Water: Everybody has to be concerned about water, Gregg says. In order to really manage a piece of property it comes down to food, cover and water. Not just any water either though, you want good, clean fresh water for the wildlife. Gregg took on a water source project himself, one that viewers will be able to see this year on “Hunt Masters”. Because of several EHD outbreaks throughout the last 10 years, Gregg says he drained two of the primary ponds on his property where deer water at frequently. He then had the banks dug steeper and made the ponds 10 feet deep, so the sunlight can’t get to the bottom of the ponds where you then get a lot of green growth coming up as a result. Those efforts then translate to cleaner water. In order to keep that water from leaching out of the pond and into the ground Gregg says the ponds have a packed clay base done by a pond professional. He also adds a dye to the water to keep the sunlight from penetrating through to the bottom, and then he sprays 2 to 3 feet out from the edge of the pond with a mixture of Roundup and 2 4-D to kill all the vegetation on the rim. Then during the peak months of EHD prevalence, July-August, he then sprays Permethrin around the edges to kill all of the midges. This is especially important to curb the spread and prevalence of EHD outbreaks. Gregg explains the way in which midges breed, travel and ultimately infect deer and it’s fascinating. If you have a farm or piece of land that is close to a cattle farm, midges breed in the nasty standing water and liquid that the cattle walk in. The wind then blows those midges and relocates them up to 30 miles. In a new location, midges need shade and water to live in, so water sources or puddles, where there is a good mud base, are prime locations. Gregg says that the midges breed in the mud and when deer come in to get a drink those midges go up the nose of the deer and infect them. In general, midges tend to infect bucks more than does, and bigger bucks more than smaller bucks. The reason this happens, Gregg says, is because the midges are attracted to the heat and carbon dioxide put off through the growth of the velvet on the antlers. In essence, the blood on the antlers is what attracts the midges which is why they are more attracted to bucks than does and bigger bucks rather than smaller ones. Because of this, Gregg says it’s absolutely critical to keep your ponds clean and clear. An infected pond could cause the loss of dozens of animals in no time.
Timber: Right now, while everything is still dormant, is the best time of the year to make a road map for what you are going to do on your property. Gregg says that he is spending a solid 4 days walking his property, not doing anything other than taking a pad of paper and doing inventory. He records where he finds deer sign, how many sheds he finds, where have deer fed and not fed, and more. Then based on those notes he builds a plan from there deciding if he needs more food or less food, possibly timber stand improvement and more. Managing the timber on your property is important, more so than most may think. Most of the time when people think trees, they assume it’s all about planting them. However, in areas thick with timber there is also a need to open up that canopy and thin things out. Gregg says that right now he is in the process of building a 10-year plan on his core farm right. Part of that plan focuses on his timber and after consulting with industry experts he brought in foresters to help. Together they logged every single tree on the property. With a very thorough understanding of the timber on the property he was better able to make decisions about what areas needed to be clear cut or hinge cut, areas that needed more native vegetation, as well as pinpointing invasive species and creating a plan to treat them. Gregg says you need a live, active ecosystem to feed the deer and other wildlife on your property because they spend the majority of their time living in that ecosystem and feeding inside that timber. Doing everything you can to make those areas better directly benefits the wildlife. While many hunters are focused solely on food plots to feed their deer, Gregg says in reality food plots are strictly supplemental, they are not your core food source. So, the time you spend in habitat management and timber management is well worth it.
Prescribed Burns: Gregg says that he is a huge fan of warm season grasses for the visual barriers they provide as well as the great fawning and nesting cover for deer and birds. Those warm season grasses should be burned every year once they are established to put the nitrogen and carbon into the ground. In addition to burning grasses, Gregg says he has also started burning his woods. All of the leaf litter on the floor accumulates, sometimes creating a bed that is 6 inches or thicker. Just as mulch keeps weeds and grasses from growing around your house in your garden beds and landscaped areas, the leaves work the same way in your timber. The leaf litter acts as a ground cover preventing new sprouts, the regrowth from your forest, from being able to penetrate through and thrive. So, by burning the leaf material inside your timber you do the same thing as burning grasses, it puts the nutrients back in the ground and clears the leaf litter out allowing the forbs to grow which creates a great food source for whitetails.
Minerals & Food Plots: On farms where he can provide supplemental minerals to the deer, Gregg says it’s critical to keep it out year-round. He notes that from the time that does start to drop fawns through the end of the antler growth period around August, the deer will hit the minerals the hardest, tapering off in September. Those mineral sites are valuable and important for the wildlife on your property. However, there is another way that deer get minerals that is often overlooked and that’s through the soil. Gregg says that it’s important for land managers to take soil samples from their food plots and then invest in the fertilizer to bring up the value of the soil. Not only will this help you grow better food plots, but those nutrients express themselves through the new tissue growth in the plants that deer eat. More plainly, the deer uptake the minerals from the soil through the plants they eat so it’s important to put minerals into the soil for your plants to grow healthy and for that to be passed onto wildlife as well. When it comes to food plots, Gregg implements both kill plots and sanctuary plots. The kill plots are those that he hunts, and the sanctuary plots are those that get zero pressure, and between the two he likes to offer a different variety of food. In the areas that are all about feeding deer in volume, Gregg says he provides a buffet of greens and grains. However, kill plots are based off of the time of year he wants to hunt. For instance, Gregg says he won’t have a kill plot planted with beans if he wants to fill a tag in mid-November because that won’t be what they are feeding on at that point, instead he’d rather hunt over oats or clover. So, he tries to plan accordingly and plant the kill plot with something that complements the time of year he thinks he’ll be most effective at harvesting an animal in that area.
Purchasing a Hunting Property: This is the top time of year for buyers to go through and walk properties prior to the hunting season and know what they are buying, Gregg says. Walking through the woods you can see the rubs and scrapes, pick up sheds and take an inventory of the deer that are left over from the previous season. Gregg talks specifically about a property he has for sale right now and explains why he waited until this time of year to list it, so prospective buyers could walk through, without vegetation in the way, and see the timber stand improvement, food plots and other features with clarity. Now is the time, if you are looking to invest in any kind of recreational land, these early spring months are the time you want to spend looking at all the options. Gregg says that the farm he is selling is 156 acres in west-central Illinois and it features a cabin his brother built of reclaimed barn wood. He talks about the mature buck producing power of the property and how it has 4 to 5 bucks every year that are 5.5 years old and older. It’s because of the intense timber stand improvement, hinge cutting and clear cutting, as well as the mature stands of oak and walnut, that it creates the perfect environment, although small, to still hold a lot of bucks.
Be sure to catch Gregg Ritz on “Hunt Masters”, Sundays at 8:30 pm ET on Outdoor Channel. An all-new season of “Hunt Masters” will kick off in July and you’ll be able to see Gregg implement some of the things he talked about here in those episodes. You can also watch what he’s doing in real time by following Gregg on social media, Instagram and Facebook. Plus, if you want to go back and check out past seasons of “Hunt Masters” then be sure to download the MyOutdoorTV app for on demand viewing.
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