By: Beau Martonik
Hunting large tracts of timber in a big woods setting that you typically find on public hunting grounds in the East and Midwest can be difficult to figure out deer movement. There aren’t any food plots or crop fields to key on and funnel the deer movement. Instead, topography and differences in vegetation tend to dictate how the deer are using this land. While I like to scout as much as possible, life doesn’t always allow for us to spend as much time out there as we’d like. That’s where trail cameras come into play to keep an eye on the woods while I’m working for corporate America.
The easiest way to get an inventory of bucks in your area is by putting out a food source, whether that be minerals, corn or something similar; right?
Well, in a lot of states and public lands within the states, bating at any time of the year is illegal. Are you S.O.L. at this point? Nope! Scrapes can be a great tool to put cameras on for longer than you may think.
I’m not talking about any random scrape that may pop up throughout the rut. I’m talking about the primary and community scrapes that are used every year by a variety of bucks (and does).
I’ve placed cameras on these primary scrapes from July through March with them being active almost the entire time. In late July/early August, I’ve found that they will start hitting the licking branch, rubbing their pre-orbital gland (next to their eye) on the branch.
They may not paw up the ground like you see during the primary scraping season of October through December, but they will still visit them. During the late summer, I will put a couple of drops of pre-orbital gland scent on the branch and hang a Wild Carrot buck lure. The combination of these two tend to bring in some curious velvet bucks from the area to leave their own mark. After about a month’s timeframe, you should have a pretty good idea of what bucks are living in the area.
Fast forward to our favorite time of the year – archery season. This is when the intel that your cameras tell you that REALLY matters. During this time, scrapes are starting to really open up with the ground beginning to get tore up along with the licking branch. I run all of my cameras almost exclusively on scrapes now.
In the past, I would climb up a tree roughly 6-8 feet and angle the cameras down on the scrape so that the flash and IR didn’t spook those big mountain bucks, but now with the no glow flash on my cameras it isn’t an issue. I still like to put them up high to stay out of the eye sight of other hunters on public land, but it’s nice to have the option to set it the cameras up however you like without worry of making a mature buck weary.
I follow similar scent tactics during the fall season, with a pre orbital gland application to the branch and a Wild Carrot wick. In addition to that, I will urinate in the scrapes myself. That is a highly debated tactic, but has worked for me for years without fault.
Learning from Camera Data
Once I set the cameras on the primary scrapes for the fall, I rarely check them unless it’s on the way into or out of where I am hunting that day for a few reasons. First off, I’m adding unnecessary human odor to the area if I check it too frequently and secondly, unless you are on a scrape just outside of a buck’s bed, the data is from the past. He’s already been there and is gone.
That doesn’t mean he won’t come back, but I feel as if the data is more useful for the following season. Pay attention to the date, time, wind direction and weather conditions when he hits that scrape in the daylight. I’ve found that bucks will use the same scrapes year after year around the same dates with similar weather conditions. Online resources like www.wunderground.com can give you historical weather data for your area to reference when planning for the following season.
Having a camera that has a quick trigger speed and photo/video recovery time is crucial when setting them on a scrape. Sometimes the bucks may just pass through and not stop at the licking branch if they were the last ones to leave their scent there. In that case, they could be in and out of the frame in a few seconds. I like to have my cameras set on a 3 shot photo burst and on a 15-30 second delay to make sure that I’m picking up the buck trailing the doe and to get the full “picture” of what’s happening. In addition, having the camera set to video mode can truly give you the full story on the direction of travel and the individual deer’s attitude. Plus, it’s just pretty cool to see a buck get aggressive with pawing the ground and tearing up a licking branch!
There are many different places you can set up a camera to get information on the bucks in your area. If you hunt public land or want to expand your horizons and hunt some big woods bucks, let the cameras take inventory for you on a scrape this Summer and Fall! I can promise you that it will be like Christmas morning when you are on your way in to pull the camera card.