Let’s face it; the majority of us bowhunters live for hunting the rut, and for good reason. Mature bucks are on their feet cruising for does during daylight hours making them extremely vulnerable and “easier”, if you will, to harvest. Coinciding with their defenseless demeanor during the rut is a state of lunacy that, at times, can actually make them more difficult to harvest. With only love on their mind, developing a sound game plan to get within bow range can be problematic. So, what’s a bowhunter to do? Simple: create a whitetail highway, manipulating deer movement and behavior to boost your chances of harvesting a mature buck. This blog post, while dedicated to my mission of harvesting a Bottom Buck, will also provide you with perhaps a new rut hunting strategy.
Constructing a mock scrape is a relatively simple process. Make sure you remain completely scent free to avoid tipping off a mature buck.
While this tactic is about creating the perfect rut setup for November, the process actually begins now. Centrally located on the southern half of my hunting property is a one acre field that will be planted with rape and turnips, Mother Nature permitting, by the second week of August. We all know the key to hunting bucks during the rut is finding the does. This food plot will attract several different doe groups and thus tempt the bucks as well. Step one, relatively speaking, is easy: provide food in the center of the property to attract and hold deer. The timber to the west of the food plot is loaded with mature white oaks that will also attract deer. Further, to the west of the oak flat is a doe bedding area that generally does not become heavily used until the first week of November. The early muzzleloader season opens the first weekend of November. Once the deer become pressured, they retreat to this bedding area, slowly make their way through the oak flat munching on acorns before entering the food plot right as dusk.
Initially, this sounds like a classic staging area setup. Simply setup a stand halfway between the bedding area and the food plot, right? Well, yes. Theoretically, that is where I’ll take my Gorilla Silverback Hangon and Climbing Sticks in early November. However, as mentioned, this spot will not be hunted until the seeking and chasing phase when bucks will be dogging does back and forth with no real sense of direction. With limited time in the woods this fall, I need to maximize my time on stand. This is where the plot thickens.
One of the key ingredients in my whitetail highway is acorns. A plentiful acorn crop will further entice deer to frequent my hunting area this November.
While the oak flat provides an excellent food source, it offers little in the way of dense, thick cover and has absolutely no natural funnels or pinch points. Previously the deer enter the food plot where they pleased, until now. This past winter I felled several less desirable trees including Virginia pine, black locust and a few dead cedars to create my own pinch point at the edge of the food plot. I also drug back our family Christmas tree and some other dead garden shrubs and bushes to give the funnel a little character! This 50 yard long pile of brush will now push the deer closer by my stand, giving me a better opportunity at harvesting a mature buck.
While the manmade funnel certainly plays a pivotal role in my rut set up, I will also add a key ingredient towards the latter part of August and early September: mock scrapes and licking branches. I am a firm believer that if constructed carefully and diligently, mock scrapes can attract mature bucks and those bucks will eventually take those scrapes over as their own.
My manmade funnel. Deer are naturally lazy creatures and will take the easiest path available to a food source. By funneling them by my stand, I greatly increase the likelihood of a shot opportunity. If you look in the center of the photo, you will see the last mock scrape positioned 17 yards from my stand.
Starting at the doe bedding area, I will construct a mock scrape accompanied with a mock licking branch every 35-40 yards until I reach the food plot. If a tree does not provide a low hanging branch, I will simply tie a mock licking branch from an existing branch. It is extremely important to be as scent free as possible when making the mock scrapes. Rubber boots, rubber gloves and thoroughly spraying down with odor eliminating spray is essential. The final scrape will be positioned 17 yards from my stand right at the tip of the man made funnel, where hopefully a mature buck will present a broadside shot. I will start making these scrapes in early September, when bucks are shedding their velvet and their testosterone levels really begin to rise. By lightly spraying Code Blue’s Buck Urine directly in the scrape and on the tree with the branch this should create a sense of intrusion on a mature buck and his core area. As the season progresses and the rut draws near, I will then apply Code Blue’s Tarsal Gland Gel to the scrapes. The tarsal gland is the primary communication device on the whitetail’s body and provides a surplus of information about a whitetail. It contains age, sex, dominance and a doe’s readiness to breed. The application of the tarsal gland gel will hopefully peak a buck’s interest causing him to come investigate.
I am extremely confident in Code Blue’s Tarsal Gland Gel. Last fall, I experimented with this gel over a trail camera during the post rut. I simply applied the gel to the vegetation and bark of trees. Overnight, 5 different bucks, including a 4 year old, 130” shooter, a solid 3 year old and three yearling bucks came to investigate. Two of the yearling bucks began sparring, which made for a cool series of photos.
Just like any other bowhunting strategy, it is important to utilize the wind to insure the deer won't smell me. For this particular setup, a cooling thermal coupled with a Northwest wind is golden.
As is always the case in bowhunting, the right wind is critical for hunting this setup. A Northwest wind would be ideal for this spot, as the deer would enter the food plot with a crosswind, when they would feel the most comfortable. A straight west wind would work just as well as it would take my scent out into the open food plot. Hopefully, the deer won’t make it that far though! This rut setup will strictly be an afternoon spot due to thermals. In my previous post, describing hunting a Bottom Buck, I stressed the importance of hunting during the morning with a rising thermal. Conversely, an afternoon thermal is crucial to hunting this setup, which should completely rid the area being hunted of human scent.
Manipulating deer movement via man made funnels and mock scrapes is going to prove to be quite a challenge this fall. Outwitting a mature buck is difficult enough, but trying to dupe him of his natural instincts offers a new challenge in itself. Attention to detail is critical; playing the wind correctly, understanding whitetail behavior to planting a food plot that will attract deer well into November. Only time will tell if I have built a whitetail highway attractive enough to garner the use of a rutting Bottom Buck, nevertheless, the pursuit is what it’s all about. Not the kill. Let the chess match begin!