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GRANT: Great morning here at The Proving Grounds because the gauge shows more than three inches of rain.
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GRANT: I'm gonna empty the rain gauge, because the prediction is for a 70% chance of more moisture today. Now, yesterday was real spotty, a lot of guys live within an hour here of The Proving Grounds, and they got a half inch, or no rain, but we happened to be right where the thunderstorms busted. Maybe we'll get blessed again today.
GRANT: One of the most pressing problems that it should solve is the source of free-standing water for the animals to drink. I had already been calling around and trying to find tanks to haul water because almost all our ponds and a creek were bone dry.
GRANT: This is the same pond we showed last week with the fawn standing in the middle looking for water.
GRANT: The three inch rain we had last night served to add literally thousands of gallons of water to this little wildlife pond because the way we had constructed it to catch a little run off coming down the hill. In addition, we noticed on the way here that our creek now has water, literally the first time in months it’s had flowing water.
GRANT: Three inches certainly won't solve the drought conditions and the deep soil moisture problems here at The Proving Grounds; we're literally about 14 inches behind normal for this year so far.
JOHN: In this particular food plot, we've got several Reconyx images of groundhogs near the Trophy Rock. So this morning, we've got our .204 with our Nikon scope and our Winchester ammo, we're just waiting for a groundhog.
JOHN: (Whispering) I’m gonna shoot it now.
ANDREW: (Whispering) Okay.
JOHN: (Whispering) Are you on it?
ANDREW: (Whispering) Yeah.
JOHN: (Whispering) Did I get it?
GRANT: I leave my Reconyx out year round and track most bucks, two, and certainly all three and a half year old and older bucks, so I can watch them progress year to year to year; confirm with neighbors which ones they might of harvested, and hopefully a couple of ‘em that Adam and I have harvested here at The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: As happens this time of year, I've been getting a lot of questions on my Facebook page, asking about aging bucks and how to determine or estimate the age of a buck on the hoof.
GRANT: There's a buck on my property that's not enormous but his antlers are always very unique and he's easy to identify. We call him Pitchfork because one of his sides of his antlers reminds us of the tines of a pitchfork. I've saved images of Pitchfork all the way from 2008, when he was a two year old, because of his unique antler shape.
GRANT: This is a classic picture of Pitchfork during August as a two and a half year old, back in 2008. Even though this image of Pitchfork shows him in an alert posture, you can easily tell that his neck doesn't extend all the way down his brisket. That's a great sign that he's an immature buck. He's legs appear relatively long for his body, but his legs aren't really changing length as he matures, or getting shorter, is that his chest hasn't dropped down in filling up that space behind his legs.
GRANT: Pitchfork's the buck on the right, and even though he's a little further from the camera than I like, it's a great crisp Reconyx picture, and you can tell his shoulders have certainly increased in size from when he was a two and a half year old. And even at this angle, it appears his neck is now spreading down his chest, closer to his brisket than he was two and a half years old. To me, this Reconyx image of Pitchfork is a perfect example of a three and a half year old buck.
GRANT: One more picture of Pitchfork during 2009, when I estimate he was three and a half, compared to a yearling buck. This is a great example to compare the definition of the hams, the shoulders, that neck we've been talking about, and the leg appearance.
GRANT: If I happen to be hunting a property where my host doesn’t have a Hit List, or can't go through some trail camera pictures with me, and he says, “Grant, you can harvest mature bucks,” I don’t want to make a boo-boo on a friend's property, so I'm looking for a big buffalo chest. I'm looking for that deer that looks like his chest is just huge, like the American Bison or a buffalo. And when I see that, I'm confident when I fire, my host will not be upset with me.
GRANT: And he lives right there where we were. That's really bad when you know where they live, you know ‘em by name, and I've never seen this deer in person. Not one time have I ever seen this deer in person.
GRANT: Check out this image of Pitchfork in 2010, when he was producing this antler. Notice how his shoulders, even in June, now have a definition. You can see the outline of the shoulder all the way around. And even though his posture changed when he put his head down, you're starting to see a hump in his back right above his shoulders. A defined hump in the shoulder is almost as much key for me to shoot as that buffalo chest. Even though his neck is stuck way out, the break between his neck and his brisket is not as well defined as it was as a two year old, or even a three year old. Even better than perpendicular, it's perpendicular with another buck in the picture. This is obviously a yearling buck, gives us great confidence Pitchfork's much more mature than this yearling based on the comparison of chest size, neck size, antler basal circumference, and other factors.
GRANT: Moving on up to 2011, here's an image of Pitchfork in May. Even though his antlers are nowhere near fully developed, one look at that body tells me he's a mature buck.
GRANT: Pitchfork apparently moved from May to about September, onto a neighbor's property, because we didn't receive any images of him during that time. But when he came back and posed for the Reconyx, there was no doubt he was a mature buck.
GRANT: Following the same pattern as last year, Pitchfork seems to be spending most of his time on a neighbor's property this summer. My neighbor's been kind enough to be emailing me pictures of Pitchfork this summer so I won't worry about Pitchfork dying over the winter. Compare the images of Pitchfork right now to the images last year, or even the last couple years, and you’ll see his antlers are much, much smaller. Please understand this clearly. Not all bucks peak out at five and a half years of age. Nor am I certain Pitchfork would of peaked out at five and a half, giving better growing conditions this year. We're experiencing one of driest growing seasons on record out of 118 years of keeping records here in Missouri. And I'm sure that's a huge factor, because when I look at Pitchfork, even at this angle, he doesn’t look near as full, near as massive, or near as fit, as he did the last couple years. Which leads to the obvious question, would you harvest Pitchfork this year if you had an opportunity? I certainly plan on harvesting Pitchfork this year, if I have an opportunity. But whether I harvest Pitchfork or not, it's important to remember, he's one animal of a population and as good wildlife managers, we manage populations. I like to hunt individuals, but I manage populations. It's important for me as a manager to allow deer to express most of their antler potential for the given factors in my area. You might be hunting an area that's 50, 60 acres, your neighbors are shooting about anything that moves, and if you can get a deer to two and a half years of age, that's a huge accomplishment. I've got a buddy just like that and I enjoy hunting with him. It's important to set realistic harvest criteria for the factors where you hunt.
GRANT: Whatever harvest criteria you have for where you hunt, I hope your most important criteria is enjoying Creation. Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.tv.
ADAM: Sasquatch on camera. Oh. (Laughter)