This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.
GRANT: The temperatures have finally warmed up enough here at The Proving Grounds that the clover is really jumping in our food plots and the native vegetation is coming out too.
GRANT: Every year this cycle is a great reminder of why we celebrate Easter. Easter is a time for families to get together and celebrate the life, death and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope you join the Woods family and the GrowingDeer Team this year of being with family, celebrating Easter and focusing on the blessings we have through that Resurrection of Christ.
GRANT: Turkey season has already opened in several states and it opens in a week here in Missouri. One way to scout for toms is to be out early several mornings before season opens. I like to listen, hear where the toms are in the roost, and stay out there, and see where they’re going once they hit the ground.
GRANT: Unfortunately, many of us have to work and can’t be out most mornings of the week scouting turkeys.
GRANT: Another very productive technique is use trail cameras. We use our Reconyx cameras to monitor likely strut areas or sections of forestry roads. This allows us to scout several areas seven days a week — more than any one hunter could do.
GRANT: We already have some cool pictures of toms strutting and hens with them. Not only does that tell us the time and location, but it also tells us the portion of the turkey breeding season we may be dealing with.
GRANT: This information is a great tool to help us refine our techniques for opening day.
GRANT: This past weekend was youth season in Missouri and GrowingDeer Pro Staffer Nathan, and his son, Levi, hit the turkey woods. Right off the bat, Levi tagged a nice tom.
GRANT: The Missouri Department of Conservation just announced that during youth season this year, about 2,500 birds were tagged. That’s up from last year when 1,700 turkeys were tagged. And I think a big factor was the weather.
GRANT: Youth season in Missouri last year was cold across the state. You may remember, Daniel took a young man from his church hunting and there was snow on the ground. Daniel was able to pull it off, but it wasn’t a typical turkey hunt.
DANIEL: You smoked him, Chase.
UNKNOWN: Good job, man.
GRANT: This year the weather was pleasant throughout much of the state.
GRANT: You know, when it’s cold and snowy, a lot of guys may not want to take their youth out hunting. Weather not only plays a role in hunter behavior and overall harvest, but it can play a big role in the success of a turkey hatch.
GRANT: There have been some very large rain events the past two years during nesting season in Missouri.
GRANT: Last year at The Proving Grounds we had about ten inches of rain in 36 hours right during peak of nesting season.
GRANT: That much rain can literally destroy nests, or kill young poults, and certainly make the hens wet.
GRANT: If you’ve ever tagged a turkey during a rainy day, you know how much they stink. And that wet hen giving off that odor makes it really easy for predators to find her nest.
GRANT: We’ve recently received several questions like, “What happened to the turkeys?” in several areas; not just Missouri. And I’m really confident there’s two logical explanations — poor hatches for a couple years in a row and, at least here at The Proving Grounds, we had a huge red oak acorn crop.
GRANT: Turkeys love red oak acorns. And there’s still good acorns on the ground. That means turkeys are primarily feeding in the timber and they’re not showing up in food plots, cattle pastures or other fields.
GRANT: The GrowingDeer Team really enjoys chasing turkeys each spring. And that’s one reason we work so hard on habitat improvement projects.
GRANT: Quality nesting and brooding habitat is critical for turkey populations to thrive.
GRANT: We also work every winter to remove nest predators — raccoons, possums, etcetera. There’s not much trapping these days and there’s a lot of predators on the ground. So, we work hard to balance the amount of predators and prey here at The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: I believe the turkey population here at The Proving Grounds is down a bit from previous years. We still have a huntable population; maybe a bit higher than many local areas that haven’t worked hard on habitat improvement and balancing the predator and prey population.
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GRANT: If I’m a turkey trying to nest and I want to sit here. Think about a turkey. Okay? 50 days on the ground in here. Now, we heard some turkeys, saw some turkeys, but you can hear and see more if we improve this.
GRANT: And in the spring, the way Kentucky season is, those toms are gonna be pretty close to brooding — I mean, not brooding, nesting habitat. You don’t have much.
GRANT: If we put the nesting habitat on your property and all the hens in the neighborhood that even range out a mile or two in different directions want to nest, now this is the best nesting habitat.
GRANT: I really enjoy sharing about Creation with others. And one way I like doing that is by developing habitat and wildlife management plans for other properties.
GRANT: We’ve shared several episodes of where I have went to other properties and helped them develop a wildlife and habitat management plan.
GRANT: Another technique is to have folks come to The Proving Grounds so we can tell them the techniques we’ve used and what the habitat looks like now. That way, they can see if it’s applicable to their property.
GRANT: My goal Is not only to educate them, but to save them time and money based on my mistakes and successes.
GRANT: Out on The Proving Grounds, during the prettiest day we’ve had so far this year as far as spring weather, with Matt and Josh. Matt and Josh are from Wisconsin.
GRANT: Down here talking food plots, and cover, and deer hunting strategies. This is a bedding area for us. You see the native grasses. Of course, they’ve been here all winter. They were much thicker throughout most of the winter. Right? Standing more. You can see they’re matted down a little bit due to weather.
GRANT: And we maintain this by using prescribed fire. So, you say, “Well, gosh, why didn’t you burn this this winter?” Well, we kind of use a rotation depending on how the growing season goes; how much moisture it gets. So, this hasn’t been burned now in a year or two.
GRANT: We just did a burn a couple of weeks ago a couple of ridges over. I’m gonna go out and compare that where we removed all this duff and I believe it will be much greener because more sun is hitting the, the ground and more plants can photosynthesize.
GRANT: Here we’ve got this grass that’s keeping the sun from hitting the ground. You see a little green popping through and we’re not getting near as much photosynthesis.
GRANT: A big thing for deer hunters is understanding that the sun is a source of all energy and if you’re in a closed canopy forest, you don’t have much food. ’Cause the sun is being trapped, you know, 40, 50, 60 feet above the ground.
GRANT: When it reaches the ground, like I hope to show Monday, you get an explosion of new growth. And new growth – tasty, palatable, nutritious.
GRANT: We spent the day touring most of The Proving Grounds, but one area I really wanted to show them is a bedding area we call Boom Glade. This is a great opportunity to discuss hunting strategies specifically for bedding areas.
GRANT: She talked a lot about, “I see the deer, but I can’t get a shot.”
UNKNOWN: Hmm. Hmm.
GRANT: Well, man, there’s deer in that bedding area. She showed me the map. I believe your observations and your analysis is accurate, but she can’t really hunt it.
UNKNOWN: Hmm. Hmm.
GRANT: Now, on a certain day when the wind is out of the north or west on that particular blind, you can come in from the east. It’s like this — you can get in there without any disturbance. At minimum, see deer.
GRANT: …relatively large, homogenous block of timber…
GRANT: The thing about making lanes is you can see multiple deer at once because they’re not looking at each other. And the hunter is not very bored because you’re going, “Is there anything in this one? Is there anything in this one?”
UNKNOWN: Hmm. Hmm.
GRANT: You need to know — maybe he comes through that first lane and he comes through so quick or you just kind of catch a glimpse because you’re looking at another lane.
GRANT: You know, okay, get ready. Because he’s gonna come through this lane, most likely. Could bed in between. If he doesn’t show up, you sit there all day waiting for it to show up.
GRANT: Uh, but, I think making that, we call it a star, or whatever, you know, a bunch of lanes down through there. And hunting that under the right wind — that’s what we all an evergreen stand.
GRANT: They’re never gonna get used to that being a threat. Because you can approach that particular one without alerting any deer on your property. And that’s just – incredible tool.
GRANT: In your situation, I mean, I just feel really strongly — five lanes, ample enough wide.
GRANT: If they run — a buck chases a doe through the first one, second one, there’s a really good chance they’re gonna stop somewhere.
GRANT: Because usually when deer come through an opening like this, a little trail run, they stop, and they look this way, and they look this way.
GRANT: So, making those lanes, you’ve, you’ve got a real high likelihood of getting some shots.
GRANT: Let’s think about that one step further. We’re worried about you being able to produce enough food.
UNKNOWN: Um, hm.
GRANT: Not a big doe harvest in your area — it sounds like.
UNKNOWN: Hmm. Hmm.
GRANT: You can use that stand and take a lot of does out of that surrounding area and not mess up your bow hunting stands.
UNKNOWN: Yeah, that’s true.
GRANT: You’ve got food-cover, food-cover, food-cover right there.
GRANT: And even though they’re narrow food plots, deer are very — they’re more comfortable in a narrow food plot than a 40-acre field because they’re a bound or two away from cover.
GRANT: So, they tend to let their guard down more and relax more in those type areas.
GRANT: When you make that canal, let’s say, through there, you’re also channelizing the wind. It’s not swirling much. It may be at an angle, But, depending on which angle it is slightly; if it’s slightly this way, it’s gonna hit and go that way.
UNKNOWN: Hmm. Hmm.
GRANT: Or it’s gonna hit and go this way.
GRANT: In this area, it can just do this. So, a lot of advantages to developing that as a hunting site on your property.
GRANT: You ready?
GRANT: He’s down; he’s down. He’s down. Head Turner’s down. Can you believe that?
GRANT: We’ve had several great hunts in this bedding area and several of my friends have used similar techniques for large bedding areas at their property.
NORMAN: Oh, yeah, baby.
GRANT: The Boom Glade bedding area didn’t always look like it does now. When Tracy and I purchased The Proving Grounds, it was covered with eastern red cedars.
GRANT: You know, all these ridges looked like that cedar ridge over there with a few hardwoods mixed in; see the real heavy cedar right over there?
UNKNOWN: Yeah, yeah, I do.
GRANT: Where the cedar is, about 40% of the water hits them never reaches the ground. It either evaporates off or taken up by the tree which makes everything around there dry.
GRANT: So, our next goal is to fell all those cedars and then let ‘em dry for about two years and then burn ‘em. And make another big bedding / feeding area.
GRANT: You see this little green starting to poke through here?
GRANT: And this native vegetation this time of year can be extremely nutritious. So, I’ve got bedding and food all right here.
GRANT: We felled the cedars with chainsaws to allow sunshine to reach the soil and used prescribed fire to encourage the growth of native grasses and forbs.
GRANT: We burned this area two years ago and it’s full of native grasses and forbs. Already during this spring, you can see several forbs peeping up through the old native grasses.
GRANT: The topography at The Proving Grounds is much steeper and drier than where Josh and Matthew hunt. They have a large wetland that goes through the center of their property. But the wetland serves the same purpose as the Boom Glade bedding area. It’s a sanctuary and bedding area they can capitalize on.
GRANT: Hunting a large bedding area, no matter the topography, requires pretty much the same techniques. I want to be able to approach, hunt, and exit without alerting deer in the bedding area or coming to the bedding area.
GRANT: This will likely require multiple stands around the bedding area so it can be hunted with different winds.
GRANT: There’s a large advantage to having a view from a higher elevation or, in their case, at least a higher stand so they can cover more acres of the bedding area.
GRANT: This setup can be effective any time throughout the year but is especially effective during the pre-rut. Bucks will often cruise in or on the downwind side of bedding areas seeking receptive does.
GRANT: The marsh was a large area they hadn’t figured out how to incorporate into their hunting strategy.
GRANT: We’re gonna stay in touch, but I believe this one strategy could be a game changer for their property.
GRANT: I was excited to compare the Boom Glade bedding area, which hasn’t been burned in two years, to the 50-Acre bedding area which we burned 17 days ago.
GRANT: We received a lot of emails and questions about, “Hey, I want to see what happens after the fire. Is that worth me doing? What’s gonna happen after you use that fire in there? Are you going to kill all the oak trees or is it gonna be barren?”
GRANT: So I wanted to come back out. We’re 17 days after the fire and give you a tour.
GRANT: From when we burned ‘til now, the weather here at The Proving Grounds has been colder than normal. We’ve had a couple of nice days — maybe 60 degrees or a little bit higher and some rain showers.
GRANT: Given those conditions, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.
GRANT: Looking at how rocky this is after the fire removed the duff, you might think, “Gosh, Grant. That’s useless land.” But look a little closer because there’s a wide variety of great native species coming up after the fire.
GRANT: I estimate that the average height of the native vegetation right now is three to four inches. With a couple of warm rains, this place will explode and be a foot or more high before turkey poults are out here roaming around. Perfect cover for poults and fawns.
GRANT: There’s a huge variety of native forbs and grasses. Some of them are too small for me to identify yet. But on a similar area we burned a few years ago, the state botanist and I identified more than 170 species of native forbs and grasses. I expect that diversity will be about the same here.
GRANT: You may recall that we used a backing fire from the top to give us a wider break, or an area without fuel. Then set a head fire from the bottom up this way.
GRANT: We had it burn as hot as we could, given the amount of fuel available. And I got some comments, “Gosh, Woods. You’re gonna kill all the oak trees.” But when I look around, every oak tree I’m seeing, either the buds are swelling or it’s already started leafing out.
GRANT: Several species that flower early are already showing here and I’m seeing bugs already working those flowers.
GRANT: A lot in the news about feeding pollinators and we’re certainly doing our part with native vegetation.
GRANT: Carry this forward a few months — we’ve got shade, food and cover all in one area. Ideal summertime habitat.
GRANT: Take it another couple of months — now our oaks are producing acorns, probably quite a few acorns, because they’re well-spaced. And every tree is getting ample sun, moisture and nutrients. Now, we’ve got acorns, cover and herbaceous food all in one area.
GRANT: It’s easy to see this is gonna be a wildlife-rich environment.
GRANT: We also received several comments about the potential of erosion after the fire. Remember, the fire only top kills or consumes stuff on top of the soil. That massive root mat that was in place — that’s what’s really holding the soil in place.
GRANT: That root mat has not decomposed yet and now we’ve got new vegetation coming on.
GRANT: There really wasn’t an opportunity to have a problem with erosion. In fact, we’ve had some hard rains since the burn. And walking into here, I haven’t seen any sign of erosion — any sign where soil has been displaced.
GRANT: I mentioned earlier that the mature oaks are leafing out or the buds are swelling. But if you look a little lower in the understory, all the brush — well it’s not budding out or showing any sign of putting leaves. And that’s because a few years ago, I had the Flatwood Natives crew come in and treat those with a specific herbicide.
GRANT: Clearly, it didn’t damage the grasses or forbs. I see them growing right under the shrubs. And I wanted to control the shrubs because they were shading out the grasses and forbs that should be growing on this site.
GRANT: Every time I mention the word herbicide, I get some emails that require a longer response than normal. So, let me clear that up here.
GRANT: Looking at the historical aerial photos of this property, it was obvious this slope had been timbered; a dozer had been on it; they had tried to establish fescue; and graze cattle. Mismanagement for this steep a slope.
GRANT: They had high-graded, took the best trees and left the rest, and dozed the others off so they’re going to come back from stump sprouts.
GRANT: When we look close at most of these saplings, you’ll see there’s three or four or ten stems coming from one old stump. The root stock was so large, there was no way to control that with a prescribed fire and not damage the mature oaks I wished to save.
GRANT: The tool of choice, then, become an herbicide application where we could terminate these saplings that were left over from a bad management program and allow native grasses and forbs to recolonize where they’d been shaded out.
GRANT: That seed source was in the soil. I was confident that was the case based on other management we’ve done here at the property. They just needed light and less competition to grow.
GRANT: The herbicide application was a one-time use. We will introduce fire every three to five years and keep most new saplings at bay. I’m sure an oak or two will survive. A lot of acorns are gonna be out here and that’s okay because a mature tree or two are gonna die due to lightening or some other cause.
GRANT: This is how a natural savannahs were working. And we needed to use an herbicide to set it back to get that native habitat established. We had to do that because of mismanagement in the past.
GRANT: It would be easy to walk this steep, rocky slope and say, “That habitat is unproductive. Don’t waste your time on it.”
GRANT: But, clearly, through some hard work, we’ve created a very good wildlife habitat area.
GRANT: In addition to better wildlife habitat, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on here. Every leaf we see, well that’s just a solar panel. And they’re really efficient. I didn’t have to pay to build it; I didn’t have to do anything; it’s intercepting the sun’s energy, transferring that energy to the plant – which is gonna grow and let consumers: birds, deer, whatever — consume that; make habitat for a lot of critters from single-celled on up.
GRANT: And pumping carbon into the soil. That’s the process of photosynthesis — making the soil better for future generations of plants that will establish this area.
GRANT: As we go through the summer, I expect we’ll have almost 100% coverage of leaves, meaning this whole hillside now becomes a giant solar panel, creating energy and feeding many, many species of wildlife.
GRANT: This is perfect habitat for a tom to be out here strutting. And a couple of more rains and warm days, it will be ideal nesting habitat. Vegetation about yay tall or so — ole hen can sit down and periscope around looking for predators. Where the hens are, toms will be cruising.
GRANT: Missouri’s turkey season opens in about a week and you may see this bedding area again, but next time, instead of talking about plants, I’ll be carrying my Winchester.
GRANT: There was much more native vegetation already growing in the 50-Acre area than in the Boom Glade where the native grasses from last year are still shading and cooling the soil.
GRANT: These young, tender shoots are highly nutritious and often selected by deer. I can’t wait to see all the critters that are using it throughout the year.
GRANT: In addition to being excited for turkey hunting this area we just burned, I’m super excited to come up here and deer hunt. I have a 15-foot Redneck Blind here, so I can see over the roll of the hill. I’ve got a shooting lane here and two more down the hill.
GRANT: Now, just think. I’ve got native grass, which is a great bedding area. I’ve got acorns all in the area. No doubt in my mind, deer will be in here, especially mature bucks seeking does.
GRANT: On a west or south wind, we can come up the ridge on the north that was the northern edge of our burn, slide down into the blind, and the deer out in the bedding area will never know we’re in the neighborhood.
GRANT: I like these kind of approaches, but the approach is only good if I’ve got an attractive feature to hunt over. And this area is gonna be super attractive for whitetails.
GRANT: This time of year can potentially be very busy for us depending on when the soils warm up and the amount of rain we get. We may be planting food plots and chasing turkeys at the same time. But, no matter what we’re doing, we’ll be sharing out techniques right here at GrowingDeer.
GRANT: If you’re an avid outdoorsman, you’re probably always busy. But never let yourself be too busy to enjoy Creation and more importantly, slow down every day, be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.