Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream’s Whitetails columnist and writes for the website’s Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.
As noted by our reporters across the country, we’re in an exciting period right now. From the West to the Northeast, velvet shed is in full swing. We’ll soon have a better idea if those bucks that looked so huge in velvet live up to their promise when they’re in hard antler. Texas reporter Brandon Ray has given us a great glimpse into deer behavior in that drought-stricken region, and you have to admire his ability to keep a positive attitude when things look tough for deer and deer hunting.
In this region, velvet shed is also proceeding at a rapid pace. And with the onset of hard antler, we’ll witness even more rut-related behavior. Though velvet-clad, the buck in this photo is working a scrape by an apple tree. He didn’t make that scrape, and neither did any of the resident bucks.
My hunting buddy Dean constructed the scrape two weeks ago, when every buck around was still in full velvet. According to Dean’s trail cam log, no fewer than six different bucks–all of them 2-1/2 years old or older–have hit the scrape since it appeared in their territory.
Pictures like this tell me two things: First, bucks (especially mature animals) recognize a scrape and respond to it regardless of the time of year. For years, many hunters have believed that scrapes were largely “a rut thing” that signified the onset of breeding behavior. While they surely serve that function, they are also an important communication tool for bucks regardless of the season.
The second lesson is simple and exciting: Making mock scrapes now can result in buck hunting action long before the rut. I made several mocks while out scouting last weekend, placing each within shooting distance of one of my tree stands. The formula is simple; I look for an area of good deer activity (an intersection of trails is my favorite) between a food source and a bedding area. Most of my early season hunts are afternoon-only, so I prefer to place mock scrapes in a staging area that bucks will feel safe visiting during daylight. I remove all leaf litter and debris in about a two-foot circle under an overhanging branch. Then I sprinkle some deer urine in the dirt, and leave. Typically I’ll make several scrapes near one stand site, knowing that the deer will get excited about only one or two. As the season progresses, some of these mocks will really blow up, and those will be the sites where I’ll focus hunting effort in those final weeks leading up to the rut.