Virtually all of the recent reports tell of bucks starting to cover more ground, and it won’t be long before these studs will be fully focused on finding mates. But that doesn’t mean you should stop hunting a buck’s pre-rut haunts. Many of the hottest scrapes, for example, will eventually be abandoned as the peak rut ramps up, but it’s important that you don’t abandon them too soon. As Northeast reporter Mike Bleech points out, leaf-covered scrapes can appear to have gone stale, but bucks are often still using them regularly.
Most people think that standard scrape-making procedure is for a buck is to first paw the dirt aggressively and then turn his attention to the licking branch. But my camera encounters show clearly that bucks pay far more attention to the licking branch than to the scrape itself. I’m in lock-step with Bleech here: Sure a hogged-up scrape is exciting, but if you know a buck has been working a certain area but then his scrapes seem to go dead, don’t be too quick to assume he’s gone. The buck could simply be hitting the kicking branch only. This behavior will only increase as bucks travel more and spend less time at individual scrapes. Put up a camera to find out for sure. Meanwhile, keep hunting scrapes until you have stronger evidence that the buck has switched areas, or until you see serious chasing begin.
Brandon Ray’s harvest of a giant old mule deer proved that hunting core areas can still pay off as the rut heats up. After several years of encounters with the buck, Ray knew the giant’s wheelhouse and kept hunting the area—timing his visits with the right conditions—until the buck gave him an opportunity. Science proves that, as a buck ages, his core area not only shrinks, but he becomes even more faithful to it, even when the rut begins.
Meanwhile, Great Plains reporter Draper related a tale of a great nontypical buck that was captured on one hunter’s trail cam, then picked up less than a day later over a mile away. Recent telemetry studies prove that some bucks simply travel more than others, and this buck was clearly a wanderer. However, even these hot-footed bucks return to their core areas, and often far sooner than we think. This fact emphasizes the need for patience when a buck seems to disappear (and not leave fresh sign) for a time; if you stick to a game plan that encompasses knowing a buck’s favorite haunts, as well as those of the does he pursues, you’ll have a good shot at success.
Finally (and though we’ve covered this before it bears repeating), Draper notes the dramatic affect the corn harvest can have on farm-country whitetails. When “the tree of the prairie” is harvested, it not only creates a new food source, it can force bucks to adjust to new habitat conditions. But they are not apt to make dramatic shifts in pre-harvest core areas. You’ll need to do some speed-scouting to find the latest sign, but start by looking in and around buck’s favorite haunts. Aerial photos and topo maps should reveal the next-best cover adjacent to a picked field. Go find the hottest rubs and scrapes nearby and you’ll be right back in the game.