Pre-Rut Hunting Strategies
By: Heath Wood
One of my favorite things about hunting is the challenge of trying to call an animal into close range.
At a mere 15 years old, a good friend and I spent a mid October weekend camping out in our very own mini deer camp. My friend’s family owned a cabin that had a wood burning stove and enough groceries to get us by for 3 days, add to that our bows and arrows and we were set for a great weekend of hunting by ourselves. Even though we may have thought we knew a lot about bow hunting, looking back now at all the mistakes we made, we were truly unexperienced hunters. However, during that weekend many years ago, I discovered a successful tactic that I have now been using for over 20 years.
Our weekend spent being macho men bowhunters resulted in several encounters with deer. Unfortunately, we couldn’t seem to get anything close enough to shoot. On a mid afternoon walk to my hunting spot, I encountered a scrape that was on the edge of a wood line, located in a field that we had previously hunted in. After seeing the scrape, I had a wild idea that I would make the scrape a little larger by using a nearby stick to clean back the leaves. Once it was cleaned out, I poured some doe in heat urine directly into the scrape, then placed a few drops on an overhanging branch. My decision to perform this series of events was due to having watched pros do it on hunting videos, not because I knew what I was doing. After the task of placing the scent was complete, I continued about my business and traveled the rest of the 500 yards to my stand location for the evening hunt. A few hours later as darkness began to fall, I proceeded to get out of the stand and head back towards the field in which I had made the scrape, this spot was also the location that my friend and I had agreed to meet after hunting. As I neared the field, I was surprised to see a buck standing in my scrape, pawing at the ground as if he was digging a hole. The buck would scrape the ground a few times, then rub his antlers in the over hanging branch. The buck’s routine continued for several minutes, as I stood 100 yards away staring in disbelief, and coming to the realization that using scents worked. From that day forward, I have been obsessed with luring bucks into range with scents, especially during the pre-rut. If one was to ask me when my favorite time of year to be in a tree stand is, I would answer with mid-October, during the pre-rut. This time of year can be such an entertaining time to watch bucks as they begin to chase does and to also witness bucks fighting with one another trying to establish dominance in the area. I also look forward to mid-October because it is the perfect time to use three of my favorite tactics to bring bucks into bow range. The three tactics that I am talking about is using scents and lures, rattling and grunting and using a deer decoy to bring bucks within a few yards of my stand.
Using Mock Scrapes
Throughout the entire season, I enjoy using scents and lures, by using these strategies one can assure nearby deer that there are other deer in the area. Scents and lures can also create the urgency that a buck needs to investigate the area. A buck is more apt to check out a location if there is force behind him that leads him to be afraid of losing his dominance or that raises his hope of being able to pursue a doe for breeding. No matter the choice, using scents is a fun and exciting way to bring deer in close in hopes of getting a shot. My go to tactic is that of making mock scrapes during the pre-rut. Once I find where bucks are scraping, I will move in to make a series of scent stations to begin hunting. The first thing that I do is to make my own scrape near a place that an actual buck has scraped. I clean out an area on the ground with a branch or piece of wood, instead of my hands or boots, to prevent leaving scent. I continue my routine by pouring a scent such as Wildlife Research Center’s Active Scrape Scent, which is a blend of doe urine, estrus scents and buck urine. This resembles a buck that has made the scrape, plus a couple does who have checked it out to tell the buck that she is getting closer to time to breed. Once the Active Scrape is placed on the ground, I will then hang Magnum Scrape Dripper which is also made by Wildlife Research Center, that holds up to 4 oz’s of scent. The beauty of the dripper is that it only drips during the daylight hours keeping the scrape fresh during times that one is most likely hunting. In the dripper, I will put the same Active Scrape scent that I placed on the ground. I follow this step by traveling to one of the actual scrapes made by a buck in the area and scrape the leaves and dirt back and put buck urine directly into scrape. This makes whatever buck that is making the scrape think that another dominant buck has slipped into his corridor. The buck will stay nearby trying to keep a mark on his designated territory, making it a great time to be in the stand waiting.
¨The natural behavior that one will see in the wild during the pre-rut is something that will make a hunter’s heartbeat pound with excitement.¨
Rattling And Grunting
One of my favorite things about hunting is the challenge of trying to call an animal into close range. As an avid turkey and predator hunter, I am faced with many opportunities to imitate natural sounds that will bring an animal in close range to investigate. The same goes when bow hunting whitetail during the pre-rut. During this time, bucks will respond to rattling antlers with the mindset that two bucks are fighting, making a buck curious as to what is going on, this can also result in a buck wanting to join in on the fight because they are the more dominant buck. Another great call is a grunt call such as the Duel Game Calls Doubleback grunt call. With this type of call, the hunter can mimic the sounds of a younger doe, a mature doe and even a mature buck. By using doe sounds, bucks will venture in looking for a doe that may be ready to breed. One can also perform the more popular sounds of a buck to make other nearby bucks think he has a challenger for his dominance or that he is after one of his does in hopes of breeding her first.
During a recent hunt on the last week of October, I was sitting in a tree stand that overlooked a large field area that several deer were using as a main food source. During the first 2 hours of the hunt, I had several deer in front of me, including 3 different decent sized bucks. During this time, I called the bucks within bow range 4 different times by using my grunt call to sound like another buck. During the pre-rut, bucks can become territorial and curious enough to come to the call.
One of favorite tactics during the pre-rut is that of using a deer decoy. It took me a long time to get the nerve to try decoying but once I did, I quickly came to the realization that this is a tactic that I will use for many years to come. A deer decoy is kind of like that of a closing pitcher in a baseball game. They let someone else do most of the work, then they come in and help seal the deal for the win. When using tactics such as scents or rattling and grunting, when one adds a deer decoy to the equation, this helps seal the deal by giving nearby deer a visual that what they are smelling, or hearing is another deer. When using a decoy, such as the Primo’s Scarface deer decoy, which looks like a smaller buck who is ready to tango. I begin by setting up the decoy within 15 to 20 yards of my tree stand or ground blind. This is so that if a buck hangs up a few yards away, he is still within bow range. I continue by facing the decoy broadside. A buck is most likely to approach the decoy head to head and when he does, he too will be broadside, presenting a better shot. Once, my Scarface decoy is in place, I spray its entire body down with Scent Killer Gold spray. This eliminates any foreign odors that might spook a deer when approaching. The last thing I do in this routine is to spray buck urine on the ground around the decoy. I never spray the decoy itself because I don’t want the scent staying on the decoy when hauling it to and from my vehicle, this also prevents the urine from getting all over myself when carrying it out after the hunt. Using a deer decoy during the pre-rut is a great way to get bucks to respond once again due to the buck’s natural dominance towards other bucks in the area. As a bonus it is a great way to see some incredible natural deer behavior when deer are approaching.
The natural behavior that one will see in the wild during the pre-rut is something that will make a hunter’s heartbeat pound with excitement. By using these 3 tactics, one can bring mature bucks within a few yards all because of what they smell, hear or see. When these strategies are used correctly, it is not hard for one to see why I have enjoyed this time of year for a couple of decades now and why my obsession builds with every hunt.
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