IT’S TRUE THAT BUCKS visit scrapes mostly at night, says Bill Pyles of Ohio Bowhunting Outfitters (740-403-4857; bow outfitters.com). “But there’s an exception in October. If you know exactly which days to hunt them, certain scrapes offer the best shot all season to tag a trophy.”
Pyles maintains 26 trail cameras year-round on leases in two prime Buckeye State counties. His photos show that 90 percent of overall scraping activity happens outside shooting hours. Five to seven days after the October full moon, however, daylight scraping activity heats up. “Suddenly, about 40 percent of scrape visits occur during the day,” Pyles says. “And we’re talking visits by 140- and 150-class bucks.”
So mark this year’s full moon on your calendar, and hit the woods for scrapes starting five days after it–according to Pyles’s plan. Still, not just any scrape will do.
“Look for a big scrape back in the timber, as opposed to the ones on field edges,” Pyles explains. “These signpost scrapes get hit all year–and by bigger bucks.” They’re not easy to find, because they’re relatively scarce and scattered. But they are easy to recognize. Look for:
Thick growth. Scrapes that attract daytime activity are always situated near bedding areas and security cover. This is where you should start your search.
Heavy, stinky traffic. The first hint that you’ve found pay dirt will hit you square in the nose. Because bucks visit them year-round, these hidden scrapes show plenty of hoof traffic and droppings, and they stink to high heaven. “You can sometimes smell the urine and scat 50 yards away.”
Signpost rubs. Bark raked from a good-size tree nearby indicates the home turf of a mature buck, according to Pyles. The trophies in his area seem to favor particular species, especially cherry, walnut, and maple.
Licking branches. Deer mouth overhanging branches to leave scent, but don’t be fooled if you see nothing at eye level. Pyles has watched bucks stand on their hind legs to lick higher branches.
Big Chance, Small Window
This fall, bucks will start hitting scrapes in daylight around October 19. At that point, you have only until about the 29th to hunt over the sign effectively. “It’s a short window,” Pyles says. “You have to get it right.” So…
A wide-racked buck works a licking branch before opening a scrape.
Back off. “Guys who set up right on top of a scrape are wasting their time, because mature bucks routinely loop downwind to scent-check the sign.” Instead, position your stand in security cover 75 to 150 yards away from the hotspot to intercept a circling buck.
Get in a pinch. Despite high traffic at the site itself, you rarely find heavy, obvious trails surrounding it. The best way to choose a stand position, then, is to find a pinch point–maybe the head of a wash, or a subtle terrain funnel such as a ditch or swale–that will steer bucks through dense growth past you.
Surround the scrape. With no time to waste waiting out unfavorable winds, Pyles rings each scrape with three to five tree stands. “Put your primary stand between the buck’s bedding area and the scrape, if possible,” he says. The rest should circle the scrape like spokes on a wheel. “This way, you’ve got a stand to hunt and a chance to score no matter which way the wind blows.”