September 22, 2010
By Don Higgins
Making and using mock scrapes to attract bucks is a technique that is as old as dirt. Add a few new twists to this method, however, and you may see some startling results.
By Don Higgins
The author watched this beautiful 11-pointer work a mock scrape for two mornings in a row before finally getting an opportunity for a shot on Nov. 10, 2006. The 155-class brute was 4 1/2 years old.
Photo by Don Higgins.
I thought it odd that the doe working her way through the cover in front of my stand was alone. The date was Nov. 9, and since she didn't have a buck immediately trailing her, she should have had a fawn or two in close proximity. After browsing on vegetation near my stand for several minutes, she became alert and focused on the thicket behind her. Almost immediately, a 2 1/2-year-old 8-point buck burst from the cover, and the chase was on. I enjoyed the show as the pair made a loop past my stand and then angled away toward the cover north of my position.
A half-hour later, I had forgotten about the doe and her would-be boyfriend when I saw what looked to be a mature buck on a field edge a little over 100 yards from where I sat. Ironically, he was within 20 yards of a tree holding another one of my tree stands. Because of the wind direction that morning, I could not use that stand, so I was forced to sit elsewhere. I watched through binoculars as he entered the cover and stopped to investigate a mock scrape that I had positioned within shooting range of that unoccupied stand.
As he raised his head from the scrape, I focused my binoculars and instantly recognized him, because of a forked G-2 tine on his right side, as the dominant buck in the area and the buck I was after. As he stood near the scrape, I realized that he had two likely travel options as he made his way deeper into the cover. One path would take him in my direction, but the most likely route would take him away from me. Again, wind direction had dictated where I would sit that morning, even though I knew that some of my other nearby stands had been placed in much better locations.
MAKING SOMETHING HAPPEN
I decided to try to give the buck a reason to head in my direction, and I fished around for my grunt call. All it took was a couple of notes on that call! With a slow, purposeful gait, he headed right for me. I reached over to turn on the video camera, and when I looked back at the buck, he was sniffing the ground where the young 8-point had chased the doe earlier. With his nose to the ground, he made a 90-degree turn and followed the path the other deer had taken directly away from me and into the cover. Even though I had grunted this buck to within spitting distance twice during the previous season, he wasn't about to give up a hot trail to investigate the sound.
The rest of the morning was uneventful as I sat trying to formulate a plan for the evening's hunt. I figured the doe was either in heat or close to it. I had another stand in the direction the buck had gone, but the cover in that area was limited and I figured the deer were likely bedded within it. It might seem like a simple matter of slipping into that stand for the afternoon hunt, but as is so often the case, there were issues to deal with.
To start with, the wind was border- line for that particular stand. I knew that a slight variation in wind direction could easily give me away. Even if the wind held steady, though, there was a chance that the deer could still get downwind of me. Of course, this concern all hinged on me even being able to get in the stand undetected. I figured the deer were likely bedded close to where the stand had been hung. The stand was situated on the edge of a small bedding area. I normally only hunted it during the early season when the vegetation and leaf cover allowed me to get into it without being seen.
MAKING THE PLUNGE
Something else made me consider this stand for the afternoon hunt, however. Over the years, I'd learned that when you know or suspect the location of a mature buck, you'd better get aggressive rather than be passive. He probably won't be there long, so the best choice is often to make your move even if it involves some calculated risks.
With that in mind, I started my midafternoon stalk toward the stand near the spot where I suspected the deer were bedded. I first had to cross about 400 yards of open field, hoping that any deer bedded in the cover would not see or hear me. When I pulled that off without busting any deer, I then faced the challenge of getting up the tree and into the stand undetected. The wind was calm, and that made any inadvertent noises even more noticeable. As always, my tree steps had been placed on the side of the tree away from where I expected any deer to be bedded.
Somehow I pulled it off and was soon getting the video camera and other gear ready from my perch. Within minutes a doe only 50 yards from my position stood from her bed and stretched. I was watching her through binoculars when the buck I was after also stood only a few yards from the doe. I felt that rare feeling of satisfaction that a trophy hunter gets when he makes the right call based on something he has seen vs. stumbling into a good situation through blind luck. Now, to seal the deal, all the doe had to do was lead the buck toward the winter wheat field beyond my stand.
As I sat there feeling good about myself for having gotten into position to shoot a good buck without being detected, I watched the doe lead him past my stand through heavy brush at a range of 35 yards. Getting off a shot through that thick cover was never an option. So for the second time in the same day I had to watch helplessly as the doe led this buck right under another one of my stands 100 yards away. The pair entered the field 150 yards from my position with a full hour of shooting light left. But they never came any closer as the buck followed every move the doe made through the open field.
THE RIGHT WIND
At this point you are probably thinking that it sounds like I have a stand in nearly every tree in the woods. In truth, I was hunting a 20-acre thicket that is basically an old cattle pasture with a few big oaks towering over a thick blanket of briars and saplings. I have six tree stands situated around the perimeter of this thicket in order to hunt various wind directions. While sitting in my stands in the big oaks, I can often see over the top of the brush to the areas around my other stands. While this makes it handy for keeping tabs on deer movement, it can often be frustrating when the deer are moving within range of an empty stand.
The next morning saw a welcome change in wind direction. That allowed me to hunt from the stand that the buck had passed under the evening before as he followed the doe. This also happens to be one of my favorite stands, as I had previously taken a 150-inch 5x5, as well as a 171-inch 5x5, from that location. The morning dawned foggy, just as the previous two had
been. Even with the limited visibility, I could see over the brush to the stand and mock scrape 150 yards away where the big buck had first appeared the day before.
Although conditions seemed to be perfect for deer movement, an hour after daylight I still had not spotted a single deer. I was mentally trying to account for the lack of activity when I spotted movement near the mock scrape. When the deer raised its head, I knew instantly that it was the buck I was after. I quickly switched on the video camera and prepared for action. About that time, Murphy's Law kicked into gear. Flashing red letters screamed moisture detected across the camera screen. I didn't have time to deal with it and just hit the "record" button and then focused my attention back on the buck.
At this point he was slowly walking toward some heavy cover, and it was clear he would not come close enough for a shot. Just like the morning before, I played a soft tune on the grunt call. This time the buck froze in his tracks. I then grunted a couple more notes and put the call away. That was all it took. He turned on a dime and started my way. I refocused the camera and set the lens on an opening where I expected the buck to appear, not even sure if the camera was recording the action. The buck continued coming in. Eventually he stopped right where I wanted him, giving me a 15-yard shot.
The shot went high and dropped the buck in his tracks with a hit to the spine. I quickly placed another arrow in his chest and then sat down to savor the memory of what had just taken place.
I had come to know this buck extremely well over the past two years -- in fact, probably better than any other buck I had ever hunted. I first learned of his presence when he was 2 1/2 years old. Since he had frequented the area on a regular basis, I passed on numerous shooting opportunities at him that fall and was later rewarded by finding his shed antlers the next spring while I was planting trees on the property to enhance the habitat.
The next summer I got several trail camera photos of him in velvet as he grew his third rack. That fall I again had a number of encounters with him while hunting the area. I could have shot him on six different occasions, and on three of those close encounters I was fortunate enough to get good video footage of him. The buck was only 3 1/2 then, and I wanted to give him another year to grow. The next summer I got more trail photos of him with his fourth rack. I was even lucky enough to spot him in velvet one morning as he fed in a bean field with another buck.
I was a little disappointed that his rack had not grown much from the previous year, the main differences being that he had a little more mass and a forked G-2 on his right side. Nevertheless, he was now 4 1/2 years old, and he was the dominant buck in the area. That fact drove my decision to take him if offered the opportunity. I felt certain that his antler growth would not improve much more from what it was now. What's more, if he survived another season or two, he would likely run off the local 3 1/2-year-old bucks living in the area to places where they would have a much greater chance of being killed.
Actually, I had passed on and videotaped a nice 3 1/2-year-old buck in this same area earlier in the season. That buck would have outscored this buck, and I wanted to give him every opportunity to make it to 4 1/2 so that he could reach his true potential.
Now as I sat in my stand admiring the buck I had just taken, a bit of sadness came over me as I realized that he would no longer run these woods where he had entertained and captivated me so often. As I always do after killing a mature buck, I mentally dissected the hunt for this buck to file away what had worked to tag him and what I needed to do to improve my hunting success in the future. I've found that the more you progress as a trophy hunter, the harder you have to work to get even better.
It's easy to become complacent and remain at a certain level, but trying to raise the bar requires solid dedication and a lot of hard work. My goal is to always try to start a new season as a better and more knowledgeable hunter than I was the previous season. But in order to keep making progress, you have to remain hungry for new knowledge.
As I examined the numerous hunts and many hours spent trying to take this particular buck, I noted something that told me I was onto a promising new strategy for getting mature bucks in close to my stands during daylight hours. You may remember that on two consecutive mornings this buck was in or near a mock scrape that I had positioned close to one of my stands. Now, I'm not going to claim that making and hunting over mock scrapes is a new trick. Mock scrapes have been around for years. And I fully realize that my buck was not actually killed over a mock scrape. However, I did learn a few lessons about this tactic last season which proved to me beyond a doubt that mock scrapes can be a very effective and deadly tool for trophy hunters.
I wish I could take credit for the technique involved in using this strategy, but I can't. Before the season even started last year, the idea was presented to me by two very good hunters whom I greatly respect. Both of these hunters have been in the pages of this magazine before. Furthermore, anyone who has followed my articles in North American Whitetail or read my book knows that I have never been a big fan of gadgets or gimmicks for hunting mature whitetails. I seldom use any kind of scents or attractants.
But last year was different, and what I learned last season about making mock scrapes and using this special technique was learned only after I had expressed a great deal of skepticism as to whether or not it would actually work. I started out as a total skeptic, wondering if these two hunters could really provide me with any "real world" information that would actually improve my odds of tagging a mature whitetail. In the end, the information they provided did just that!
In Part 2 of this series, I'll talk about the two special hunters who opened my eyes to this tactic and to the details they use to make it even more effective. By combining their knowledge and adding a little twist of my own, I'm astounded at the possibilities that this tactic holds for hunting mature bucks successfully. Don't miss Part 2 of "New Tricks For An Old Tactic"!
(Editor's Note: For an autographed copy of the author's informative new hardback book, Hunting Trophy Whitetails in the Real World, send a check or money order for $29 to Higgins Outdoors, Rt. 1, Box 271, Gays, IL 61928. Or order online at www.higginsoutdoors.com)