Story by Bill Vaznis
Let’s face the facts. The vast majority of whitetails are shot more or less by accident. Every couple of years or so, we real-world hunters get lucky and have a buck suddenly materialize under our tree stand or pop out in front of us as we walk nonchalantly back to camp along an old logging road. We put a bullet or a broadhead through his vitals and then brag back at camp how we outwitted the king of the forest.
However, this is not always the case. I have interviewed hundreds of deer hunters over the past 30 years and have discovered that those who tag bucks year after year do so by guile and woodmanship — not happenstance. They make a habit of being in the right place at the right time by first thinking like a police investigator. They sift through all the facts at hand and then develop a killer strategy on where and how to hunt on that particular day.
Indeed, to consistently tag mature bucks, you must not only interpret available deer sign accurately, you must also pay close attention to wind direction, scent control, air temperature, leaf drop, ground conditions, snow depth, cloud cover, emerging new food sources, stages of the rut, stand location, hunting pressure and a host of other factors.
Here’s one scenario to help you think like a CSI pro:
The Scrape-Line Monster
You have not been seeing many deer lately, so you decide to take the long way back to your truck and do some scouting after the morning hunt. You cruise along the edge aof a 10-year-old clear-cut where you find a fresh scrape line, all torn to bits.
There are wrist-sized fresh rubs on the edge of the cut and plenty of over-sized tracks in the soft earth nearby. Your hear really starts thumping when you discover there is one very large print in the middle of the scrape, facing east. However, it is the licking branch that really grabs your attention. It is nearly an inch in diameter, and the last few inches are twisted and appear to have been chewed on.
It is obvious that the buck has been working this line of scrapes regularly for several days now, and since the forest duff has been tossed uphill, it appears the buck is bedding on the hardwood ridges to the west just above the cut.
What should you do?
A. Pull your tree stand after this evening’s hunt and set it up before first light downwind of the scrape line.
B. Check the scrape line after tomorrow’s hunt. If it has been freshened again, set up your stand to hunt that evening.
C. The buck has been hitting the scrape line regularly so you have plenty of time to make a decision. Check it again tomorrow and if it has been freshened, plan on hunting it next weekend. This will give you ample time to select a good stand site and clear any necessary shooting lanes.
D. Forget about returning to your truck for lunch. Go back to your tree stand, pull it down and set it up down- or crosswind to the scrape line. Plan on hunting over that scrape line this evening.
A. You want to hunt over that scrape line as soon as possible, but not the next morning. This scrape line was laid down by a buck in the evening, as evidenced in part by its close proximity to his probably bedding area, and the direction the forest duff was tossed. Nearby rubs should help confirm this for you. The direction the track is facing in the scrape is not a reliable indicator of direction of travel. Bucks will often walk around the scrape before continuing on down the line.
B. You just checked the scrape line and found it to be fresh. You want to hunt over it in the evening, that’s true, but why wait until tomorrow?
C. You want to refrain from cutting shooting lanes. Any disturbance around the scrape line is likely to be noticed by an ever alert buck. Hacking brush and dragging it away not only disturbs the scene, but it also helps spread your scent around.
Keep in mind that unless that scrape line crosses a doe run that connects a feeding area preferred by family groups of does and fawns to a doe bedding area, scrape lines are hot for only about 10 days. Once the rut kicks into high gear, scrape lines generally serve no logical purpose to a buck and are thus abandoned at least until the tail end of the rut. Thus, waiting until next weekend is out of the question. The scrape line could very well be abandoned by then.
D. Best answer. The time to be on board is the very next time you expect that buck to make a showing, and all evidence points to the fact that the buck is working the scrape line in the evening. This scrape line is in fact smoking hot — pull your stand now and hunt from it this evening!
Most hunters know the rut is an important time to be in the woods, but do you truly understand how to hunt during deer hunting’s primetime?
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