By Cody Altizer
Location, location, location. If you have any, or all of those three, more times than not, you’re going to have a crack at a mature whitetail. If I were to rank them in order of importance, I would put location number 1, location second, and last and certainly not least, location. In all seriousness, though, deer hunting is all about location. If you’re on good ground, you’re odds increase exponentially.
I am very fortunate in that I have the ability to manipulate my property’s habitat and make it suitable for whitetails. I can plant clover, alfalfa and oats for a food source. I can hinge cut trees for added cover and browse. I can plant Egyptian Wheat to shield deer from my presence, or grain sorghum to funnel them past my stand. Many hunters, though, aren’t as fortunate as I am. Time, money, access, or a number of other factors can prevent a deer hunter from making his property better than his neighbors from a management standpoint. There is, however, another way to pull bucks onto your property during the hunting season. It’s easy, cheap, and effective. Mock scrapes.
I’m a very firm believer in mock scrapes, and have been “building” them for about 5 years. I remember in 2007 when I walked into the woods in an area I knew a mature buck was using, kicked out some leaves wearing tennis shoes, peed in the ground, and thought I was going to kill that buck. Surprisingly, I did not. Each year since then I’ve learned more and more about mock scrapes and, while I have not killed a deer with them, I have used them to keep a buck on my property longer and created a sense of intrusion that piques a buck’s curiosity.
There are several different ways to build a mock scrape, and each hunter should take his or her situation into consideration before building one. I’ll just describe what has worked for me.
Sometime during the end of August, or into September, is when I decide to build my mock scrapes. I’ve read and heard of other hunters building theirs as early as July and enjoyed success, but that’s not the case for me. Late August, early September is usually when a buck begins to peel his velvet, break off from his bachelor groups, and grow more and more intolerant of other bucks. In short, his testosterone is rising. It’s nowhere near peaking yet, but he’s getting a little antsy. Light sparring usually occurs at this time, and a social pecking order is quickly established. It’s also during this time that I’ve found mature bucks start expanding, or shifting, back to their fall home range. This is a great time to create a sense of intrusion that there is another mature buck in a buck’s core area.
I’ve tried commercial scents in the past, but with horrible results. Keep in mind, I hunt in an area that receives a lot of pressure and am surrounded by very sloppy hunters. I’ve talked with neighbors after the season who couldn’t figure out why they didn’t shoot a big buck after they sprayed a whole bottle of mock scrape starter under their stand. Deer pick up on these things very quickly. While my neighbors are sloppily pouring out deer lures, scents, and attractants left and right, I prefer to let a mock scrape, just become a natural scrape. This process is very simple.
First, I make sure I am as scent free as possible. This means wearing rubber gloves, rubber boots, dousing down with a scent eliminator, and wearing clothes you would feel comfortable hunting with. Chris Eberhart has penned a couple great blogs on scent control right here on W2H. I recommend you read them.
The next step is location. I want to build a mock scrape in area that’s suitable for hunting, should I decide to hunt over one of my mocks, but more importantly, I want it to be in area I know bucks will frequent. Field edges are great, just a little inside the timber off a field edge is great if you intend on hunting over the mock scrape.
Finally, I take a rake that’s been sprayed with scent eliminator, and clear out the leaf matter in the forest floor. The next and most important step is the licking branch. It’s best to make your scrape under a tree that has a suitable licking branch (4-6 ft.), but if none exist I’ve broken off a licking branch and used zip tie to fix up my own and achieved the same effect. If your mock scrape does not have a licking branch, it won’t experience the same activity it would otherwise.
The next step is up to you. Again, if you believe in commercial scents, then by all means use them. I know on my property they do not work. Just last year I suggested my brother spray a popular mock scrape scent in one of my mocks on his way to the stand on an afternoon bow hunt. My brother is no slouch either when it comes to hunting. He gets it. Extreme scent control, rubber boots on this particular hunt, rubber gloves, even approach the scrape from downwind. He gave the mock a couple pumps of spray and got in his stand anxious for the afternoon’s hunt. It was late October and the scent could have been just enough to coax in a buck or stop a doe long enough for a shot. Later in the afternoon a nice doe was walking the trail in which the mock scrape was positioned. Right before she got the scrape she locked up, stared right at the ground, took a couple sniffs and blew out of there. Hunt ruined. Confidence in commercial scents shattered. Enough of my rant.
Anyway, it’s up to you. If you’ve built your mock scrape in an area that will receive a lot of deer activity, especially buck activity, then the fresh earth scent from removing the leaf litter will be enough for a buck to investigate. With the use of your properly built licking branch, it should be enough to create the illusion that a whitetail deer made this scrape. Once one deer works the scrape, others will, then in no time it’s no longer a mock scrape, but a real scrape that will be worked by does, yearling bucks and, in due time, mature bucks.
I have, however, had success with the Cody Altizer special. That is, I pee in my own scrapes. I’m a firm believer that deer aren’t alarmed by human urine. I don’t think they can tell the difference between human and deer urine, unless alcohol has been consumed. When “going” in mock scrapes, I don’t empty my bladder, because that’s not what a deer would do. I feel extremely weird writing this, which is why there are quotations around words but “going” “just enough” or “a little trickle” should be enough. When bucks urinate in scrapes, which is rare, they don’t empty their bladder. Nevertheless, the urine is just to pique a buck’s interest, the licking branch is what will keep him coming back to check and rework the scrape. It’s where the majority of the chemical information that he’s looking for is located.
Finally, you can monitor your mock scrape with trail cameras. I have mixed feelings about this, simply because the area in which I hunt is extremely pressured. I’ve captured bucks on trail camera at my mock scrapes one night, but never again. However, within a couple days, I’ve seen fresh scrapes pop up in areas around my mock scrapes that were made by the same buck captured on trail camera. My point, some mature bucks, in highly pressured areas, are wise to trail cameras and know they aren’t supposed to be there, but the sense of intrusion created by a mock scrape fires them up enough to stay in the area and create their own scrape. My advice would be this, if you intend to hunt over your scrapes, I wouldn’t monitor them with trail cameras. If you are using mock scrapes for inventory purposes, then by all means throw a trail camera up on them.
I know that was an extremely long article on a very simple topic, but mock scrapes are simple. Scent control, location, and timing; then just let the bucks do their part. Mature bucks are very difficult animals to kill, but their pride and aggressive nature, especially as fall creeps closer, makes them very vulnerable. A properly built mock scrape could be just enough to tip the odds in your favor.
– Cody Altizer