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Natural Forage and Cover

87894 Views 331 Replies 57 Participants Last post by  Neal
Food plots are fun and helpful in attracting and holding whitetails but sometimes I get concerned that landowners put to much emphasis on them and not enough on the natural sources of food and cover that whitetails really rely on.

If you have timber or even brush...it can be improved and if you need trees and screens they can be planted and if you need cost share assistance it is usually available.

Managing our land for whitetails and wildlife in general covers a broad spectrum of things of which food sources from crops are only a small piece of the pie.

Right now is the perfect time to start inquiring about cost share assistance and I have a complete list of federal, state and private source of cost share programs that I would urge you to be aware of.

Conservation Cost Share Programs

Contact your NRCS office or private lands biologist and find out what programs are available because $$'s are tight these days and the supply is not unlimited.

Planting trees and shrubs is something I have been doing for nearly 50 years and I am passionate about this subject. At my age I will most likely never see the fruits of some of my labors but I do it anyway because I see the results of what others before me have accomplished.

The 80 year old white pines on my place are full of turkeys every night and when I hear the winds softly blowing through them I imagine the people who planted them years ago and silently thank them.

I concentrate mostly on mast production and especially on hybrid oaks and chestnuts in my hardwood plantings and many different varieties of soft mast producing shrubs that provide screens, travel corridors as well as food sources for wildlife large and small.

If you have an interest in planting trees next spring regardless if it is a 1/2 dozen or 10,000 seedlings take a look at my informational threads that will help you better decide which trees, the right herbicides and other planting information might be best for you.

Tree Planting

This thread is longer but covers everything including direct seeding of acorns and ideas to start your own seedlings from top producing trees in your area.

Tree Planting 101

Those threads include a list of some great nurseries and sources of all kinds of supplies and herbicides as well regardless if you plant by hand...



or with a tree planter...




I have hundreds of pictures that make it interesting and helpful as well.

Most likely you have timber, woodlots or forest on your property and managing it properly can be both profitable and help you attract and hold whitetails at the same time.

Begin by truly understanding what Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) means and learn to identify the trees on your property. Utilize your area forester and learn all you can before cranking up the chainsaw!

TSI is primarly releasing crop trees by killing cull trees close to them and doing so also allows oak seedlings to grow and replace shade tolerant less desirable species.

I put together these threads to help everyone understand how to better manage their own timber and get paid to do it!

Learn TSI

Understanding Timber Stand Improvent



Once you have learned to properly identify your trees then your in a position to decide where to create bedding areas or which trees to edgefeather.

Hinge cutting is a great way to create both cover and new browse at the same time and opening up small areas will increase both bedding and feeding areas.

All of these things make your property more attractive then the neighbors and you can see not only mine but others who have shared their successful work in my thread on edgefeathering.

Edge Feathering and Bedding Areas

A number of knowledgeable landowners share their own pictures and experiences in these threads to provide a great deal of information to landowners eager to learn how to improve thier property.

Ideas that share how to funnel deer, which trees produce the sweetest acorns the quickest, what shrubs provide the best screens the soonest and what timber is valuable and which is not are all in those threads.

Plant food plots but don't forget your greatest natural assets...your trees! :)
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I agree. Within about 2-3 weeks after the season ends, they care less about getting into thick cover and more about being close to food sources. They will lay right on the woods edges, and even right along the field edges and in fence rows next to food sources. They feel little pressure from humans now and are able to conserve energy by having shorter distances to travel and well worn trails through the snow to use to get to and from food.

The other thing happening now is that deer are doing what I call quasi-yarding. There was a report of over 100 deer in one field nearby the other day. They collect up around hay and winter wheat fields and bed nearby in much larger numbers than family groups. This is similar to true yarding that occurs in the north woods except without the starvation part, because they have all the food they need. They just have to work a little harder to get it.

I found about 20 beds on my 13 acres last week, and they were all within about 30 feet of the brassica/turnip plots--places they never lay in season. In fact, there were several lying right behind my chicken coop--again--they would never show up there in season.

Post season scouting to determine pressured locations ended about a week ago, in my opinion. Finding beds now will help little regarding how deer will position themselves in season.
I want to agree with Tony's point that winter time beds may not always be where the deer will be during hunting season. I have seen plenty of beds in the open on the south side of a hill or ridge as deer try to gather the sun's heat during the winter. These are spots deer would NEVER have been bedded during hunting season on my place.
I also agree that the pics above do show some common denominators that deer will "take" to if present.
Great info and great pics!
True Dat Tornado Jimmer.
I agree. Within about 2-3 weeks after the season ends, they care less about getting into thick cover and more about being close to food sources. They will lay right on the woods edges, and even right along the field edges and in fence rows next to food sources. They feel little pressure from humans now and are able to conserve energy by having shorter distances to travel and well worn trails through the snow to use to get to and from food.

The other thing happening now is that deer are doing what I call quasi-yarding. There was a report of over 100 deer in one field nearby the other day. They collect up around hay and winter wheat fields and bed nearby in much larger numbers than family groups. This is similar to true yarding that occurs in the north woods except without the starvation part, because they have all the food they need. They just have to work a little harder to get it.

I found about 20 beds on my 13 acres last week, and they were all within about 30 feet of the brassica/turnip plots--places they never lay in season. In fact, there were several lying right behind my chicken coop--again--they would never show up there in season.

Post season scouting to determine pressured locations ended about a week ago, in my opinion. Finding beds now will help little regarding how deer will position themselves in season.
On good soils with plenty of moisture regeneration can be rapid once canopy is opened up via hinging or TSI! These little red cedars are only a year old and popped up everywhere after I hinged the area quite radically.





in 8-10 years I'll have to thin these or they will end up being way to thick



Lacking seeding trees you can easily interplant conifers into your hinged areas to vastly improve your bedding areas



Oak regeneration is also rapid where seed trees are present



In many areas I go in and hand plant oaks among downed tops



These however are all naturally regenerated seedlings that will also have to be thinned every 10 years or so



The oaks will be heavily browsed when small so they are multipurpose when small and thinning should not be done to early. Open grown oaks will have poor timber value so once again follow a foresters advice and thin at the proper stages.

You can combine a couple EQIP/WHIP practices to thin weed trees (via hinging) and then plant/tube/herbicide seedlings in the thinned areas.

FOREST STAND IMPROVEMENT-Practice Code 666-Manual control of undesirable woody species (weed tree removal or weeding) on forest land. $113.00 per acre
TREE / SHRUB ESTABLISHMENT-Practice Code 612- Field planted to trees and shrubs for wildlife habitat
and/or timber production. $270 an acre (canopy cannot be greater then 25%)
Conifers are extremely important to provide screening and thermal cover but which ones to plant? I love Norway spruce but without fencing each one bucks kill them here in Iowa! In the north however they may severely browse red cedars and low deer densities may mean there will be few problems with bucks rubbing the spruce trees. Each landowner may find something different but here are pictures of red cedars planted in the spring of 2006 as 17-24" seedlings from the IDNR nursery and only one hear of herbicide treatment.

Many of them are a foot over my head or around 7'



Here is a picture of a 15 year Norway that bucks have scrubbed yearly!!



This one is scarcely as large as when I planted it 15 years ago!



Like all trees growth varies so some are 4' while others are 7











Here is a spruce that has recovered and has done a little better but by and large in this country, growth of the red cedars far exceeds that of any spruce trees.



Different soils may experience different results, my soils are heavy clay and well drained. Red cedars do not do well on very wet soils and may not perform well on sandy soils so consider those factors when making your choice for conifers this spring.

A note on bedding...we commonly see large whitetail bucks using old barns during the heat of summer here in Iowa. They seek out the shade but of course are no where near those barns in the fall.

My observations are that deer are more inclined to lay against something then under it, however laying against a stump may mean they end up under the hinged tree...;)
A very timely post from you Paul concerning the red cedars.
We have a lot of "volunteer" red cedar growing in our ditches along the sides of our roads in my area, most vary in size (the visible ones) from 8" to 10'. They're also common in feral fields.
My question is, how well do they transplant and what size is to big to transplant?
My thought is that I will dig them in the spring after frost out, place them in buckets until I have prepared a spot for them with herbicide and our mowing.
The deer don't appear to be browsing them or rubbing them in my area and they seem to be growing everywhere, so they should do well in my well drained soil.
Your thoughts?

Big T
I have transplanted quite a few red cedars of that size and have had great luck. I don't know if I have lost a single one except for the ones that the bucks destroyed with their rubbing. Just dig out a little root ball and you should be good to go. I have always planted them within a day or two though. Good luck.
A very timely post from you Paul concerning the red cedars.
We have a lot of "volunteer" red cedar growing in our ditches along the sides of our roads in my area, most vary in size (the visible ones) from 8" to 10'. They're also common in feral fields.
My question is, how well do they transplant and what size is to big to transplant?
My thought is that I will dig them in the spring after frost out, place them in buckets until I have prepared a spot for them with herbicide and our mowing.
The deer don't appear to be browsing them or rubbing them in my area and they seem to be growing everywhere, so they should do well in my well drained soil.
Your thoughts?

Big T
Tony, I thought of doing the same thing a few days ago, Found this..


Step 1: Select a site in full sun to permanently locate your red cedar. Dig a hole 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep. Remove weeds, roots, rocks and other debris from the soil. Mix the cleaned soil with sand. Fill the hole with water and allow the water to drain into the underlying soil.


Step 2: Select a red cedar less than 3 feet high for transplanting. The Ohio Cooperative Extension advises that red cedars about 1 foot tall are ideal.


Step 3: Use a shovel to dig out the selected red cedar with a root ball about 2 feet in diameter. Place the red cedar immediately into a large bucket or set it on burlap. If using burlap, pull it around the root ball and secure it with twine. This helps preserve the root system.


Step 4: At the preferred location, remove the red cedar from the bucket or burlap. Hold the red cedar so its base of its trunk is level with the surrounding ground. Shovel the soil-sand mixture underneath the red cedar root ball until it sits level with the ground.

Step 5: Fill the rest of the prepared hole with the soil-sand mixture. Water thoroughly, then top off any settled soil with additional shovels of soil-sand mixture until the hole is level with the surrounding ground. Water the transplant as necessary for the next two weeks. This prevents roots from drying out until the tree becomes established in the new location.
A very timely post from you Paul concerning the red cedars.
We have a lot of "volunteer" red cedar growing in our ditches along the sides of our roads in my area, most vary in size (the visible ones) from 8" to 10'. They're also common in feral fields.
My question is, how well do they transplant and what size is to big to transplant?
My thought is that I will dig them in the spring after frost out, place them in buckets until I have prepared a spot for them with herbicide and our mowing.
The deer don't appear to be browsing them or rubbing them in my area and they seem to be growing everywhere, so they should do well in my well drained soil.
Your thoughts?

Big T
Thanks Nate! I have a gravely/sandy soil where I want to establish theses so maybe I can skip the step that includes adding sand to the soil.:)
Naturally I would be predisposed to transplant bigger trees because of my microwave mentality but 1'-3' trees are probably going to be a hand full with a 2' root ball.:yikes:
I plan on transferring alot of these into a 4 acre, fallow feild in the middle of my woods for bedding puposes. Should i put them in a single row circle and how big or more of a hour glass shape with some in the middle almost making an eight.
Interesting. Earlier you said this:

My observations are that deer are more inclined to lay against something then under it, however laying against a stump may mean they end up under the hinged tree...;)
After years of observation and hinging trees I have found only one bed under the trunk of a hinged tree while all others (depending on the slope) were backed up to the downed tree or laying above it (overlooking the downed tree)

Read more at Michigan-Sportsman.com: Natural Forage and Cover - Page 18 - The Michigan Sportsman Forums http://www.michigan-sportsman.com/forum/showthread.php?t=300793&page=18#ixzz1D1LASYoW
Why would they lay underneath one person's hinged trees and not another's? Because in the former case the trees are not being cut randomly for TSI, but are being cut specifically as bedding cover, with great care taken in the way the trees are felled.

Here is an example of a woods that was hinge cut in three different ways. The entire woods was hinge cut.



The area surrounded by yellow was created exclusively for bedding. In the first week of January, I surveyed the entire woods with 48 hours of snow. I found 41 beds. All of those beds were within the yellow area. Most of the beds were under overhanging cover, the exceptions being overflow because the whole family couldn't fit in some spots so there was overflow to the outer edges, but the preference was clearly for bedding under the overhanging structure.

The entire area called the "tornado zone" was randomly hinge cut. There were not only no beds in there, but there were no deer tracks period. Don't believe anybody who tells you the cover cannot be too thick. There were plenty of stumps for deer to lay against, but no deer did. The area of woods towards the center of the picture, and below the two horizontal red lines was heavily hinge cut to provide thick travel corridors for deer. Not a single bed was found anywhere in those hinge cut areas, even though there were lots of stumps and lots of areas for deer to lay down.

Folks, hinge cutting is not hinge cutting is not hinge cutting. How you do it will dictate whether deer will lay in it, not lay in it, not pass through it, or use it as a travel area. If all you make is the latter kind, then they will lie where they want to in it. This can be disastrous if it is too near your stand or entry to your stand.

But if you make them an area that meets all their needs, is a five star hotel for the same price, they will use the five star hotel and virtually never choose to lay down in the adjacent hinge cut areas. Paul has only once ever seen a deer lay under a horizontal hinge cut tree. They always lay along side it. I can create two hinge cut areas adjacent to each other, one will house virtually all the deer that bed in that woods, the other will be used only as a transitional zone. Without question, the deer will choose the area where they can find overhead cover. And it is not just used in summer.

If you have a small property or woods, and are just randomly hinge cutting it in such a way that it does not provide optimal bedding, then you are not controlling where the deer lie and move, they are.

I want hinge cutting all around my stands, like this picture, and I don't want deer lying in it. Therefore I create 5 star hotels a short distance way so they will not randomly lie down next to stumps near my stand. This area is hinge cut to allow deer to feel in good cover when moving from bedding to food and back (arrows mark the trail through, view is from a stand, bedding starts back behind the second barrier marked by the brackets). There are plenty of places for a deer to lay down in this stuff but they won't do it because there are much better places nearby. If I cut the nearby areas in the same way, they will spread themselves randomly throughout the area and I might end up with them under my stand.


Yes, it takes extra work and effort to do this, but for some of us it may be worth the extra work. I am not saying everyone should do this, but be aware, it is possible to make deer bed exactly where you want to by hinge cutting, and it is possible to do hinge cutting that they will never lay in during hunting season because they have much better adjacent bedding.

Put in randomness, you will get back randomness.
You caught me in a lie Paul. I confess:eek:. I took these pictures in July--there is no way deer would lay under this overhead cover in the winter:dizzy::lol:.




A note on bedding...we commonly see large whitetail bucks using old barns during the heat of summer here in Iowa. They seek out the shade but of course are no where near those barns in the fall.
QDMAMAN-I have had good luck transplanting cedars up to 4 feet tall. I simply dig up as much of a rootball that will fit in a 5 gallon bucket and move it to where I want it. I might water them one time the day they were transplanted but that is it. They seem to be pretty hardy. My only casualties are from bucks rubbing them.

I usually transplant them right away but have kept them in a 5 gallon bucket for a couple days and still had them do well. I do make sure to water them if they will be in the bucket a few days.

Nothing better than getting free trees! Good luck.
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Hey Bio are you willing to share your special techniques you use to get deer to bed like that? Would like to know what special things you do to get the deer to bed specifically where you want.
Tune, I just want folks to know it is possible to hinge cut for bedding. I share a huge amount of information on this site, including lots of information about hinge cutting. I simply am trying to point out that if you hinge cut and deer are not lying under the hinge cut trees then you are doing it wrong. Nothing wrong with not knowing how to do something, is there?
Hey Bio are you willing to share your special techniques you use to get deer to bed like that? Would like to know what special things you do to get the deer to bed specifically where you want.
I understand what your point was but I'm looking for specifics. Height of cut for bedding, for blocking etc... Also specific methods of felling trees in certain directions and other methods to get deer to do bed where you want.
The information you are looking for is available on this web site. Your job is to sift through and figure out what is right and wrong. Depending on how much property you have and what it's value is, you have to consider whether you want to figure it out on your own or hire someone to help. You might have a little group of two inch trees on your property that are worth hundreds or thousands of dollars in future equity (as a bedding area for whitetailed deer), and there are those who will tell you to cut them and poison them because they are not the "right" (politically correct) species, or because some forester, who has no idea how to lay out a deer hunting property, doesn't think they should be there.

For me, it was a real estate decision. I paid 250,000 for my first deer hunting property of 85 acres. I knew I wanted to take if from ag to a pure recreation property, but didn't quite know what to do. I consulted with my wife, who is a real estate agent, and we decided I should take a boot camp and that the cost $700 at the time, was such a tiny fraction of the property that it was almost meaningless (0.3%), when compared to the potential equity of having a superb recreational property. So, it was along the lines of putting gutters on the house or replacing the hot water heater. A very small investment in return for improving the property and not damaging it (water damage on the house, cutting the wrong trees on the property).

I can't tell you exactly how to make deer beds, because I honor an agreement with a man who knows how to do it. What I can tell you, is that it is possible to get a deer to lay in beds you make, you can get them to face the direction you want, you can get them to take the exact path you want out of the bedding area, that they prefer (by far) to lay under overhanging cover, that you can do it, and that you will probably have to pay for the information because you would have to already know how to do it to get it off this website--even though it is here, how do you know which information is right? I would say less than 10% of the hinge cutting pictures on this site are optimal for deer bedding. If you don't already know how to do it, which "expert" do you believe?

I am showing you pictures of deer laying under hinge cuts within a week after the deer hunting season. So don't believe someone who tells you they don't do it, or that they only do it in summer.
I understand what your point was but I'm looking for specifics. Height of cut for bedding, for blocking etc... Also specific methods of felling trees in certain directions and other methods to get deer to do bed where you want.
I should take some pics also, I came across over a dozen under hingecuts tonight.
The information you are looking for is available on this web site. Your job is to sift through and figure out what is right and wrong. Depending on how much property you have and what it's value is, you have to consider whether you want to figure it out on your own or hire someone to help. You might have a little group of two inch trees on your property that are worth hundreds or thousands of dollars in future equity (as a bedding area for whitetailed deer), and there are those who will tell you to cut them and poison them because they are not the "right" (politically correct) species, or because some forester, who has no idea how to lay out a deer hunting property, doesn't think they should be there.

For me, it was a real estate decision. I paid 250,000 for my first deer hunting property of 85 acres. I knew I wanted to take if from ag to a pure recreation property, but didn't quite know what to do. I consulted with my wife, who is a real estate agent, and we decided I should take a boot camp and that the cost $700 at the time, was such a tiny fraction of the property that it was almost meaningless (0.3%), when compared to the potential equity of having a superb recreational property. So, it was along the lines of putting gutters on the house or replacing the hot water heater. A very small investment in return for improving the property and not damaging it (water damage on the house, cutting the wrong trees on the property).

I can't tell you exactly how to make deer beds, because I honor an agreement with a man who knows how to do it. What I can tell you, is that it is possible to get a deer to lay in beds you make, you can get them to face the direction you want, you can get them to take the exact path you want out of the bedding area, that they prefer (by far) to lay under overhanging cover, that you can do it, and that you will probably have to pay for the information because you would have to already know how to do it to get it off this website--even though it is here, how do you know which information is right? I would say less than 10% of the hinge cutting pictures on this site are optimal for deer bedding. If you don't already know how to do it, which "expert" do you believe?

I am showing you pictures of deer laying under hinge cuts within a weak after the deer hunting season. So don't believe someone who tells you they don't do it, or that they only do it in summer.
Here's a series of pics from a stand of mostly shingle oak a year after hinging...



Tremendous amount of screening cover and browse



The stumps send up new growth that is really more valuable then the hinged tree



and the opened/reduced canopy allows the whole area to explode with new cover and browse, while the adjacent oaks acts as seed trees to encourage oak regeneration.





The whole place is full of tracks and beds where there was little activity previous to hinging





You can see the young red cedars coming up as a result of the open canopy



We have 2 feet of snow and a week ahead with temps dropping near minus 10 every morning so browse is essential this time of year!



Each tree species reacts differently to hinging and not all will produce the kind of growth you see on those shingle oaks. Maple trees don't hold their leaves but do send up plenty of high protein browse so each has advantages. Those species that do not hold their leaves only make adding conifers even more important, so give some thought to inter-planting some cedars or spruce trees if your timber is lacking this element.... ;)

Beds in areas that open are usually evidence of night time bedding. Daytime bedding in areas that open is fairly rare, although I've seen exceptions to that on tracts that have large wooded areas that are completely unpressured.

I would agree and if anyone reads my posts you know I encourage shrub and conifer plantings. Those beds are in an unpressured area but the point was simply to show the subtle areas they chose, the small logs or tree trunks they backed up against. I am not saying you should create beds like that...obviously not! Just showing some things that many of you may not have noticed about their choice (not open or thick) but why did they choose to lay THERE?

My question is, how well do they transplant and what size is to big to transplant?

I haven't moved any over 24" but I do know of people who have successfully done so. Most of mine were planted at 17-24" and they did very well.

Folks...we are all hinging, so all the trivial arguments over deer laying under them or not is kind of a moot point. The one glaring thing that many of you forget is this....NO BUCK is going to be laying in ANY bed during the rut at least not mature whitetail bucks.

Friends...do what you feel you need to do but some of this stuff is ridiculous! A mature rutting buck is on his feet and moving 24-7 and tracking collars prove this point so...who cares about all the bedding hoopla?

I saw someone post about "seeing 100's of beds under hinged trees"...gosh....spending that much time in a sanctuary to count all those beds would sure be a great way to discourage a mature animal from living there.

Keep in mind that I do TSI across the country for other people, so many of the pics are a one time thing, before, during and after hinging and then I don't return. Others are where I am asked to return and do more work and I can share take a few pics because I'm already there making a ruckus anyway.

Some folks it seems argue for the sake of arguing...thank goodness for the "ignore" option on this forum...it's been a blessing! (kinda like shutting a spoiled brat in a sound proof closet.... )
I for one would like to see the evidence that mature bucks are on their feet in Michigan 24/7 during the rut. Anybody else believe that?
Folks...we are all hinging, so all the trivial arguments over deer laying under them or not is kind of a moot point. The one glaring thing that many of you forget is this....NO BUCK is going to be laying in ANY bed during the rut at least not mature whitetail bucks.

If it is a trivial argument why did you bring it up?

Friends...do what you feel you need to do but some of this stuff is ridiculous! A mature rutting buck is on his feet and moving 24-7 and tracking collars prove this point so...who cares about all the bedding hoopla?

Ridiculous? How pleasant a way of characterizing what others believe. Funny, I think most of us in Michigan would argue that a mature buck is almost never on his feet in the day time. He spends most of his time in a bed whether during the rut or not. That is how he survives. Read John Eberhart's book, or a host of other information about pressured deer. Facts are, knowing where a buck is bedding is an incredibly important piece of information. And they do bed, most of the time in daylight. Even if you take the rut out of the picture, during most of the hunting season, they are in seclusion--the "rut" is a punctuated series of events during which mature bucks are (rarely) seen on their feet in day time. You want ridiculous? Try telling Michigan hunters mature bucks are on their feet all the time.

I saw someone post about "seeing 100's of beds under hinged trees"...gosh....spending that much time in a sanctuary to count all those beds would sure be a great way to discourage a mature animal from living there.

Opinions differ on how sacrosanct a sanctuary should be. A bucks demeanor changes throughout the year as the hormone levels change. Post season scouting is a means of understanding what the animals were doing during the pressured part of the season. It is a valid and commonly used technique to understand how to better improve hunting, stand placement, and how the sanctuary is being used and what improvements need to be done. Anybody who doesn't do post season analysis of their sanctuary is probably not getting everything out of it they should.

Some folks it seems argue for the sake of arguing...thank goodness for the "ignore" option on this forum...it's been a blessing! (kinda like shutting a spoiled brat in a sound proof closet.... )

It is interesting that you pose several paragraphs of "arguments" here, including some very strong statements. If someone counters you on your assertions, they are characterized as being childish and arguing for the sake of arguing. You alone seem to be able to make arguments with no expectation that someone might have a different point of view and express it. You make a point of telling people that you have only once seen a deer laying under an overhanging limb. When someone shows evidence that they do so, and in fact prefer it, you say it is trivial, so why did you bring it up in the first place? If you are going to ignore, then ignore. Don't make points in response to those you say you are ignoring and not expect a response.
Only on those properties that contain feeders in their food plots.:D Did I just say that???
I for one would like to see the evidence that mature bucks are on their feet in Michigan 24/7 during the rut. Anybody else believe that?
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