By C.J. Winand
Exactly what, if anything, do biologists know about using different types of scents in mock scrapes? Are mock scrapes worth the time and trouble in setting them up? Better yet, does human urine attract or scare deer? What is the best scent to use in mock scrapes?
To be honest, mock scrapes never sparked my interest much. Although many competent hunters swore by them, I never really gave mock scrapes credit; there was always some other intangible that most likely attracted deer to my area. Admittedly, my experiences with mock scrapes generally did not include an overhanging branch, which we now know is important in full scraping sequences.
My bias against them began to change two years ago when I made a mock scrape with an overhanging branch and doctored the ground with buck urine. The following day, there were some very large tracks in the middle of my mock scrape. Since it was the end of October, I thought it would be a decent place to set up my treestand and spend the day.
Two hours went by and I was starting to get a little restless. Suddenly, the noise that all hunters know so well — the sound like crunching cornflakes — was getting closer. An average-sized 8-pointer was 25 yards away and closing. The buck was coming from my blind side, so I turned to my right and got ready. As luck would have it, the buck stopped and turned left, directly toward the mock scrape. He smelled the ground, licked the overhanging branch and then freshened my mock scrape.
As I turned and raised my bow to shoot, I inadvertently hit my binoculars against my bow. Unbelievably, the buck never even flinched and continued to paw the scrape. To make a long story short, I choked and missed (again). I said some choice words as my arrow sailed 2 inches over the buck’s shoulder, and it wasn’t until later that I began to think about the buck’s behavior. I decided I needed to rethink my notions about man-made scrapes.
A number of years ago, the Institute for White-tailed Deer Management and Research conducted an interesting study on deer activity patterns around mock scrapes. Research associate Ben Koerth presented his findings at the Southeast Deer Study Group in Jekyll Island, Ga. Koerth designed the study using six types of samples: (1) mock scrapes without any scent; (2) mock scrapes with rutting buck scent; (3) mock scrapes with estrous scent; (4) mock scrapes with a combination of rutting buck and estrous scent; (5) rutting buck scent deposited on the ground without a mock scrape and (6) estrous scent on the ground without a mock scrape.
One of the best ways to “freshen” a scrape
is with a scent-dripper.
Four trials of each treatment were set up simultaneously on the famous 8,000-acre North Bogy Slough Hunting and Fishing Club in East Texas.
Instead of spending countless hours physically watching each sample and possibly affecting deer behavior due to human scent, Koerth set up infrared cameras. The study occurred in late October during the pre-rut, because various studies have proven this is when most scraping activity occurs.
Believe it or not, Koerth found that ALL samples attracted deer. In fact, almost as many does and fawns came in as bucks. Even the mock scrapes without scents attracted some deer. And, as you probably guessed, most activity at all samples occurred at night. However, there was a slight increase in activity during the mid-afternoon at all scent stations with mock scrapes.
The study was conducted for two weeks, and only one buck revisited a mock scrape, and the visitations were five days apart. Furthermore, only one buck visited more than one mock scrape; and only one buck stayed long enough at a scrape to have consecutive one-minute-apart photos taken.
The age of each particular buck also played a role in visitation. There was an increase in nighttime usage by presumably older, dominant bucks. Overall, bucks were more likely to visit samples in the following order: (1) mock scrape with the rutting buck scent, (2) mock scrape with estrous scent, and (3) doe scent alone without a mock scrape.
Koerth said, “Bucks primarily use olfactory cues to determine what is going on in the woods. They need to know the breeding status of the does and what other bucks might be rivaling for their attention.”
However, he noted that it seemed does were more interested in what the other does were doing and less interested in what the bucks were doing. Does, he said, investigated the estrous scent without a mock scrape most often. Evidently, smell outweighs any visual clues for them. And just as with bucks, the majority of visits occurred at night.
Biologists know that scent plays a major role in how deer identify and communicate with each other. This makes sense when you consider that a deer’s primary defense mechanism is its nose.
Outdoor writer Dan Bertalan says, “Deer are nothing more than a 100-pound-plus nose, and they regularly walk through the forest smelling everything.” He’s right.
I’m sure you can recall many instances where a deer sees you and knows something is out of place but doesn’t bolt. The reason is that a deer wants to confirm everything with its nose. Although visual cues are important, the sense of smell is what probably attracts deer to mock scrapes and real scrapes.
Compared to bucks and does, fawns were more likely to visit the samples during the daytime. But deer hunters should take note that the peak hours of activity during legal shooting hours were one-half hour before and after sunrise and sunset, along with a slight increase around mid-afternoon.
At first glace, the Koerth study might seem to suggest that mock scrapes aren’t worth your time. But I don’t see it that way. While not every buck in the woods came in to the mock scrapes, there was deer activity, including buck activity. I’ll take anything that gives me even a slight advantage or gives a buck something to focus on other than me.
It might take some luck, but maybe, just maybe, a good buck will drop by your mock scrape.
This article was published in the October, 2008 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.