America’s Most Well-known Whitetail Property Simply Bought

Like all regular adults, Grant and Tracy Woods had been craving ice cream someday whereas visiting household at Grant’s childhood dwelling within the Missouri Ozarks. So that they did the one factor one can do in such a predicament: they went out for a scoop. 

Grant munched on his cone and meandered throughout the street from the ice cream stand to take a look at some condominiums that had taken over a plot of land the place he used to hunt deer as a child—a basic second of sentimentality for any lifelong hunter revisiting their youth. Tracy flipped by way of an actual property information whereas Grant reminisced. She thumbed to a web page that shouted a few piece of land on the market. Not lengthy after the ice cream date, they went to take a look at the property in individual. They noticed a jungle of invasives, a number of lifeless cattle, and acre upon acre of potential.

That was 21 years in the past. At present, the plot is sprawling and luxurious, saturated with native species of forbs and grasses interspersed with thick patches of wildlife cowl. Grant and Tracy expanded the boundaries of their possession over time and, after numerous hours of sweat-soaked work, ended up with a 1,500-acre plot of heaven on earth for deer, turkeys, and different critters. Lemons to lemonade, water to wine, eggs to mayonnaise—each metaphor for making one thing pleasant out of one thing mundane applies to the Proving Grounds.

Over the summer time, the land on which Grant raised his household, taught America how you can develop a meals plot, and constructed his whitetail searching and habitat administration model GrowingDeer broke into two items. Grant offered the 1,500 most improved acres to a good friend and retained the opposite 900 acres which have but to be manipulated by the experience of the GrowingDeer group. Grant is now making ready to show that land into the Proving Grounds 2.0. 

Outside Life sat down with Grant to determine what he’s taking with him from the final twenty years of maximum habitat enchancment, what’s in retailer for the long run, and the way he’d advise different landowners and hunters to handle their very own acreage. This interview has been edited for brevity and readability.

Outside Life: Let’s begin along with your historical past with this piece of land.

Grant Woods: My spouse Tracy and I had been dwelling in South Carolina. We’re each farm children and needed land and we simply couldn’t discover something we might afford to suit our standards. I journey lots for my work so we needed to be inside an hour and a half of a regional airport, and we thought we’d have a household sometime so we needed to be in a superb public college system. However we couldn’t discover something we might afford within the South. I’m from this space, the Ozark Mountains in southwestern Missouri, and we had been again visiting household. Tracy and I went out for ice cream, and I went throughout the little freeway to see all of the condos that had been constructed the place I used to deer hunt, and Tracy picked up an actual property information and located this property. And I believed gosh, land is much more thrilling than going procuring, so we known as an actual property agent and went and checked out it. 

It was actually tough. To be trustworthy, I’ve by no means seen so many cattle skeletons on a property in my three-decade profession. The man who had owned it had died and another person had simply poached cattle on right here, they usually ate themselves out of home and residential after which they starved. That’s how poor the habitat was. This gentleman had left the land to a hospital they usually weren’t that curious about promoting. We made a suggestion that they turned down. However then I suppose the hospital’s donations dried up they usually requested us if our supply was nonetheless good.

In order that’s how God put us right here. I simply had paper topo maps, and I’d stroll a ridge prime or 50 yards down, and I’d mark notes on the map wherever I walked. I walked that entire property within the first 12 months, and I actually noticed one deer. However I had religion. I didn’t hunt or let my household hunt for the primary 5 years. In order we improved the habitat and allowed what few deer had been right here to answer these enhancements, we began seeing extra deer. I bear in mind the primary day I noticed a good buck, it was a little bit 10-point 2-year-old, and I nonetheless wasn’t searching however I used to be so excited. 

OL: So how lengthy did you personal the land and the way did you resolve it was time to promote? 

GW: Tracy and I owned it for a little bit over 20 years, and over time, as price range allowed, when neighboring properties would come on the market, we might attempt to purchase them. We ended up with about 2,500 acres. However I simply don’t have the time or price range to deal with all that land the way in which I prefer it. I had the entrance 1,500 acres very nice. I don’t need this to sound boastful, however it’s a very nice wildlife property. So Tracy and I made a decision to let another person take pleasure in it, as a result of the again 900 acres is tough. It’s stuffed with invasive unique crops, weeds, nearly no meals plots, no street system, and I actually take pleasure in bettering a property for wildlife and watching the plant species composition change, and the standard of habitat change, and the wildlife populations proper together with that. So we made our minds as much as let another person take pleasure in this 1,500 acres. We’re simply taking the assets from this property, the sweat fairness and time we’ve put in, and pouring it into the southern portion to enhance it now.

OL: Simply a normal transaction, proper? Simply taking return from one funding and placing it into one other?

GW: It’s actually extra like an emotional transaction. This property isn’t good, however a number of initiatives have been accomplished. And the southern portion is a clean canvas for me to color on. As an alternative of sitting on my again deck and looking out over my improved property, I need to go enhance a distinct piece of property.  

Grant Woods Just Sold the “Proving Grounds.” Here’s What He Learned from Building One of the Most Famous Whitetail Properties in America
The Proving Grounds are affected by habitat transitions, high quality bedding areas, safety cowl, and forage for Missouri whitetails. Nationwide Land Realty

OL: Might you lay out a few of the particulars of the transaction?

GW: I’ve a buddy named Joe who has a very nice podcast on habitat and searching in Alabama, and he works for Nationwide Land Realty. So I known as Joe and advised him Tracy and I had been fascinated with promoting the land, and he advised us they occur to make use of this program known as Land View 360. Everybody’s utilizing drones lately, they usually put up drones all around the property to get the 360-degree view, and naturally we’ve been filming right here for 12 years so we had every kind of footage, so within the itemizing you would zoom down and see some deer consuming in a meals plot or the place we used some prescribed hearth. I’d by no means seen a list like that, so I tip my hat to them for going the additional mile and actually displaying the property, not simply saying it has a historical past of huge bucks. Inside the first week or two, the itemizing had successful, and that ended up being the man who bought the land. To show it round so rapidly and professionally…I used to be nearly caught off guard. 

OL: You didn’t assume it’d be that straightforward to eliminate?

GW: I simply didn’t actually know what to anticipate. They simply made it straightforward and dealt with it in such knowledgeable method that it began an ideal neighborly relationship with the one who purchased the land. There was no drama or controversy. 

OL: Speak about a few of the administration strategies you’ve used and what you’ve discovered from this piece of land. 

GW: In order I discussed, this had been an previous cattle ranch, stuffed with species that I’m positive got here out of hay fed by way of the cattle. We recognized three species that had been actually outstanding—sericea lespedeza, multiflora rose, and knapweed. They had been taking on a whole lot of acres and had been outcompeting native species of vegetation. Sadly, it’s a must to use a herbicide to regulate them, however we didn’t simply broadcast or use a helicopter, we had been on the market with the backpack sprayer or a paintbrush relying on the placement, and tried to be actually surgical about taking these out. 

Then we actually aggressively used prescribed hearth to stimulate that native seed financial institution. One enormous blessing of the Ozarks, since they’re so rocky and steep with shallow soil that hasn’t been plowed a lot, is that the native seed financial institution continues to be proper on prime of the soil. And once we eliminated the invasive exotics and used hearth to stimulate that seed financial institution, we received a whole lot and a whole lot of acres of lovely wildflowers, forbs, and native grasses. We didn’t pay for these seeds. They had been within the soil and had most likely been dormant for 75 years or extra. So now we simply have a number of acreage of native crops and forbs, supplemented by meals plots that present high quality forage and canopy. As soon as we began doing that, our wildlife populations grew in high quality and amount by leaps and bounds. 

OL: It’s wonderful what hearth can do. It’s like hitting the reset button, proper?

GW: Yeah, and we nonetheless use it. Most individuals who use prescribed hearth solely do dormant-season burns, earlier than spring green-up. And that works, however grasses maintain their seed a lot later into the winter than forbs do, and forbs are the actual deer meals. Deer don’t eat grasses in any respect. You might even see a deer out in a grass pasture, however it’s consuming ragweed or clover. Whitetails don’t have the intestine micro organism to digest grasses. So when you solely burn in that dormant season, late winter, you’re going to predominantly see grasses reply. 

Each state had just a few trappers or explorers who had been literate sufficient to put in writing, and I am going to the library and take a look at their journals. There was a person right here named Schoolcraft, who was in search of lead outcroppings on the time. He’s very literate and a fairly good botanist and he took notes. He’d make a journal entry each morning and I’d be aware the times he talked about smelling smoke. And this wasn’t campfire smoke, this was massive smoke, fill-the-sky smoke. It was both a wildfire or the place Native Individuals set a fireplace to enhance habitat. They used hearth to enhance habitat on a regular basis. They realized that younger recent development attracted extra critters than previous, stagnant development. He talked a lot about burning throughout July, August, September, after fawns and poults poults are up working and flying round. So we’ve tried to revive native vegetation by utilizing growing-season hearth, and I feel that has been an enormous profit to our habitat. We often do a dormant-season burn first since there’s a number of gas and it’s simpler to regulate a fireplace throughout dormant season. However after we’ve decreased that gas stage, our subsequent burn is a rising season burn. 

Grant Woods Just Sold the “Proving Grounds.” Here’s What He Learned from Building One of the Most Famous Whitetail Properties in America
Woods depends on prescribed hearth to counterpoint his acreage with explosive native species ecosystems. Grant Woods

OL: What have been a few of the greatest challenges to creating the Proving Grounds?

GW: Nicely, price range’s all the time a problem, and time is one other enormous one. I’ve to go make a dwelling. I’m a wildlife biologist and I nonetheless work for landowners all through the whitetail’s vary, so I journey lots. I like serving to different folks restore their habitat, I’m actually obsessed with that. However I want a price range to work alone habitat, and I don’t need to be egocentric and solely do it right here, as a result of we are able to make these nice examples all through North America.

One other problem has been that there’s not a number of coaching for this work. I went by way of all ranges of faculty, however many of the present coaching is about this or that herbicide, mass-production timber, not restoring native habitat. And I perceive that, as a result of most individuals get a job with a timber firm or a state company, however I feel it’s form of unhappy as a result of we’re attempting to reinvent the wheel and do it in a extremely difficult method when easy instruments will oftentimes meet that goal sooner and for much less cash and with much less toxins on the panorama. Now, I’m not anti-herbicide, I take a look at utilizing herbicide like getting a root canal. If I really want one to avoid wasting my different tooth or get me out of ache, I’ll do it. However I don’t simply get up someday and say “Hey, I’ll go get a root canal,” and I by no means get up and say “I’m simply going to go kill one thing with herbicide at present.” If I can’t management it with hearth, I’ll use that device.

OL: So wanting ahead, will you carry a number of this information that you simply’ve accrued during the last 20 years into, nicely, can we name it the Proving Grounds 2.0?

GW: Sure, that’s our working identify, that’s how we separate the 2. And sure, I want earlier in my profession I’d’ve identified the worth of rising season burns, so I actually will implement extra of these. I additionally want I’d identified how you can construct roads with zero likelihood of abrasion. I’ve actually refined my road-building method, a way Clemson College truly created, known as “broad-based dips.” We’ve gained a pair awards, together with Missouri Division of Conservation Grasp Conservationist Award, for restoring native vegetation and never having any erosion and minimal herbicide use.

I don’t fear as a lot concerning the deer herds anymore. I do know that if I need massive bucks to mature till they’re 4, 5, 6 years previous, in Canada or Florida or wherever I work, I simply must construct tremendous high-quality habitat for that geographic area. The native plant tradition simply can’t be beat. It handles drought and winter higher and native wildlife populations are genetically tailored to it. I plant meals plots and luxuriate in enjoying with the most recent and biggest seed, however now I take a look at them as supplemental feed, not my major meals supply. They’re additionally a good way to draw recreation out for viewing for hunters and nonhunters alike. However the bulk of my feed is coming from native vegetation. It’s inexpensive and prettier to take a look at. A inexperienced discipline is gorgeous, however if you’ve received yellow, blue, and purple wildflowers on the market 9 months of the 12 months, that’s powerful to beat. However I feel I’ve discovered that too many individuals solely depend on meals plots and ignore the remainder of the property. So my message is to not ignore the majority of the property you’re searching and use it as a device you probably have permission. When you’re on public land or a lease clearly you’ll be able to’t do this, however you probably have a possibility, don’t ignore bettering that native habitat.

OL: Do you may have any tangible objectives for the Proving Grounds 2.0?

GW: So I’m 61, and my purpose is to get it to the identical habitat high quality because the Proving Grounds in a few quarter of the time. Will I do higher than the Proving Grounds? I don’t assume so. However how briskly can I get it there? And that doesn’t essentially imply utilizing a greater price range, that simply means not reinventing the wheel, not making errors, working with the land as an alternative of in opposition to it. I used to have to determine what pests I used to be going to kill every day. However you understand how when you look out over a local grass discipline on a fall morning when the solar will get above the horizon, it looks like you’ll be able to see one million spiderwebs on the market? I see that as useful now. Spiders are predatory they usually’re controlling any pests that is likely to be consuming my meals plots. So we use zero fungicide, insecticide, or seed coatings. I need fungus rising in all my meals plots as a result of fungus transfers vitamins from the soil to the seed. I’ve had a complete mindset change by studying how precious the pure communities are, so I need to see a billion spiderwebs on the market. That’s turkey and quail meals, they usually’re consuming up armyworms earlier than they ever get to my meals plot. So I feel my essential purpose is to work with nature as an alternative of in opposition to it. 

Grant Woods Just Sold the “Proving Grounds.” Here’s What He Learned from Building One of the Most Famous Whitetail Properties in America
The spectacular deer that spend time on Woods’ land are proof constructive that his strategies work. Grant Woods

OL: What recommendation would you give to the small-scale landowner who’s attempting to enhance habitat? 

GW: We work with a number of these landowners, and we coach them to take a look at each their very own property and the remainder of the neighborhood, because you’re sharing deer with neighbors. Deer want meals, water, and canopy day by day. So take a look at the assets which can be out there proper subsequent to you. When you’re proper subsequent to a giant bean discipline, you don’t want to fret about water or summer time meals. However possibly as soon as that discipline is harvested, when you plant a little bit fall or winter meals plot, you’ll be able to appeal to a number of deer. So we take a look at assets within the neighborhood and try to assist landowners present the one on their land that’s probably the most restricted throughout searching season. We gained’t essentially maintain deer year-round, however we are able to completely appeal to deer throughout searching season if we offer the restricted assets in that space. 

OL: So determining what you’ll be able to present that isn’t already out there close by?

GW: Yeah, it’s similar to us people, proper? If I don’t have any ice cream in the home, and I drive by an ice cream retailer, that’s the restricted useful resource and I’m extra prone to pull in there. I feel we get hung up on being jealous of what our neighbors have on their property, however what they’ve could be one in all a dozen assets you’ll be able to present in your property. So specializing in the restricted useful resource is a good method regardless of the property measurement. Right here within the Ozarks, I’m surrounded by fescue pasture and high-graded hardwood timber. So high quality meals, be it native vegetation of a superb meals plot, was an enormous attraction right here, and continues to be. So that can actually be my focus going ahead.

OL: Nicely, I’d similar to to level out that we’ve come full circle on the ice cream entrance.

GW: *Chuckles* Yeah, nicely, you’ll be able to inform the place my true coronary heart is. 

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