After the first few weeks of bow season, a buck’s predictability factor typically diminishes.
Changing food sources coupled with sudden hunting pressure and newly disbanded bachelor groups can often make bucks reclusive and tough to pattern. As daylight wanes and temperatures begin to drop, however, hunters are encouraged by the reassuring notion that the best days are yet to come — when doe populations approach their first estrous cycles sending bucks’ testosterone levels through the roof.
When this magic moment happens, love-struck bucks will be on the move in daylight seeking to breed. Until then, most bucks are sticking to their core areas, simply biding their time and scoping out the prospects.
Deer are primarily driven by scent when selecting mates, using a unique combination of bodily scents — including saliva, urine and gland secretions — to communicate their willingness and readiness to breed, as well as establishing territorial boundaries and social dominance. Fortunately for hunters, these natural scents are collected and bottled from live captive deer or duplicated in synthetic form, making them easy to obtain from a variety of outdoors retailers.
With proper use, deer lures can be very effective hunting tools, and an especially good time to use scents is when bucks first begin cruising a hunting area during pre-rut. The best strategy is to create a mock scrape near a primary natural scrape, essentially doubling the chances of drawing a buck into close range. Natural scrapes are made by bucks regardless of age class and are utilized as communal signposts by members of both genders.
At times, a buck will randomly scrape an area and thrash a tree out of frustration or aggression but never return to check the sign. In other instances, bucks reopen the same exact scrape year after year and visit it regularly. Knowing the hunting property and being able to distinguish a cold secondary scrape from a hot primary scrape is integral in determining whether to hunt a particular location.
Lesser secondary scrapes often pop up at various locations and eventually go cold, but primary scrapes tend to stay hot for the duration of all three estrous cycles. Thus, these are the scrapes hunters should focus on.
When making a scrape, bucks typically lick an overhanging branch, rubbing forehead, pre-orbital and nasal glands on the twigs, and then urinate over their tarsal glands directly onto the bare earth they just cleared of leaves and debris. In this manner, bucks are leaving their calling card, saying, “I am available and interested.” Then it keeps checking back during wind-scenting forays to see if any does came along and urinated in the scrape, indicating they’re willing to breed.
Likewise, multiple other bucks use these primary scrapes to jockey for position as the top dog of the woodlot. By introducing the scent of an imposing outsider at a nearby mock scrape, hunters can pique the curiosity of target bucks.
Introducing bottled buck urine or even an all-season doe urine can sometimes cause bucks to check scrapes during daylight hours. These bucks can be steered toward a stand site with a scent drag doused in a low-key urine lure and then antagonized by a mock scrape mimicking a rival buck’s secondary tension scrape.
Drag the scent past the upwind side of the stand toward a natural scrape, but instead of doctoring up an existing scrape, create a fake that is situated just upwind of the real thing. This way, the positioning of a buck can be better controlled for an ideal shot opportunity.
To construct a mock scrape, use a rubber-soled boot to expose a bare patch of earth about 20 yards from the stand, then apply buck urine or a mock scrape starter directly to the ground. Gel-based lures are more durable than liquids or sprays and can even withstand a heavy rainstorm or two.
Hang a scent drag cloth, a saturated scent wick or a liquid scent dripper on an overhanging limb close to eye-level to keep things fresh and to disperse more scent into the air. Often, a crossing buck will intercept the scent line and approach with his nose to the ground, or in a parallel line a few yards downwind, scanning ahead for other deer.
When he gets close to the stand, he will either come directly within shooting range to the mock scrape, or skip ahead to the primary natural scrape, from which he ultimately smells the fake and heads over to investigate. Hang a no-flash trail camera over the scrape to monitor the site and add a doe-in-estrous lure later in the season to keep up with the changing phases of the rut.
Hunting over mock scrapes is an effective strategy for bucks of all ages. By establishing fakes near primary natural scrapes and using an assortment of lures that evolve with rut’s various stages, bowhunters can take matters into their own hands, and if they’re lucky, perhaps even a nice set of antlers, too.