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GRANT: Here, in the opening afternoon of the 2015 archery season, I climbed into a Redneck blind in a plot we call Big Boom.

GRANT: It was during that hunt that I had my first encounter with the buck we called Swoops.

GRANT: I was super excited to see a mature buck the first afternoon. But he didn’t come within range.

GRANT: Based on his body characteristics I estimated that Swoops was four years old during 2015. And that meant, going into this year, he was 10 years old.

GRANT: The Redneck at Big Boom is my favorite here at the Proving Grounds to start the opening of archery season. And the reason is really simple, there’s a big, mature, white oak about 20 plus yards right in front of it.

GRANT: Now that white oak is right on top of the ridge and open grown. So, those acorns tend to mature a bit quicker than they do with trees crowded in the timber and therefore, when it makes acorns, they tend to be the first white oak acorns on the ground in the area.

GRANT: Knowing where the first acorns are creates an instant bottleneck and we’ve tagged some deer using that strategy.

GRANT: Last year I chose to hunt in that Redneck just a couple days after season opened and once again saw a good buck. We call this buck Hemi. But he stayed at the eastern end of the plot.

GRANT: Even though Hemi didn’t come within range it was still very informative because I was able to study how deer entered and exited the plot.

GRANT: Based on those observations, the next day we hung a lock-on set on the north side of the east end of the plot.

GRANT: The plot is only about 35 yards wide where we hung the stand and we’ve just noticed throughout the years, that little narrowing tends to be kind of a staging area before deer feed throughout the western end of the plot. They kind of hold there until it gets really close to dark.

GRANT: A quarter mile, or so, east of the east end of that food plot, is very steep and it goes all the way down to a creek bottom. But kind of close to the edge of the plot is what we call an elevator ridge; a gentle area going from lower elevation to higher elevation. And that’s a perfect way for deer to travel from that steep topography up to the food plot.

GRANT: Another prominent of that habitat feature in that area is a large bedding area south of the east end of the plot.

GRANT: Now, it was covered with cedars years ago, and we felled all those cedars with a chainsaw, and have burned it numerous times. And now it’s just full of great native grasses and forbs. Deer use it to bed in and feed in also.

GRANT: Putting these features together, it’s no wonder the east end of the food plot kind of serves as a travel corridor and a bottleneck combined.

GRANT: Last fall we had several good hunts from those lock-on stands. But we weren’t able to tag a mature buck from that location.

GRANT: Going into 2021 we knew that was a good location but this year the conditions, primarily wind direction, weren’t favorable for that location very often.

GRANT: After the firearm season closed here in Missouri, it seemed the weather had turned fairly warm; way warmer than normal for this time of year. And when you have those conditions, deer tend to move primarily after dark.

GRANT: So, we weren’t hunting our best spots and spend a lot of time practicing with that new Prime Inline bow.

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GRANT: Finally, toward the latter part of December, we got some cold fronts moving through and we could tell, based on our Reconyx cameras, deer were starting to move during daylight hours.

GRANT: It was fairly cool the afternoon of December 22nd, when Carter and I headed to those tree stands at the east end of the Big Boom food plot.

GRANT: Even though the wind was out of the southeast, the temperatures were fairly cool, and I anticipated that the deer would be bedded in that native vegetation area south and east of the plot. And would head up to that food plot to feed before dark.

GRANT: Just as I hoped, as the light began to fade, deer started entering the plot. I was excited to see that one of the deer feeding in the plot was a female fawn. A pretty good size, female fawn.

GRANT: It’s an interesting observation that that fawn is just head down feeding. It seems she doesn’t have a care in the world. While that mature doe, boy her head is up para-scoping. She’s almost spending more time being alert than she is feeding.

GRANT: Matured, in most species, brings a bit of wisdom, or at least awareness, and that does been through a couple of ruts before. And she knows that there’s predators and rutting bucks around and she shouldn’t let her guard down. Where the female fawn, she hasn’t been to the dance yet. She’s just happy to have that high-quality forage going in her belly.

GRANT: I’ve shared this before, but when female fawns reach about 65 or 70 pounds, depending on the location, north or south, their mature enough to become receptive. And, if you have really good habitat, that means you get a little second bump of the rut during the late season.

GRANT: You’re going to have this group of female fawns that are all the sudden receptive. But they’re not as good at avoiding bucks as more mature does.

GRANT: To add to that equation, to put this all together and build a good hunting strategy, during the late season, female fawns are pretty much on a food, cover, food, cover pattern. And if you can find a food source where female fawns are feeding, there’s a good chance bucks are going to be searching that area.

GRANT: It’s getting later and later, and the deer are feeding, and I hear a crunching in the leaves off to the south.

GRANT: I couldn’t believe it. It was Swoops.

GRANT: Of course, Carter is totally focused on Swoops. But I happened to notice, while I’m kind of scanning around the field, that the does and fawns eased out of the plot. That’s pretty common when a mature buck comes in the area. They tend to give him some space.

GRANT: Just like Carter, man, I was super excited. I was just locked on Swoops as much as I could. But I was wondering, boy, that sun is getting lower and lower. The light’s fading. Is he going to feed our way and is he going to come our way quick enough for me to get a shot?

GRANT: It’s hard for me to express how excited and anxious I was. The buck I’d been chasing for years, is now within 20 yards. I’m on the ready but I don’t know if he’s going to turn and give me a shot.

GRANT: Finally, Swoops turned and started heading for the timber, probably going to those does and fawns that had eased out of the plot, headed that same way.

CARTER: (Whispering) I think he just crashed.

GRANT: Yeah, baby. Can you believe that? What a blessing. I’ve been chasing Swoops for years. Years. I’ve stayed awake at night trying to think about where that buck was. And he’s filled my dreams for years. And he tends to drift up here sometimes, this time of year.

GRANT: (Whispering) And you practice, you shoot and if you’re me, you pray. And you shoot. And you think. And you strategize. And you plant food plots, and you burn. And you remove predators. For this moment and I am so thankful.

GRANT: What a blessing to be healthy enough to be out here and provide fresh venison for the family and have these encounters with wildlife that teach me lessons. Swoops taught me a lot of lessons, as a biologist and a hunter about patience and doing what’s right. Creation speaks to us. And Swoops was a big part of Creation in my corner. He taught me a lot of lessons.

GRANT: After taking a lot of time to just soak that in and replay it in my mind several times, Carter and I eased down quietly, checked out that broadhead and the sign.

GRANT: I was so relieved to see that the sign looked great. There was blood right at the shot location. It was bright and bubbly. It sure looked like a double-lunger to me. So, I called Daniel, who was working late in the office, and asked him to come join us.

GRANT: He was getting it through here so, to have this constant of blood tells me it’s coming out pretty good. Because it could be every 10 yards, the way it was getting it.

DANIEL: Oh oh. I like that.

GRANT: Years in the making. Look at the body on that rascal. Look at the head on that rascal. And certainly, we’ve all harvested bigger deer. But this deer is almost a decade old. And that is what makes this such a special evening for me. Because I’ve chased, and chased, and thought about and tried to pattern, and strategized and obviously failed, year after year after year.

GRANT: And to finally have an encounter at 20 yards right before Christmas, what a gift. What a blessing. Truly. You know, if there’s no presents under the tree for me, I’d be smiling. Because this is a great, great privilege, to have chased and learned from a buck like Swoops.

GRANT: I mean, just look at that Daniel. Look at the mass on that rascal.

DANIEL: My word. Gosh.

GRANT: Look how big his head is across.

DANIEL: Oh, yes.

GRANT: Man. I can let it go now. I – I didn’t want to say anything. I can tell you. I mean, Daniel and I are best buds, man. I – I just couldn’t hardly let myself believe it; you know. What happened, and I was like, is there bubbles in that blood? Do you feel like we ought to go on?

DANIEL: The text was, Yes – exclamation point, exclamation point.

GRANT: I’d like to introduce you all to Swoops. He actually passed just down the hill, five or ten yards, we drug him up here to a level spot. And the harvest tonight and the hunt was sensational. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the story of this buck.

GRANT: We believe Swoops was ten years old. And what’s so cool is, opening day – it’s December 22nd, so late season. Opening day of Missouri’s archery season, September 15th, six years ago, I saw Swoops in that food plot. He was out of range, no shot. And I knew then it was a good deer and through the years, boy, we’ve strategized. We’ve studied our Reconyx pictures. We’ve moved stands. We’ve altered habitat.

GRANT: We’ve tagged a bunch of bucks that ran with this buck, and they were five or six years old, when we tagged them. But we could never get in front of Swoops. And tonight, he came into the field, I think maybe nudging a couple of does or checking out some does. There were some does in the field. And he cleared that field and the does went behind us, and I think that’s what helped us. And he came and cut in the woods, 20 yards to my left.

GRANT: This is not a hunt. This is a story of a buck, that I will remember a long time, and all the lessons he taught me. All he taught me about buck behavior and how they can avoid hunters, will help me throughout the rest of my career.

GRANT: I can’t fully describe the feelings I felt that night, especially as went down the hill and I saw Swoops laying there. I thought of all the years and nights I’d stayed awake, trying to figure out a strategy to get in front of Swoops.

GRANT: And I was so thankful for the venison he provided my family and the many lessons he’d taught me, that made me a better hunter and a better habitat designer.

GRANT: I am confident Swoops was a ten-year-old buck. Through those years, we’ve had several encounters and tons of Reconyx pictures and videos. It’s rare that you have that extensive of information about a ten-year-old, wild, free-ranging, buck.

GRANT: In the next episode, I’m going to take some time and really share with you what Swoops taught us.

GRANT: Tagging Swoops December 22nd, was certainly a great early Christmas gift.

GRANT: But, you know, just being outside and enjoying creation, that’s a gift we can have every day. It’s just there for the taking. And more importantly, we need to take the best gift of all time, and that’s spend some quiet time with the Creator and seek His will for our lives.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.