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Big Buck Down - The Taking of a Mock Scrape Buck

by Mike Willand 22. November 2011 15:00
Mike Willand

Bowhunting is detective work. If you’re like me you have many different stand sites set up across numerous different properties covering a handful of different regions of your home state - sometimes over several states. Taking clues that are left behind by deer, revisiting past sightings and experiences, all the while trying to piece together the big picture to make that next move on where the buck you’re looking for will be hiding. Sometimes you guess wrong and sometimes you guess right.

On Monday, November 14th, I guessed right.


For weeks leading up to that Monday I had been grimacing at all the bucks falling to friends of mine across the country. Not in jealousy mind you, but in regret that the days I was pleading to take off from work would be too late into November and past the peak of the rut throughout northern Illinois.

My decision to take the 14th-17th off was based on this year’s poor crop of what I call shooter whitetail. Older deer just never seemed to start expanding their home ranges till after Veterans Day. That’s what I was looking for on that Monday - a buck searching for love far from where he typically calls home.

For weeks, my good friend Justin Zarr and I had been capturing nothing but younger deer on our Stealthcams. Together, we have nearly twenty of them, scattered over four different farms, covering a hundred miles in between. Going into the 2011 season we only had one buck that either of us really wanted to take on camera. Justin would end up the lucky hunter on Halloween weekend, with me behind camera, and a buck called “Hitch”. Two weeks had gone by and we still had nothing else to chase. 

All three of my mock scrapes were flourishing with whitetail activity. The problem was all three of them had a regular onslaught of 100 - 120 inch bucks calling them their own. For Justin and me, once “Hitch” was taken, there seemed to be a major gap between age groups.

Although not the quality of buck I was hoping for, pictures like this are testimonials of a well planned mock scrape. Here, a young buck stands on his back legs to work the above licking branches.

My only chance was to await the days I believed older bucks would begin to stretch their home range, and this is why I chose the 14th -17th of November. Figuring if I failed to find a buck during this time frame, the following week yielded more days off for the Thanksgiving holiday and yet another chance to find a cruiser buck that Justin and I hoped existed. It was a shot in the dark.

Sunday night, November 13th, found me staring at the Scoutlook Weather website for what seemed like eternity, finally making the decision to sit my favorite mock scrape all day beginning the following morning. I shut off my computer and went to bed.

I awoke the next morning especially early. I wanted plenty of time to make and pack a solid lunch for the more than 10 hour sit that I was already dreading. Two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, no less than thirty carrot sticks, a large bag of animal crackers, an apple, and nearly 50 ounces of water were going to be my only sources of comfort for the remainder of the day.

The drive in was uneventful, a far cry from the morning before when no less than four different deer nearly ended up on the hood of my truck. A couple days past full moon, I was hoping the deer were returning to late morning movement again. The past several days had deer on their feet just after legal shooting light, something every deer hunter loathes to witness - myself especially.

Once dressed, I made the trek to my treestand. The moon was so bright I never turned on my headlamp that morning. I could easily make out the woods as it lay before me. When I hit the pond, which is what I used to creep into this set-up undetected, I noticed the water had risen several inches after the recent rainfall. Several steps later and I found myself in too deep – literally! After a false step, a small amount of water had gotten over the top of my 18 inch rubber boots, enough to soak my feet and cause me to curse in the dark! I stepped back a few feet and ended up getting out of the water forty yards short of where I normally step out from. I decided the pond was too dangerous to navigate in the dark, fearing a fall would send me and my video camera into the drink. A fall I surely could have lived with, but my camera may not have made it through. With my camera dangling around my neck I took another way in, trouncing through a section of tall grass that skirted the pond. With each step I took, the frosted stems sounded like firecrackers in the once soundless woods.

Once in stand I readied myself for the day. I hung my bow, my pack, and set up the camera for the self-filming session I was sure to receive as the day waned on. Not ten minutes into my sit and I heard the dreadful footsteps of deer in the dark. I turned and looked in the direction they were coming from, and made out what appeared to be two deer in the loud grasses I had just walked in from. No doubt as I peered at their faint images, they had heard me walking in. Immediately I thought my day was already beginning badly. These two deer were surely going to bust me!  And – I thought, if they heard me walk in, they were already in an area deer don’t typically show up in until about an hour after shooting light. The full moon had foiled me again – I thought!

After a few moments, the two deer ran away to the other side of the woods. I couldn’t tell if their tails were up, but I knew they had cut my trail in. I looked up into the starry sky wondering if my decision to not walk the pond all the way in would cost me the entire day’s sit.

The remainder of my sit in the dark anticipating the sunrise was silent. Only a far off cry of an owl could faintly be heard.

I turned my video camera’s power on just at shooting light, something I’ve done for much of the season so I wouldn’t have to fumble for it once the moment of truth arrived at first light. Standing up now, I faced the direction of my mock scrape. It laid just over twenty yards from me. It was not uncommon to hear the deer at the scrape before seeing them. The soft ground surrounding the scrape often made deer nearly impossible to detect if not for the fact that they would often stop to hit the licking branches which strung out from every which angle above it. The overcast sky kept the earth dim as I anticipated the hours ahead.

Just before sunrise I heard loud, drawn out doe bleats coming from the direction I had seen the two does run to about 45 minutes before. I reached for my grunt tube immediately as experience has taught me that when deer are vocal – you are vocal. I quickly threw out four or five short grunts and then stopped, wondering what I was thinking. I didn’t want to scare the potential bait away, and began to bleat loudly and drawn out, just as I had heard. I did this six or seven times, then silenced my grunt, shoving it back into my pocket from where it came.

I heard the running of a deer in the marsh behind me and turned my entire body to make out a buck advancing quickly on me. Without even throwing up my optics I saw that it was a good buck, at least 130-class! As soon as I recognized who the buck was I heard a very faint stick snap from the direction I was previously looking – over toward my scrape. I turned my head and came eye to eye with a shooter buck not more than twelve yards away and peering into the cattails waiting to see what all the commotion was about.

I believe the buck who was approaching from the marsh was this handsome 3 year old I called "Larry Bird". Here "Larry" works my mock scrapes licking branch.

With his eyes fixated on the bog, I turned back quickly and grabbed my bow, even glancing into the camera screen at the same time to see if the buck was in frame. All I saw was the weak outlines of the trees as the image was still too dark – camera light had not yet begun. I forgot about filming and drew!

With the buck slightly quartering in, I found my pin and settled it on his shoulder. Within moments I released! The buck took off through the timber but didn’t make it far, crashing a short distance away. The sounds of the surrounding woods quickly hushed once again. I could see two does in the distance, their tails showing white. The buck in the marsh slopped through the water traveling further and further out of earshot. I calmed myself, waiting for the earth to return to silence.

I could see a small section of my arrow, bloody and broken, laying where the buck once stood. Reaching for my phone I called my wife and daughter to tell them the news – Daddy is done!

A special thanks to Bowhunting.Com president Todd Graf for coming out to take these great pictures.

I would wait another twenty minutes before getting down from the tree to pick up the blood trail. Figuring the buck had made it into the cattails which surrounded my stand I didn’t want to take anything for granted. I was quiet, calm, and ready to put a second shot in him if need be. I took just three steps from where our encounter began, looked up and could see his body just off in the distance. I approached slowly, eyeing the buck up and down to make certain he was expired, and all the time grinning from ear to ear.

On the first day of my four day hunting vacation, within just a few minutes of light, my season was over. I knelt down beside the buck and looked to the sky once more.

My smile says it all! The buck from unknown origin showed up at my mock scrape the same day I did - ending my 2011 deer season.

Hunting Deer Scrapes Part 2 - Creating a Mock Scrape

by Mike Willand 27. September 2011 13:07
Mike Willand

As you may remember from reading my last entry “Hunting Deer Scrapes Part 1 – The planning of a Mock Scrape”, I am undoubtedly a scrape hunter. Although it seems to be a somewhat lost art in today’s modern bowhunting society I still believe it’s a tactic worth utilizing, and once used properly, can help put the odds in one’s favor. 

With the 2011 Illinois deer season just days away, I’m going to commence the second portion of this five-part blog dedicated to the scrape. If you’ve already read part one of this series then you should have already planned the location of your set-up.  Let’s begin.

Essential Scrape Building Tools:


Because scent control is my highest priority when creating a scrape I rely on the following list to help eliminate as much human scent as possible from an area already being used exclusively by the whitetail’s nose. Whenever possible, utilize the natural scent masking abilities of the rain and wet weather. While I don’t believe anyone can beat a whitetail’s nose all the time, you can fool it some of the time.

-Box of latex gloves.
-Rubber boots.
-A scent eliminating field spray.
-Scrape dripper.
-Small gardening hand rake.
-Trailcamera.
-Scrape scent.

Creating Your Mock Scrape:

Most of my mock scrapes are what I would refer to as community scrapes. They concentrate heavily on the building of long-term relations between the local deer in general. I am not a deer expert, but what I am saying is they are my attempt to make as many deer attracted to the area of the scrape as possible, thus bringing in as much of the community as achievable. This way when a buck is moving through the area, whether he’s a local or not, he should hopefully take notice of the scrape due to the already high frequency of visits by other deer to that location. To do this, I rely heavily on the licking branches. They are the key to a successful community mock scrape.

Adult does are typically the first to begin working many of my scrapes over-hanging branches when I begin these community scrapes in late summer.

I spray the overhanging branches of all my scrapes about once every seven to twelve days, beginning six to eight weeks before the season opens. The idea here is to get the local adult does interested in the scrape. Although beginning a scrape this early is not always possible due to time constraints, it’s what I try to do from the very start.

I do not even begin to work the actual scrape itself until sometime in late September or very early October. It’s at this time I believe that many of the surrounding area bucks begin to branch out - settling into smaller autumn core areas which are often nearer doe groups as they await the first signs of does coming into estrus. This is also the timeframe when testosterone levels are soaring, causing once-friendly bachelor groups to break out into conflict, resulting in a greater frequency of rubs and scrapes that literally seem to appear overnight.

When I do begin to paw out the dirt for my scrape, I use an old gardening rake that fits right in the palm of my hand. I typically spray the rakes with the synthetic formula made by Tink’s Power Scrape and begin to rake two or three small diameter semi-circles within inches or feet of each other. It’s important that each one of these scrapes is directly below the licking branch or branches.

Using a small gardening rake I begin to start the actual scrape just after I believe the majority of bucks to be out of velvet.

Because two of my three scrapes cannot be accessed from a water source (something I discussed in my last blog “Hunting Deer Scrapes Part 1 – The planning of a Mock Scrape”) I am using for the first time ever the NEW Tink’s Scrape Bomb Scrape Dripper. This Scrape Dripper is designed to respond to temperature and barometric pressure so it only releases scent during daylight hours. It’s also supposed to work very efficiently, sometimes lasting two to three weeks between visits, which allows the hunter to set out multiple mock scrapes without excessive visiting maintenance. This is important when trying to manipulate deer movement. Nothing will lessen your mock scrape’s success more than too much human scent at the actual site of the scrape.

As part of a suggestion from another hunter I look to for advice on all things scrape related, this season I am implementing the use of a scrape dripper like the one showed above made by the good peaople at Tink's.

I am placing the Tink’s Scrape Drippers just high enough for a man to reach and hopefully too high for a deer. I’m doing this for two reasons. The first and foremost is scent. The dripping bottle will get the brunt of my scent each time I refresh the dripper even while wearing latex gloves; keeping it at eight or nine feet only lessens the chance the deer’s nose will ever get close enough to really examine it. The second reason is the higher container will hopefully let the scent from the dripper reach further distances if a nomadic buck looking for love wanders through some time during the season. While it’s a long shot I know, I believe in always stacking the odds in my favor as much as possible. If nothing else, a higher dripper placed above the licking branches will eventually also drip on those limbs, thus creating the further effect of a whitetail hitting both the branches and the scrape on a regular basis.

Justin showing us just how high I am placing the scrape dripper, and noticeably directly above the licking branches.

Choosing a Scent:

The scent you choose for your scrape should be decided by the season’s timing. It would make no sense to begin dashing in doe estrus urine in August just as it would make no sense using dominant buck urine in January. Utilize common sense. Most every manufacturer lists the best times to use their product throughout the year. I choose the Tink’s products on the actual scrape itself because they are simple, easy to purchase and use, and effective.

For the licking branches I have tried several different manufacturers over the years and not generally noticed all that much of a difference between specific brands. I will let you know as I do when a specific manufacturer produces a specific licking branch (forehead gland) scent that I believe is a must-have for any mock scrape hunter. I will be testing between two different brands again this season.

Setting up a Trailcamera:

I am always weary when setting a trailcamera on a scrape of any kind unless it’s on an open field I know won’t be visited except at night. The reason being, trailcameras just add too much scent and commotion to an area, bringing too much attention to the hunter. I typically place them on a trail leading into the scrape rather than over the scrape itself, but if you must, make sure the utmost scent control is followed, don’t check your camera as often, and spray down even when using gloves. There is no sense going to all this trouble if all you’re going to do is let the deer know you’re there.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my Mock Scrape blog when I will be dissecting the trailcam pictures, or lack thereof, from each of my scrape set-ups. Hopefully explaining what I believe to be the reasons they did or did not have success. Who knows, with the season just days away, I may even have a buck down before then. Wish me luck!

Hunting Deer Scrapes Part 1 - The Planning of a Mock-Scrape

by Mike Willand 13. April 2011 14:39
Mike Willand

I must confess that I am a scrape hunter. A strategy, it seems, that is no longer as popular amongst my hunting peers as it once was a decade ago. Perhaps it’s because we hardly ever see hunters hunting over them in our magazines or on our television sets anymore. Or perhaps it’s because so many of us have failed while hunting them in general, deciding instead that they’re better left for our trailcameras.

Whatever the reason, I am going to try and revive the lost art and point out how effective they can be when hunted and/or prepared with careful consideration. I’ve had my fair share of failures over the years.  With each one however, I’ve learned valuable lessons that have helped me get on top of some great deer too. Including 2009, when I was able to take two P&Y whitetail from the same tree, over-looking the same mock-scrape.

This is where I’ll begin, a five part series that I am hoping will lead to not only the demise of another solid buck by myself in the fall of 2011 over a scrape (whether natural or manufactured), but also in giving other hunters a quick glimpse into this world as I see it.

I realize you may be thinking that it’s a bit early to be thinking about scrapes. I don’t think it is truthfully. It’s never too early to develop the plan you’re going to implement this fall. Mock-scrapes, which is what this blog is about, first begin with a plan and that’s what I’m hoping to give you with this blog.

Part 1 – Planning a location for a mock-scrape.

The “idea” behind the making of a mock-scrape.

I believe this is the most over-looked aspect of mock-scrape design and often their greatest design flaw. It’s important to understand that these scrapes should never be expected to perform a miracle, attracting bucks during daylight hours from lengthy distances away. They simply will not do this. They’re not going to surrender the survival methods of an older buck. He will not just throw all caution to the wind and run to your scrape. The “idea” is to up your odds while in a treestand. The “idea” is to pull the buck in your direction more often than allowing them to walk another trail which may (and often does) take them out of bow range. Your “idea”, as I believe, is to simply give him a chance to hunt you. Whereby, he seeks your position out because it offers him communication with other deer through scent being left behind in the scrape, but is really not that far off course from where he would naturally be traveling to or bedding anyway.

This is the essential aspect of a mock-scrape, allowing a buck to hunt you as if he were really hunting other bucks for hierarchy and other does for greater lovin’ potential. Doing all of this without really taking the buck too far off his secluded path in which he feels great comfort traveling in. It’s almost as if you are making him believe that he, himself, has better odds of breeding by visiting your scrape. And all along you are just trying to up your odds by giving him the opportunity to visit yours.

These are my interpretations of what building a mock-scrape should be and this is the only way I know how to make them work. Understand the “idea” of a mock-scrape and I promise you better success.

What You’ll Need – Location, A Licking Branch, Entry/Exit.

What I’ve learned over the years of hunting and creating mock-scrapes is that you always need three things to come together. The first is location. It’s not enough to just create a mock-scrape where a deer will never know you exist (a strategy I’ll talk about further into this blog) the deer must want to exist where you’re making the scrape. For example, creating one in an area where the deer are unlikely to visit in daylight, like the edge of an Ag field easily viewable from a road, is not a good location. Either are most locations where it’s easier for you, the hunter.

A whitetail buck of the caliber most of us seek (greater than 3 or 4 years old) will not venture out into the open. Bucks of this age seek survival above all else and one of the ways they do this is by holding tight to thicker cover. You need to do the same. You must be where a buck feels comfortable in daylight hours to shoot a buck in daylight hours. A simple and basic piece of information I know, but one I observe is so easily forgotten by other hunters - ultimately leading to frustration as their scrapes are not visited during legal hours. Holding tight to cover has helped me raise my odds significantly.


The Licking Branch.

In its simplest explanation, the licking branch is a small tree limb or group of limbs that extend out, often exactly over the actual scrape itself. It is this limb’s importance I wish to talk about. This branch is, without question, just as important to your mock-scrape as location. It’s this branch that will be visited more than your scrape ever will, so it is absolutely vital you plan your scrape with one above it.

Broken limbs that hang out over a scrape are often referred to as a liking branch.

As I look back on countless numbers of trailcamera pictures I have of bucks visiting my mock-scrapes over the years, it is this branch that receives the most amount of attention. Bucks come and go, and only a few times will they stop to paw at the ground, nearly every time, however, they will stop to hit that licking branch.

Female deer almost never paw. They will however, hit that licking branch. Science knows very little about this branch and its importance to the whitetails themselves, but that is of little consequence to myself anyway. I know it’s important as I have hundreds of photos to prove it. I believe this is an essential part of the creation and success of your scrape. Make sure you have one and make sure you are treating it with the same regard and care that you are giving the scrape itself.

I believe licking branches to be just as important to mock-scrape creation as the actual scrape itself.

A plan for solid Entry/Exit into your scrape.

We can all agree that entry and exit to and from your treestand are the cornerstones to many of our own successes over the years. You can’t escape this phenomenon, the pros talk about it in their articles, on television, even while giving seminars. The one place I never hear it is in relation to the construction of a mock-scrape. Why this is, I shall never know.

If we stop and think about what exactly a scrape is, it can best be described as a place where whitetail gather and communicate with one another through the use of scent. So it should be no surprise to anyone when I say that the most important part of creating a mock-scrape (in my opinion) is having a sound entry/exit in which to hide as much of your human scent as possible so that a buck may never have the opportunity to dismiss the scrape as a place where a human visits. You know he’s already going to be using his nose and you need to beat it. A task that is often the demise of many of my own past mock-scrapes. That is until I began utilizing better entry/exit strategies into my set-ups and water (above any other) to my advantage.

Pond edges and other water sources are the perfect cover for a solid entry and exit plan into your mock-scrape.

Water is the life-blood of any mammal on earth and is especially vital to a buck during the breeding season.  I have never seen a good water source go unturned by a local whitetail community when it coincides with adequate cover surrounding it. This is my favorite place to lay down a mock-scrape: along the edge of a water source. The added bonus of which is an invisible entry and exit into my mock-scrape set-up by walking in the shallow edge of the water the last several yards (typically about 60 yards or more) on my way in. The odor from my wet and muddied boots seems to go unnoticed by the deer once I get out, touch up my scrape, and then disappear back the way I came.

Water edges are often deer magnets, attracting both sexes of deer during most periods of the year. Often times, multiple trails meet on their edge.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe entry and exit must always be through water when entering a mock-scrape set-up. I am just trying to convey the extremes I often go through to eliminate scent in an area I know for certain deer will be using their noses with great frequency. I once used a disked Ag field with as much success as a water source. I simply walked a good 30 yards from the tree-line in the torn field which I knew whitetail would never venture onto (no food), except to travel near the edge occasionally. It worked well - as the thick cow manure and mud that always accumulated on the soles of my boots covered my tracks into the mock-scrape set-up brilliantly. I simply just prefer water sources since they are common on just about every property I’ve ever hunted and offer the added incentive of always being visited.

The trick, in my opinion, is placing the scrape not too far away from where you will emerge from a scentless entry or exit. As in, placing a scrape another 60 yards into the woods will likely still put down a great deal of your scent as opposed to if it were only 10 yards in. I find it’s best to be within a few long strides of your entry/exit. This way you have enough time to refresh the scrape, leaving behind relatively little odor before you disappear again into that same entry/exit route.

The same goes for your treestand. By placing a mock-scrape near some sort of scent debilitating resource like a pond or creek, you also have a quick entry/exit into the stand itself- an added bonus.

Stay tuned to Bowhunting.Com as I continue Part 2 of this blog in late summer, in which I will be actually laying down three different mock-scrapes on two separate properties. Then in Part 3 I will discuss their successes and/or failures, including trail camera pictures of (hopefully) a few good bucks prior to the rut. In Part 4, I will discuss hunting non man-made scrapes (the real ones) and the qualities I look for in them. Part 5 will, if I did things right, be myself behind a scrape hunted buck. There is, of course, no guarantee.

I look forward to this five-part, semi-live blog series on hunting scrapes, and hope you’re interested in coming along for the ride.




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