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GRANT: (Whispering) I’ve been chasing Swoops for years. Years.

GRANT: Years in the making.

GRANT: This deer is almost a decade old. I’m full of remorse, literally. Because this chase is – is no more and I’m full of respect and I’m full of gratitude that I was, not allowed to hunt tonight. It’s the years that’s the real blessing here. The lesson Swoops taught us of – all the trail camera pictures of – he was here. He was here. He was here. He’s not showing up. This is a great, great privilege to have chased and learned from a buck like Swoops.

GRANT: Man, it feels good.

GRANT: It’s rare to have a six-year history with a wild, free-ranging, buck. And during that six years we had a bunch of Reconyx pictures and videos and observations. Putting all that together, Swoops taught us a lot of lessons that made us better hunters and habitat managers, or basically habitat designers. How can we get in front of a great buck like Swoops? I’m going to take a moment and share just a couple of those lessons with you.

GRANT: I’ll start by sharing what we know of Swoops home range. Now remember these are based on trail camera pictures and observations. And its likely Swoops, you know, went in between our trail cameras or even off our property. So, we don’t have a complete picture of his home range.

GRANT: This map shows where we got the majority of pictures and videos of Swoops during the growing season or during the summer. It’s on the southern part of the Proving Grounds. And you’ll notice it’s relatively small. During that time of year, bucks are definitely on a food cover, food cover pattern. They’re basically moving the least amount they can, to get the resources they need and stay safe.

GRANT: Missouri’s archery season opens year after year, September 15th. And about that time, often, we’d lose Swoops. So, we wouldn’t get any pictures or videos of him. And I suspect he was shifting to a different part of his range.

GRANT: Now I hear this commonly, from hunting friends of mine. They’ve got this big buck pattern. Boy, they’re seeing him all the time. About the time hunting season opens, that buck is somewhere else. It’s common and there’s a good reason why.

GRANT: About that time of year, a buck’s testosterone level is going to increase significantly. The velvet’s going to come off and with that increase in testosterone, his whole demeanor changes.

GRANT: Food sources are also changing that time of year. Plants that were very palatable during the growing season, oftentimes are maturing, hardening off and not as palatable anymore.

GRANT: Summer food plots are maturing, and a lot of the native species are maturing also. If you’ve got a really good native habitat, there would be more species coming on right there that are palatable. But food plots, you’re either replanting or that buck is moving somewhere else.

GRANT: And a huge factor is, acorns, the first ones, are starting to fall. And when those carbohydrates hit the ground, bucks often shift from foraging on vegetation to eating acorns.

GRANT: The pattern we had of Swoops really illustrates this change in diet and change in behavior. Because some time around the first of October, give or take, Swoops would start showing up on our Reconyx cameras on the Boomerang ridge. And specifically, there was a large food plot about three or four acres there, called Big Boom. And right in the middle of that food plot is a large, mature, white oak tree.

GRANT: From when we first saw Swoops in 2015, until this year, almost every year in there, we had Reconyx images or videos of Swoops using this pattern. Spending the summer on the southern end of the property and moving to the Boomerang ridge some time around the start of fall.

GRANT: To put this in scale, it’s about a mile from where Swoops spend most of the summer, in the southern part of the Proving Grounds, to the Boomerang ridge. And in between those two areas, there’s some big steep ridges and valleys.

GRANT: Now Swoops would pretty much spend all summer down south, didn’t stray much that we know of. And then when fall would come, he would go up to Boomerang ridge. But every now and then, he’d bounce back down to the southern portion of his home range.

GRANT: This pattern of being in the southern portion and the Boomerang ridge, was even more noticeable during the rut. You’d have pictures of Swoops one day in the southern part of his range and the next day he might be on the Boomerang ridge.

GRANT: The majority of images we have of Swoops on the Boomerang ridge, were taken at night.

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GRANT: During the 11th and 12th of November 2018, Swoops must have known there was a receptive doe nearby, because we had pictures of him in food plot on the Boomerang ridge.

GRANT: That same year, on November 15th, during the rifle season here in Missouri, I was hunting in a Redneck blind on the south side of that same food plot. There’s a big transmission line that goes down. And with the south wind coming up that, you can approach, hunt, and exit that blind, without alerting deer, using that hillside.

GRANT: It’s a steep hillside and the wind tends to swirl there. So, it’s a sanctuary during much of the bow season. But, during firearm season, where you have a much longer effective range, I could sit in that Redneck blind, see down that transmission line right-of-way and basically have a window right through that sanctuary.

GRANT: It was early during the hunt when we spotted Swoops.

GRANT: (Whispering) Oh, yeah. That’s beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

UNKNOWN: That’s Swoops.

GRANT: Unfortunately, there was a lot of tall vegetation blocking my view of his vitals and I opted to give him a pass. Man, that was kind of painful. But I had too much respect for Swoops, or any deer, to risk the bullet deflecting and hitting them in a non-vital area and wounding them.

GRANT: Bullets can deflect really easy, and I’ll tell you, we got a bunch of hate mail after that episode. But I hoped it served a purpose in tagging him later, to tell folks, if you’re not confident in a shot, I hope you give the deer a pass.

GRANT: It was just another time Swoops got away. But it was a great illustration of an effective hunting strategy during the rut.

GRANT: Swoops had used that food plot right behind the blind, but not during daylight hours, at least that our cameras picked up.

GRANT: And that strategy of looking on that side slope, basically a sanctuary, gave us a much better chance of seeing Swoops during daylight hours.

GRANT: Long-term viewers of GrowingDeer know we’ve used that strategy very effectively to tag several mature bucks.

GRANT: There we go. Right there.

GRANT: Super buck.

GRANT: Boomerang Ridge wasn’t the furthest point north of Swoops’ home range. In fact, we’d had an encounter with him a good bit north of there, in a food plot we call Northfield.

GRANT: Using the HuntStand app to measure, from where we saw Swoops in Northfield to the southern portion of his home range, at least what we knew of his home range, it’s 2.7 miles as the crow flies. Think about that distance up and down these steep Ozark mountains.

GRANT: Remember, these distances are based on where we have trail cameras or our observations. There’s no telling where Swoops went off our property.

GRANT: Real frequent question is, how large is a buck’s home range? And don’t take Swoops as a gold-standard example. Habitat differences, hunting pressure, predators, all these factors can influence the shape and size of a buck’s home range.

GRANT: A second lesson I’d like to share is that through the years, using our Reconyx cameras, we noticed that Swoops would travel through the same areas about the same time of year, year after year.

GRANT: As an example, every year since 2018, Swoops visited a scrape we call Blackberry. It’s next to where there used to be a big blackberry patch and almost the same time of year, Swoops would be cutting through that area.

GRANT: What’s even more interesting, three out or four years we had images of Swoops at that scrape in that small timeframe or during daylight hours.

GRANT: This scrape is obviously in a travel corridor and Swoops was there year after year during the pre-rut. Which is another great lesson.

GRANT: Scrapes and travel corridors, especially during the pre-rut, are a great place to see mature bucks during daylight hours.

GRANT: As we studied all the images we had of Swoops, we noticed another pattern around the Big Boom food plot where I end up tagging Swoops.

GRANT: During 2016, we had an image of Swoops, in the Big Boom food plot, December 20th. And then again, in the year 2020, we had images of Swoops during December on the 19th and 30th, in the same plot.

GRANT: When we reviewed all the daytime images of Swoops, there was a pattern that became obvious. During 2020 and 2021, we had more daytime images of Swoops.

GRANT: We can’t say for sure, but I know from past experience, often when bucks get very mature – Swoops was ten years old – they tend to move more during daylight hours.

GRANT: That, paired with we’ve learned this buck well enough, to put our cameras where he was likely to travel, probably resulted in all those daytime images.

GRANT: The final observation I’ll share about Swoops, and the key to tagging him, was the habitat improvement projects we had developed within his range.

GRANT: Between Boomerang ridge and the southern portion of Swoops’ home range, there are several large, native vegetation areas.

GRANT: Those areas were created by felling cedar trees and using prescribed fire, to stimulate the seed bank in the soil. And more recently we felled many more cedars in the southern portion of his home range.

GRANT: You can see that, throughout the area Swoops used, there’s a pattern of food, cover, food, cover, food, cover. It’s ideal for holding critters and keeping them healthy. Quality groceries everywhere. Planted food plots, native vegetation, and great escape cover.

GRANT: Let’s take that one step further. One of the last images we had of Swoops was on December 9th. As he was coming out of a travel corridor that dumped into a food plot.

GRANT: When you look at that image, you can tell Swoops had lost a lot of weight. So, it was natural, he’s going to be using travel corridors between quality food sources. He’s going to be packing on the groceries, trying to regain some fat before the late winter.

GRANT: Just a few days later, one of our trail cameras took images of a food plot we call Second House that’s next to a bedding area that extends up the ridge almost all the way to the Big Boom food plot.

GRANT: Watching the behavior of these deer and then seeing Swoops in the background, it’s a pretty good indication, there’s probably a receptive fawn in the group.

GRANT: We’ve got quality cover near you, quality food and a receptive fawn. Two days later, I tag Swoops in the food plot at the top of the ridge.

GRANT: As I shared earlier, the Big Boom food plot is on a ridge top. So, the wind would likely be steady, not swirling, like in the bottom. It allowed me to see a quality food source with quality cover close by.

GRANT: During the late season, quality food sources next to cover, with lost of does and fawns in the area, are ideal places to tag a buck.

GRANT: That is exactly how everything came together on this long journey, for me to tag Swoops.

GRANT: The years of encounters with this buck is something I will remember as long as I have memory.

GRANT: Tagging Swoops, a ten-year-old buck, was extremely special. But we’re blessed to tag mature bucks, here at the Proving Grounds, year after year.

GRANT: And that’s due to the habitat design. We can produce quality bucks and it’s designed in such a way, that we can predict or forecast where they’ll likely be traveling.

GRANT: Oh, yeah. Oh, gosh.

GRANT: We hope, that by sharing this information, it helps you have similar quality hunts.

GRANT: Spending quality time outside and learning, is a great way to enjoy Creation. But it’s way more important, for each of us, to be intentional each day and spend some time seeking the Creator’s will for our lives.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.