BY John Crooks
The Meadville Tribune
I’ve been deer hunting with a bow, rifle or muzzleloader for 50-some odd years and in the process I’ve made just about every mistake in the book. But I’ve learned a ton of information about the whitetail deer.
Over the years through trial and error I’ve tried to learn the habits of the deer and have become a better hunter. Whitetail deer are incredibility complex animals with finely-tuned senses of hearing, smell, sight and survivability that rival any big game animal in the world. Successful hunters, especially bow hunters, must learn to understand and counter these senses in order to get them consistently into bow range.
Using the right techniques can make the difference between success and failure. Scouting, both preseason and in season, is essential to locate a trophy buck. Hunters need to find big buck sign. Look for big buck rubs, larger than normal tracks, adequate and dense bedding areas and food sources. Once this sign is located I put out several trail cameras to monitor deer movements in that area. Trail cameras are one of the best tools of the trade that hunters can use to consistently locate trophy bucks. Cameras don’t lie and serve as the tell-all method to finding deer.
In late October and early November bucks are actively searching for does and as time permits they make hundreds of buck rubs and scrapes in areas of high doe populations. A scrape is a pawed-out area under an overhanging limb. Bucks rub their preorbital glands on this limb to leave their scent for both interested does and rival bucks. These preorbital glands are inside the vertical slits below each eye in deer and other hoofed animals. They contain a pheromone secretion that that advertises a particular buck’s dominant status and serves as a method for marking their territory.
They also paw the leaves under the limb in semi-circle area where they leave additional scent. My personal favorite bow hunting technique is to find a good scrape or a series of scrapes and place a trail camera on a tree to monitor that scrape 24/7. Within a few days you will have a picture of nearly every buck in your area.
Once I locate a buck I want to hunt, I place a tree stand downwind of the scrape and wait him out until he shows up.
This year’s hunt was similar to many in past years. I had several trail camera pictures of a 10-point buck that I called the “Titan,” which I eventually harvested. He seemed to be checking this scrape primarily after dark. Sooner or later, I thought, this buck will slip out of his cover in shooting hours and I will be waiting for him.
Several times he did work the scrape in daylight during the few times that I was not in the stand. One morning that I left the stand early he came and worked the scrape 20 minutes after I had left! How did I know? The trail camera took his picture as he hurriedly worked the scrape and slipped back into hiding. It was almost like he was watching me leave the stand. Since he’d done this several times, it seemed as if we were playing a “cat and mouse” game, a chess game of sorts, that I intended to win!
That same evening when I climbed into the stand I couldn’t help but wonder if the wise old monarch would come back in daylight. If he did I would be waiting! I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. A couple hours later I spotted a large deer sneaking in toward the scrape I was hunting. Sure enough, it was the 10-point returning to freshen up his scrape. As I quietly readied the crossbow for a shot, I patiently watched him work another scrape about 40 yards off. I had already checked the range of the scrape I was hunting with my rangefinder so I knew the exact range was 17 yards. Several minutes later he came in on a fast walk with all the stealth and confidence of the dominant buck in that area. When he stopped to work the scrape the crosshairs on the scope were already settled on his chest. In a split second the arrow hit precisely where I had aimed, passed through the deer and buried itself in the forest floor. The buck lurched forward, ran 40 yards then fell. Suddenly the deer woods went eerily quiet — the monarch was down and our game of sorts was over. I had won and my deer hunting was over for this season.
With Pennsylvania’s archery season having only two weeks remaining, the best archery hunting lies ahead. With the onset of the whitetail rut greater opportunities will emerge to catch bucks out in the open in shooting hours. As the rut approaches, bucks will be chasing does sporadically throughout the woods with little care as to where they are and what time of day it is. This is the prime time for archers to be in the woods capitalizing on the buck’s inattentiveness.
Hunt the active scrapes and rubs lines and move portable stands to accommodate buck sign. My theory: If he’s been there once, he’ll return sooner or later. Wait him out! Good Luck!
Cochranton-area resident John Crooks is a longtime outdoors writer.
Here are a few tricks that can help bring that big 10-point your way this fall:
n Add trail cameras. I can’t speak enough of the importance of using trail cameras to locate deer. Place them on trails and scrapes to see what’s there when you are not.
n The importance of the setup. Learn to get them in close. Set your stand or ground blind for a 20-yard or closer shot. Set up downwind of where you expect the deer to show up to avoid his sense of smell.
n Use scents. There are a lot of good deer scents on the market today. During the rut stay with the “doe-in- heat,” type lures. Bucks are searching 24/7 for does in estrous and the right scent in the right place can quickly bring a good buck your way.
n Use deer calls. Deer calls can attract deer. Deer vocalize with many different ways — fawn bleats, doe bleats, buck tending grunts, wheezes and snorts. Probably the most common call used during the rut is the tending grunt of the buck. Basically, this call closely resembles the sound of a grunting pig. It is heard when a buck is trailing or searching for a doe. I always keep a grunt call within reach.
n Try rattling horns. Rattling horns, either synthetic or real, or rattling bags can also be an effective tools for bringing in rutting bucks. The logic is simple. When bucks find a receptive doe, fights often result. Many a cold morning I have heard the sound of antlers clashing together and crashing brush as bucks fight over does. Aggressive rattling can draw in bucks searching for does.
n Keep an eye on scrapes. Last but not least, scrapes are an excellent place to ambush a buck. Scrapes act as the primary signpost during the rut. They can be greatly enhanced with the right scents.