Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit The Proving Grounds just outside Branson, MO, for the property’s 2011 Shed Hunt. Dr. Grant Woods is the head honcho at The Proving Grounds, and for those who do not know, he is one of, if not the, preeminent quality whitetail management gurus alive today. His educational background is impressive. His doctoral dissertation was “Studies on traditional rubs and the human dimensions associated with quality deer management” and his lifelong calling has allowed him to work as a wildlife technician, researcher, scientist and consultant.

Dr. Woods currently blogs and posts regular video shorts on his website at on land and wildlife management.  He established The Proving Grounds in southwest Missouri to prove that one really can grow great whitetails anywhere. Based on what I saw at the property, I think Woods has achieved his objective. This ground is anything but what I would call ideal whitetail habitat. It was extremely tough country to navigate through with a pair of good boots. I’m used to the fertile fields and draws of central- and mid-Missouri, but the hills and hollows of southwest Missouri felt nearer to Colorado than my part of the state.

Woods and his staff have transformed this property. They opened up the canopies to undergrowth, established bedding areas with great cover, built ponds and other watering holes, and put in acres of food plots. It seemed to me the red dirt was originally more conducive to growing the thousands of rocks than forage for whitetails, but it was clear the land managers have done a fantastic job creating whitetail habitat where the deer do not just live, but flourish. Before we started Saturday’s session, Woods said we were looking for sheds from the nearly 90 bucks they identified through trail camera surveys.

Finding sheds from these bucks, however, proved to be extremely illusive. Between 50 and 75 people attended the Saturday event with me and I put a fair amount of wear and tear on my Danner Pronghorns walking up and down ridges. Even with all those eyes, I believe the total antler count for Saturday was around two dozen.

On the plus side, though, we did find the antlers to the “Big 10” Woods asked us to look for. It was also inspiring to hear Woods talk about his experience with whitetails, watch antler dogs work, and meet other hunters and whitetail fanatics like me. It made me reconsider some of the ideas I have about land management and challenged me to do a better job with some of the great areas I get to hunt.  I truly appreciated Woods’ passion for the land and how he integrated his Christian faith into the entire weekend experience.  I’m hoping I get an invitation to visit The Proving Grounds again.  I’ll be back the next opportunity I have.

– Aaron Oelger