“What they do seem to care about is the scent from other whitetails….”
By Oak Duke
So far this bow season I’ve been having a ball in my hunting areas, driving bucks crazy as usual.
The deer there evidently think another buck is invading their territory because I have been zip-tying overhanging branches, sniped off another buck’s scrape, right into the resident buck’s wheelhouse.
Everybody wonders what’s up when a newcomer moves next door.
Whitetails are no different.
SD cards pulled from trail cameras mounted at mock scrapes with zip-tied overhanging branches are filled with photos of bucks and does posting their biochemical calling cards, there on the branches, day and night, meeting and greeting the new buck on the block in the olfactory way of the whitetail deer.
The mysterious and vast series of scrapes and buck rubs in the woods, scattered along the region’s deer trails is the whitetail’s internet, their social media, Facebook, a phrase I coined almost 20 ago years now.
There, whitetails communicate by passing pheromones and biochemical messages to one another. And they can’t seem to resist going back, especially when a strange buck or doe scent is taken from another scrape and then magically appears at their scrape!
What happens at the scrape site is key to the timing and understanding of the annual rut cycle as wild whitetails synchronize their internal breeding clocks there.
Trail cameras have literally shed light on what really happens at the whitetail scrape.
Most of the time, deer (bucks and does) leave their olfactory-based calling cards on the overhanging branch and actually, not so much as one would surmise, the more visually obvious ground scrape.
It may seem a bit heretical, and out-of-the-box thinking, but thousands of photos and video clips make it very clear, proof that whitetails paw the ground under the overhanging branch as almost an afterthought in the ritual of the scrape.
The vast majority of the time spent at the scrape, by both bucks and does is chewing, nuzzling, and licking the overhanging branch.
The ground scrape, the muddy spot on the forest floor, that gets a deer hunter’s heart pounding, is obvious to us as humans.
And when we see the overhanging branch, it visually appears much less obvious than the big cleaned off patch of dirt.
But to whitetails, which are much more tuned to the olfactory world of scents, it’s really much more about the overhanging branch.
The ground scrape appears to be more of an afterthought, incidental to the biochemical messaging at the scrape.
Actually, much of the scent that whitetails at scrapes seem to enjoy is the drool or saliva that drips off the licking branch and falls on the forest floor.
Rutting bucks drool almost constantly.
I experimented with this fact many years ago by swabbing out the mouth of rutting does with cotton balls and zip-tying them to the overhanging branch above the scrape.
As expected, it drove the bucks even crazier…but when they licked the cotton balls enough that they fell off the branch, bucks continued to lick the cotton ball on the ground in the muddy scrape.
This is my 15th year of sniping overhanging branches and zip-tying them to mock scrapes near my stands.
I’ve killed bucks over zip-tied scrapes and passed countless others.
It astounds me that so few other deer hunters have not taken advantage of this lethal technique to bring a whitetail into range.
The incidence of bucks coming into my stands has never been higher, and I attribute it to the interest created at the mock scrape, not so much with urine-based lures, but for the most part with real zip-tied overhanging branches.
Finding scrapes with their overhanging branches to clip and move is fun and a great way to scout and keep tabs on the progress of the rut in other locations.
I have a couple areas that produce great scrapes and heavily used licking branches, but are un-huntable because of their close proximity to houses, barns, etc.
Both bucks and does are regular scrape/overhanging branch visitors, biochemically interacting at the scrape.
So I take a clean plastic kitchen garbage bag, put it over the overhanging branch, and then snip it off using pruning shears, or a utility knife.
Scrape after scrape is “harvested” in this same way.
Once the bag is filled, it is time to go to my stand sites and augment the mock scrapes there.
The more the merrier.
Some of my overhanging branches at scrapes look like zip-tied bouquets.
Just take a small plastic cable tie, (zip-tie) and attach the recently clipped overhanging branch to the branch above the scrape.
It evidently matters little if the species of tree or bush is different. I have apple tree twigs and branches at beech brush scrapes, buckthorn branches at honeysuckle scrapes, beech branches zip-tied to hemlock trees.
Deer do not seem to notice or care that there is an incongruity in tree species.
What they do seem to care about is the scent from other whitetails there.
And right now, in late October through early November is a great time to create mock scrapes by zip-tying overhanging branches as the major peak in the whitetail rut is happening, hitting us like a behavioral tsunami in the Northeast and Midwest.
Oak Duke /October 2023
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