It was the day before the opening of North Dakota’s gun season, and I was perched 12 feet up in a gnarly cottonwood overlooking hundreds of acres of CRP. The tree sat at the north end of a long, thick shelterbelt, exactly where it intersected a muddy drainage ditch that wound its way across vast fields of tall grass. The drainage ditch provided a perfect travel route for cruising bucks, and the intersection with the heavy tree row offered a tailor-made staging area. Beyond that, I had already doctored the area to make it a magnet for rutting whitetails.
Back in early October, I tore up a huge mock scrape under the overhanging branches of a willow below my ambush tree, and kept it regularly scented with doe-in-heat lure. Now, this was long before mock-scraping became a fashionable and regularly practiced technique for killing whitetails, but from where I was now perched, I could clearly see over two-dozen actual scrapes that bucks had opened up since I first offered my facsimile!
This was quite a testament to the effectiveness of mock scrapes, especially since it was my first attempt at trying this tactic. I had already passed up no fewer than a dozen different bucks as they pawed the mock scrape or worked the overhanging branches, and with it now being November with the rut starting to roll, I had high hopes on this cold, clear afternoon.
Scanning the open country, I could see several does being harassed by a basket-racked 4×4 a hundred yards or so out in the CRP. As the shadows lengthened, I decided to press the issue and lifted my rattling antlers from their resting place beside me before clashing and twisting them together with as much force as I could muster.
The results were immediate: One minute nothing stirred close by, and the next a big 5×5 was marching stiff-legged towards me at a fast walk. I barely had time to exchange the antlers for my stickbow before the P&Y-class buck cruised past me at 14 yards. As his head went behind a dead tree beside the ditch, I swung smoothly with the walking deer as I reached full draw and released the heavy cedar arrow…
Although my first attempt at mock-scraping took place many years ago, I still use this tactic each and every season, and it is one of my favorite methods for arrowing a good whitetail with my longbow. Mock-scraping can be extremely effective, and just like in the opening story, I have had great success kick-starting the rut by using mock scrapes. If I’ve done my homework and set things up accordingly, there will be anywhere from a handful to several dozen real scrapes nearby within a few weeks of my efforts. The keys to success with mock-scraping are threefold — timing, location, and setup — and if you pay attention to these details, you can be successful too.
The best time to start setting up your mock scrapes is just before the bucks in your area start turning their thoughts to the fairer sex. Here in Minnesota, that equates to somewhere around the first half of October.
I like to begin my mock-scraping efforts while the bucks are still in their bachelor groups. Where I hunt, lots of real scrapes start showing up about this time, so it only makes sense to set up mock scrapes then as well. I believe that by starting early, you can actually spur the bucks on and get them worked into a frenzy long before the does show any interest in the game. That can extend your chances of arrowing a cruising whitetail.
I know from regular trail camera use that bucks will hit mock scrapes virtually any time of year, even in the summer. But these “out-of-season” visits are mostly just out of habit or curiosity, and are not serious encounters. However, once the weather cools off, mock scrapes will become a magnet, attracting nearly every buck in your hunting area if they’re set up in the right place.
Location is quite possibly the most important aspect of the “Mock-Scraping PHD,” because local bucks can’t hit what they can’t find! As I do with all my hunting, I set my mock scrapes in places where cover or terrain dictate that deer will naturally use a certain area, and this means looking for funnels, pinch points, and natural barriers that channel deer movement into a smaller area.
A perfect example of this is on my farm here in Minnesota. While I own 75 acres, there is exactly one acre that virtually every deer will pass through at one time or another, and that’s exactly where I put my mock scrape.
At the southeast corner of my property is a thick woodlot where brushy tree rows fan out to all four points on the compass, and these natural travel routes funnel bucks directly to my mock scrape…and to the waiting ladder stand that guards it! Any place where two trails meet, or ridgelines intersect, or a creek enters a large woodlot, are good bets. So study aerial photos of your hunting area, and anywhere you find a funnel is a top spot for mock-scraping.
Once the time is right and you’ve found a good-looking funnel for your mock scrape, it’s time to consider getting things set up perfectly to increase your odds for arrowing a good whitetail.
The first thing I like to do is tear up an area approximately four feet in diameter with a heavy, three-tined rake. Ideally, there will be an overhanging branch available at your location, but if not, you can easily cut a branch and wire it in place where you’ll place your scrape. Really tear the place up and work the ground deeply during your initial visit. Deer are attracted to the fresh earth scent alone and will investigate the setup even before you start adding lure.
The next thing I do is choose a favorite lure and fill a scrape dripper with four ounces of it so it will drip steadily for a week or more. My personal favorites are Active Scrape, Golden Scrape, Special Golden Estrus, and Golden Estrus Xtreme from Wildlife Research Center.
Immediately adjacent to my dripper, I then hang a length of six-foot barn rope — about an inch or so in diameter — commonly found in old haylofts, and I let this drop over the branch and down to about three feet off the ground. Whitetail guru Gene Wensel has perfected and written extensively about this technique (see “Wicked Wicks” in our October 2012 issue, and “Wicked Wicks Part II” in our July 2013 issue), but suffice it to say that whitetails are attracted to the visual image of anything hanging down over a scrape, and especially so because the rope will swing and sway when the wind blows.
I like to hang the rope close to my dripper so some of the scent will actually drip onto and then run down the rope over the course of the hunting season. But, I also use spray bottles to liberally douse the rope with whatever scent I’m using at that particular scrape each time I visit the site. Finally, to make the setup even more irresistible to cruising bucks, I will hang actual tarsal glands from bucks I’ve killed in previous seasons on the overhanging branch as well.
These sticky, pungent glands will give off the odor of an intruding buck for nearly an entire season before they finally dry up and lose their drawing power. Interestingly, mock scrapes where I hang glands that I bring back to Minnesota from bucks killed in other states always show more activity than the scrapes where I use tarsal glands from local bucks, presumably because these “foreign” bucks draw more ire from the locals!
As a final point, I like to set up my mock scrapes in staging areas where the cover is thick, thereby encouraging buck activity throughout the day. Mock scrapes set up along field edges will show regular action as well, but trail cameras will clearly show that most of these visits are at night. And you should definitely guard each of your mock scrapes with a quality trail camera, as
I’ve found that there is absolutely no better way to take inventory of the local deer herd. Of course, guarding each site with a well-placed treestand or ground blind is a must as well, if you hope to arrow a trophy whitetail.
…The arrow left the bow in complete silence, and streaked across the short distance separating me from the big 5×5. Unfortunately, in swinging with the walking deer, I hadn’t taken into account the arrow’s flight path as it gobbled up the distance to the moving target, and the heavy wood shaft centered a small poplar instead of the buck’s rib cage!
The buck leapt sideways at the loud crack of wood splitting wood and landed nearly in the center of my mock scrape, but he was now on full alert, and did not seem inclined to stick around while I eased another arrow from my quiver. As he slipped away into the sea of tall grass, I couldn’t help but smile over another successful “Mock-Scraping PHD” effort.