduce the tick population. We’ll keep you posted as we continue working on ways to reduce ticks here at The Proving Grounds.

BRAD: Anyway, what we’ve got….

GRANT: As much as we enjoy it, it’s not practical for us to go to everyone’s hunting property and create a habitat and hunting management plan. That’s why we offer Field Events here at The Proving Grounds. The next one will be August 12th and 13th. Come join us and we’ll share with you all of our food plot and habitat management techniques and our hunting techniques of how we hunt here at The Proving Grounds. We limit it to 100 folks so we’ll have plenty of time to visit and share with everyone who comes. Register now for August 12th and 13th. There is special pricing through the end of June.

GRANT: Whether you have time to go out and do some habitat management projects or watch some bucks in velvet, I hope you take time each week to go out and do something and enjoy Creation. But most importantly, take time each day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you. Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.

GRANT: How many did you get Chance?

GRANT: How is it the camera crew got more than the tick collectors?