Managing Your Property for Healthy Wildlife with Dr. Grant Woods, Part 1

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
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Dr. Grant Woods of GrowingDeer.tv demonstrates how to process a deer post-hunt. Photo by GrowingDeer.tv

I have been a fan of GrowingDeer.tv for a few years now, learning more about the management of wild deer and their habitats, while also being educated further about trapping as an important part of that process. GrowingDeer was created by Dr. Grant Woods, a wildlife biologist with a specialization in deer management, to share his knowledge and experiences freely with the readers of their blog and video viewers. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Woods via email in this two-part series, hoping to encourage others to learn more about this valuable website and to get more involved in the management of their wildlife.

In an uncertain time where many processors may be booked up or turning away customers, GrowingDeer offers information such as this educational video on processing your own deer at home. Video Credit: GrowingDeer.tv

Fala Burnette: Thank you Dr. Woods for agreeing to this interview! It’s a true pleasure to talk about wildlife management with you, and introduce the readers to GrowingDeer.tv. I’d like to start off by asking what initially motivated or encouraged you to really become involved with wildlife management, and property management to promote healthy wildlife?

Grant Woods: I was raised on a 100-acre family farm in southwestern Missouri at the edge of the Ozarks. There were no deer in the county and I had heard the Missouri Department of Conservation was restocking deer in the area. For some reason that piqued my interest and I thought about seeing a deer. I wondered if there would ever be deer near our farm!

Then, before school one morning when I was in the first grade I was checking rabbit traps my father and I had built.  While walking to the next trap I found a female fawn (approximately six months old) that had been shot illegally in one of our fields. I remember running to our hog barn to get my Dad before he left for work. Dad drug the deer to our barn and left it as he had to go to work and it was going to be cold all day. That evening we skinned the deer, fleshed the pelt, and rubbed Epsom salt on the inside of the hide as that’s all we knew to do.

I had plans to hang the hide in my room but Mom had different plans so it was placed inside our barn and I would rub it and wonder about deer for years. I believe God used that moment to inspire me to become a deer biologist and I’m still following that inspiration.

Years later I learned about habitat characteristics and how degraded wildlife habitat was in some areas. Once I learned the vast negative impacts low quality habitat has on many wildlife (game and nongame) species I focused on learning and implementing techniques to improve habitat quality and therefore wildlife populations.

Comparing your childhood years (as you mentioned with low numbers and poor habitat) to now, and even in your work advising others on how to improve their properties, what sort of changes and benefits do people begin to notice when they pay more attention to improving these habitats?

I’m currently 59 years old and I didn’t hear of anyone intentionally improving native habitat for deer or other species of wildlife until I attended college and then such actions were primarily conducted on state and federal lands.

Now it’s extremely common for private landowners to improve native habitat using techniques such as timber stand improvement and prescribed fire. These improvements almost always provide substantial benefits for nongame critters as well.  As an example, many private, nonindustrial stands of timber throughout the United States of America were high graded during the past few decades. High grading timber is when the best trees are harvested and the less desirable trees in form and size are left.

Many folks purchase property primarily to have a location for them and their family to hunt. Because hunting is their primary priority they often are more interested in improving wildlife habitat quality then maximizing income from a timber harvest. This encourages them to leave the best trees while reducing the number of trees per acre and allow the residual trees to have less competition for sunlight and soil moisture. This not only improves wildlife habitat and carrying capacity by allowing native grasses and forbs to grow between trees but also allows a better crop of trees to be produced for future timber supply and revenues.

Part 2 of the series covers site maintenance and tips for encouraging health in your deer populations.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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