September 22, 2010
By Don Higgins
During the summer of 2006, I had a chance to meet Bobby Worthington at an event we were both doing at Buckstop Archery near Brownstown, Illinois. Like many other avid whitetail hunters, I had become familiar with Bobby's success in hunting mature whitetails through the pages of North American Whitetail. However, after talking with him in person, I gained a new respect for what he has accomplished and how he has done it.
It became obvious to me that Bobby is not simply a good hunter seeking recognition and fame for his success. Instead, Bobby is a great hunter that recognition and fame somehow found. His humbleness was refreshing. As soon as I realized that I was talking to someone who very likely could offer me information that might take my hunting to another level, believe me, I was all ears!
A couple of days after our initial meeting, Bobby spent some time at my home. Thus I was privileged to glean several more hours of whitetail knowledge from this gifted hunter. After our meeting, Bobby and I shared a number of phone conversations. It seemed that every time we talked, he would bring up the subject of mock scrapes. I became intrigued and tried to open my mind to the potential that this tactic might offer a serious trophy whitetail hunter.
As already mentioned, I'm not trying to insinuate that mock scrapes are a new idea. I remember reading about this tactic back in the early 1980s, and I'm sure it goes back way beyond that period. However, I had always shunned the idea of using mock scrapes for several reasons. First, I believed that any mature buck investigating such a setup would be on full alert. I also concluded that creating a mock scrape would almost certainly contaminate the area with human scent.
I have long avoided moving about the areas near my stands where I expect deer activity to take place. I believed that waltzing into such an area and laying out scent went against everything that had contributed to my past successes. On top of that, I was sure that a mature buck could tell the difference between real deer odors and any foreign deer scents that had been introduced into the area.
SECOND-GUESSING A MATURE BUCK
As Bobby enlightened me with his experience regarding mock scrapes, I was full of questions. I soon realized that not only was he taking a slightly different approach, but he had a few new twists to bring to the table, or deer woods, as well. Bobby doesn't make a mock scrape expecting to bring bucks in from far and wide to check out the new buck on the block. Instead, he creates mock scrapes near his stand sites with a couple of definite purposes.
As most trophy hunters know, mature bucks do not always follow a beaten path. Instead, they often drift through a rather wide travel corridor. Bobby's experience seems to show that a buck traveling through such a location is likely to check out a scrape located nearby. In a sense, the buck is not necessarily coming in just to check out the scrape, but since he is passing nearby anyway, he will come in to investigate -- mostly out of convenience.
The advantage is obvious for a hunter who is unable to cover every option within a travel corridor. By pulling nearly every buck traveling through an area to an exact spot, you can cover a much wider area, even with a limited-range weapon such as a bow. On top of that, Bobby places his scrapes exactly where he wants a buck to be standing for a shot.
This much I understood and accepted. It made perfect sense, but I still had plenty of questions. How does one go about creating scrapes that the bucks will actually use? And how does one do so without leaving behind any human scent, thus doing more harm than good? Surely this tactic was only applicable in certain situations, I thought. Or could it have universal applications?
IT AIN'T ROCKET SCIENCE!
Bobby claims that he can create a mock scrape almost anywhere. The key is the overhead branch, and Bobby has no problem creating one where none are available. He often uses wire or nails to hang a branch at the proper height from a tree or fence post or whatever happens to be handy.
The thing I found most surprising is that bucks seem to prefer a dead branch with the end about as big around as your thumb. At least, that's what Bobby's experience has consistently indicated. And after thinking about it, I actually recalled seeing a number of deer scrapes created under dead branches.
Later on, I started discussing the conversations I'd had with Bobby concerning mock scrapes with another good friend, Brent VanHoveln. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Brent killed the largest whitetail in North America with a bow in October 2005.
It was taken in McClean County, Illinois, and it scored 229€‚2/8 non-typical P&Y points.
To my great surprise, Brent told me that he has also used mock scrapes with some success. Furthermore, he has his own twist to add to the issue involving the use of an overhead branch. In the area of Illinois where Brent and I live, the woodlands are mainly composed of deciduous hardwoods. Pines and other conifers are for the most part not native to our area. However, anyone who lives in this area and has planted pines for wildlife cover or even in the yard can attest to the fact that whitetails love to rub and eat them.
As a tree farmer myself, I've learned that whitetails certainly prefer to rub on certain species of trees. Pines, cedars and bald cypress are always the hardest-hit species in my tree nursery. I believe this preference is due to the aromatic qualities of some species, and Brent has found a way to make this whitetail preference work in his favor. How? He'll simply hang a branch from a pine or cedar tree on the overhead licking branch above one of his mock scrapes.
If a good branch is already available at the location where Brent wants to put a scrape, he'll simply wire a pine or cedar branch onto it. If such a branch does not exist, he will bring in his own large pine or cedar branch to create the necessary overhead licking branch. Brent has hundreds of trail camera photos to prove that his little trick works!
STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH
Once again, one of my primary reasons for not using mock scrapes in the past was my great concern about leaving human scent in the area. However, in addition to the obvious step of wearing rubber gloves, Bobby let me in on another one of his secrets. Now let me say right here that I am not one for promoting products that I don't believe in or use myself. Money can't make me promote something I don't believe in.
With that said, I feel compelled to mention a product that Bobby introduced me to.
During one of our conversations when I was asking him about scent control around mock scrapes, Bobby told me about Elimitrax. Elimitrax is a glove-like over-boot product that is worn over the foot and leg to contain odor. I skeptically asked Bobby why this product was any better than rubber boots, and he explained that it was the material the product was made from.
"A new pair of rubber boots gives off an odor that is detectable to even the human nose," Bobby said. "This is due to the chemical makeup of the materials that rubber boots are made from. However, the Elimitrax over-boot system is made from a formula of materials that is odorless."
FOOLING A DOG'S NOSE€‚.€‚.€‚.
I'm sure Bobby could still sense my skepticism as he explained this to me. So he went on to tell me how he tested the over-boot's effectiveness. Bobby works at a prison where a pack of bloodhounds are kept to track down escapees in the event of an escape.
One day Bobby took his Elimitrax over-boots to work and tested them against the keen noses of the bloodhounds. After putting them on, he headed for a wooded area beyond the prison and instructed a co-worker to give him a head start before bringing on the bloodhounds.
Bobby had barely gotten out of sight when he heard the bloodhounds howling. He circled around to a spot where he could watch them try to pick up his trail. To his amazement, they were unable to track him, even though the trail was only minutes old. He was convinced right then and there of the product's potential. Now, so am I.
Keeping human disturbances to a minimum starts with scent control but also entails limiting human intrusion into an area. I asked Bobby how he kept his scrapes scented without burning out the area with his constant visits, and he told me about another product that he uses.
DeerDirt is a scented waterproof dirt that was developed and patented by a long-line Montana trapper who needed a way to treat dirt to make it waterproof and thus keep his trap sets from freezing. By adding a deer scent to the process, the result is "scented" dirt that repels water and stays potent for weeks -- even through wet weather. It is the perfect product for creating and maintaining mock scrapes.
PROOF IN THE PUDDING
To this point, I have given you the basics on the "hows" and "whys" of utilizing mock scrapes. That is not enough for me, however. I always try to give real life examples in my articles that prove the worth of my subject, and that is a path I will continue to take.
I don't jump on every idea or product that I hear about, even when the information comes from people I respect like Bobby Worthington and Brent VanHoveln. I have to try it myself and see real results and believe in what I am saying. With this approach in mind, I set out last season to make my own conclusions regarding mock scrapes and the information that Bobby and Brent had shared with me.
My first test took place during the first week of October, a full month before the rut. I was still skeptical enough that I wasn't going to rush out and make mock scrapes around my stands just yet. What I did do was create a mock scrape under a single tree that stood alone in a field nearly 300 yards from any woods. I wasn't about to mess up my hunting areas, so I played it safe out in this open area and I did it a month before the rut. To get an honest assessment of the results, I placed an infrared trail camera over my newly created mock scrape.
When I returned 10 days later to retrieve the flash card from the digital camera, I was astounded! It was obvious that the scrape had seen a lot of deer activity, so I hurried home to see the proof. During the first five days after the scrape was made, I got 156 photos of more than 10 different bucks! Two of those bucks were mature animals that would easily score over 150 inches, and both of those bucks had made multiple visits to the scrape over several days.
I was so intrigued that I left the camera on this scrape and freshened it with DeerDirt only one time during the next three months until the end of December. Deer activity continued to be strong on the scrape throughout the rut before eventually tailing off in early December, the same time that natural scrapes were also going dead. The mature bucks continued to hit the scrape from time to time. The last visit from either of them took place on Dec. 5.
TIME FOR A NEW STRATEGY?
I have enjoyed some good success with my low-impact approach to hunting mature bucks, but 156 pictures from one mock scrape over five days had me rethinking things.
Good deer hunters must remain students hungry for more knowledge rather than becoming complacent know-it-alls, and with that in mind I have always tried to remain open-minded. Armed with my first-hand knowledge of the possibilities involving mock scrapes, I still didn't run out and make them under all of my stands. But I did make a few more in strategic locations.
One of them happened to be the one that the buck I killed last season visited two mornings in a row, including the
morning I tagged him. I'd like to share one more story from last season that shows another use for mock scrapes.
In mid-December a friend of mine told me that he had seen a monster buck near a small woodlot on two separate evenings within the previous week. From his description, I knew that I needed to investigate further. After getting permission to hunt the woodlot, I went in to hang a scouting camera and see what the buck really looked like.
The woodlot was flat with very little terrain or cover features to funnel deer movement. In other words, there was no good place to hang the camera and have reasonable expectations of getting a photo of the buck. But remembering that I had a package of DeerDirt in the truck, I got it and created a mock scrape to increase my chances of getting a good photo of the buck.
When I had the film developed, it contained four photos of the big buck, all taken the same day but hours apart on visits to the scrape. There were also photos of several other deer. In the first photo, the mature buck had his nose buried right in the scrape. It became obvious to me that mock scrapes are not only good for drawing bucks closer to a stand, but they're also invaluable when used in conjunction with trail cameras to assess the buck herd in an area.
I doubt if I'll ever have a mock scrape near every one of my best stands, but this is definitely a tactic that I'll be using more in the future. In one season I saw firsthand the potential that this tactic has. Besides, if it worked so well for guys like Bobby Worthington and Brent VanHoveln, with their track records, who am I to argue?