Every time my wife, Nicole, and I set up a stand in a tree or on the ground, we look for ways to make that location the best it can be. We try to enhance each stand location by making sure there are one or more calling cards available to deer.
What is a calling card? It’s some type of object or contrivance that will entice a deer to come close to your stand and offer you a shot. Because we bowhunt so much, we have to get close. A calling card can be natural or man-made, visual or airborne — such as scent. Sometimes, one calling card is all you need. Other times, it might be smart to have several.
There are many examples of calling cards: waterholes, rubs, scrapes, licking branches, small interior food plots, minerals, apple trees and other fruit bearing trees, and decoys. Nicole and I use most of these throughout the season, and we’ve had enough success to know they work.
Licking Branches and Scrapes: Natural and Manufactured
Deer have a fascination with licking branches. I think it’s safe to say that a buck walking through the woods will stop to scent-check and investigate almost any licking branch he comes across that has been used by other deer. So whenever I set up a new tree stand in a promising location, I don’t trim overhanging branches that might become potential licking branches. I always leave them where they are. I want them to become licking branches and potential scrape sites.
If there isn’t a licking branch close by, I’ll manufacture one. One way to do this is find a good branch that is too high for a deer to reach. I’ll cut it off and wire it to a tree a few yards from the tree I’m sitting in. You don’t want it to be too close. Fifteen to 20 yards is a good, safe distance. I’ll hang the limb about 4 feet off the ground so it will attract the next deer that comes along. I always go a step farther by clearing out the leaves and other litter on the ground below and making a mock scrape. I’ll often sweeten the scrape with a little deer scent.
It’s very important to make sure the limb over the scrape is green and moist. If it’s brittle and dried out, it’ll easily break off. When that happens, it kills the scrape. Sometimes, I’ll break a small limb off the licking branch, mangle it slightly and then place it in the scrape. That’s just one more visual sign for a deer to see. Now I’ve turned this spot into a calling card. These setups work extremely well along old logging roads and field edges.
Why wouldn’t you have a licking branch or mock scrape near your stand? Anything you can do to increase your chances of bringing a buck over to your location can only help your odds. At worst, a buck might not pay any attention to it, but it definitely won’t alarm him. Licking branches and scrapes are perfectly natural to deer. They’re a big part of a buck’s communication system. So bucks certainly won’t shy away from them. I’ve been amazed at the number of times I’ve had bucks start using fake scrapes and continue using them throughout the season.
Here is another great trick that has worked for us many times. Often, when Nicole and I are hunting out of a tree on the edge of an open field or food plot, I’ll cut a little tree 5 or 6 feet long or a large limb with plenty of branches on it and bury it in the ground several yards out in the field in front of our stand. I’ll make sure one of the branches is hanging down so it looks like a licking branch.
This be- comes a calling card just like a trapper setting out a trap for a coyote. Because we often put up our stands weeks before we use them, the deer have plenty of time to adapt to the new licking branch and use it every time they pass by.
Most feeding deer will come over to investigate. In fact, we’ve had several bucks feeding out in front of us get curious and come right over to check out the new licking branch. Those deer might not have ever gotten that close to us if we hadn’t enticed them to do so. Even if deer ignore your calling card, you haven’t lost anything.
And if a big buck does come to check it out, it’ll distract his attention while you are preparing for the shot. It might also stop him long enough to get a good broadside shot. I always use rubber gloves to minimize my human scent when setting up licking branches or making mock scrapes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from “Trophy Whitetails with Pat and Nicole Reeve: Tips and Tactics From the Driven Team,” which is available at www.shopdeerhunting.com.
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