When considering whitetail hunting tactics, realize that even when you do everything right, there’s no guarantee of success. This is a concept that fishermen — as a group — accept more than deer hunters. Across the North, for example, the muskie is known as “the fish of 10,000 casts.” When it comes to killing a mature buck off a scrape – mock or otherwise – consider adopting that mind-set. Here’s a look at the good, bad and ugly when it comes to making mock scrapes.
Several factors, some of which you can’t control, must align if you’re to put a broadhead through a buck’s chest while it visits your doctored scrape. First, if you’re hunting an area that’s dominated by yearling bucks, don’t expect miracles.
“If you don’t have some big, mature bucks running around, you’ll have a hard time,” said John Ozoga, Michigan’s veteran deer researcher. “Those little bucks really don’t know what’s going on.”
Second, realize scraping activity seldom occurs in daylight. Whether you talk to Dr. Grant Woods of Woods and Associates; Ben Koerth, a research associate at Stephen F. Austin University; or Karen Alexy, a Kentucky biologist who studied scraping behavior at the University of Georgia, at least 85 percent of scrape activity monitored by research cameras occurs in darkness.
So, what to do? Alexy said her research indicates hunters are best off hunting back in the woods along trails leading to scrapes. The idea, of course, is catch bucks approaching or leaving scrapes at the edge of day.
Also, concentrate your mock scrapes in staging areas that provide good cover near openings. Ideally, the cover will feature a dense canopy and little undergrowth, but be bordered by dense undergrowth and terrain that provides travel security.
“Deer loiter under that dense overstory, and they scrape where the understory is fairly flat and open,” Ozoga said. “You want leaf litter, no dense grass, easily exposed dirt, and little underbrush. And it must be along travel routes. The more deer activity, the better. You can’t draw deer to a scrape unless they’re going that direction anyway.”
Researchers also agree with one of Ozoga’s tenets: A scrape is nothing without a licking branch. If you find a likely site for mock scrapes, but it lacks a natural licking branch, make your own. Ozoga suggests cutting maple branches, tying them head-high or higher in a tree, and then bending them into position like a fishing pole so the branch tips are about 5 feet above the scrape. Or, take the branch and tie or jam it into the tree’s lower branches or crotches so its tips point straight toward the ground, much like a broken limb would hang. To finish the overhanging branch, twist or snap off the tips. Make it look like deer have been working it.
Will doctoring mock scrapes with scents attract more bucks? Yes, but again, don’t expect miracles. As U-Georgia Professor Karl V. Miller says, deer urinate everywhere they walk, so they constantly encounter these odors. It’s not as simple as putting out beetle or cockroach traps and watching them summon unsuspecting bugs.
Koerth’s research makes him believe curiosity is what stops bucks at scrapes. He found that human urine, “new-car” scent spray, estrous scents and buck urine all worked equally well as attractants.
“It’s important to use scents,” Koerth said. “We had more luck getting deer to visit a scrape if we used scents. Using a scrape alone or a scent alone attracted few deer. But, essentially, all scents we tried in scrapes attracted deer. It’s important to provide visual and olfactory stimuli, almost like using magnum decoys for waterfowl.”
Woods tends to think that one of whitetail’s favorite odor might be the soil itself.
“When you scratch up fresh dirt, that scent lingers awhile,” Woods said. “And really, in the deer woods, freshly pawed dirt is fairly uncommon. It’s usually associated with food or scrapes. Maybe it makes them curious. The same goes for broken branches. When bucks mouth and rack that overhanging limb, they break its twigs and bark, which produces scents that linger.”
“In our research, our cameras seldom took consecutive pictures of a buck,” Koerth said. “They didn’t hang around long, and few of them were photographed more than once. It seemed the scents elicited a curiosity behavior, but once bucks deemed there was nothing stimulating or threatening, they checked those scrapes off their list and didn’t bother with them anymore.”
Besides working on a buck’s curiosity, mock scrapes can serve another important function.
“If a buck comes by in daylight, a mock scrape can get him to stop,” Koerth said. “Hopefully, he’ll stop where you want him, and position him for a good shot.”
There’s one more important factor to consider with mock scrapes, which researchers don’t address: they’re interesting. Although bucks seldom visit scrapes in daylight, it’s still fun to monitor them for activity and study tracks left by those nocturnal bucks.
All of us can find far less fascinating ways to spend time in the deer woods.
Tips for Making Mock Scrapes
Wear Gloves – Be sure to wear scent-free gloves as you make your mock scrape to avoid leaving human odor at the site.
Keep it Fresh – As mentioned above, the smell of fresh turned dirt is attractive to deer. The urine, or other attractant you use, should also be kept fresh. Deer tend to spook on the smell of old or stale attractants. Use the best, and freshest products you can.
Use Dispensers that Promote Return/Daytime Visits – Products like the Tink’s Dial-a-Dripper and the Tink’s Scrape Dripper help promote return visits by the local bucks by continuing to dispense scent long after you leave the woods. The Dial-a-Dripper screws directly onto any 4 oz. bottle of Tink’s. The product allows you to dial in the drip rate for fast or slower dispensing.
Anchor Your Dispenser – Deer can, and will, haul off your dripper if you don’t securely have it in place. They’ll hook it with their head, horns, and even mouth it. Disappearing dispensers are not uncommon. Be sure you tie yours to the limb in such a way that it can’t come untied or slid off the branch.
Make Mocks Along High Traffic Areas – Scrapes are a communication tool for whitetail deer. They’ll be found along high traffic trails or field edges. Determine how your deer move before placing your mock scrape.
Be sure to check out the complete line of mock scrape making products from Tink’s, as well as their other attractants and lures designed to bring your deer closer – www.tinks.com.