Joe Bucher checked out a buck’s antler rub on a tree during a fall scouting trip. —Contributed Photo
Joe Bucher checked out a buck’s antler rub on a tree during a fall scouting trip. —Contributed Photo
The general consensus is that big bucks are most susceptible during the rut peak, which annually occurs around the first week of November. 

Yet, my recent success and discoveries suggest that the biggest bucks in any piece of woods are actually more vulnerable a week or two before the first doe comes into estrus. 

Theoretically, the biggest bucks are the most experienced, having gone through several breeding seasons already. Therefore, they sense the event’s approach weeks before it actually happens. 

In preparation for this happening, they become less nocturnal and are more apt to be on their feet during daylight hours. Most importantly, they are usually traveling alone now, which makes them far easier to kill. 

Prior to this urge, mature bucks are almost 100% nocturnal. They bed during daylight hours and rarely leave the safety of their remote thick cover bedding area until darkness sets in. 

The recent interest in trail cameras by hordes of hunters and researchers confirms this notion since most big buck photos (from trailcams) are recorded well after dark. Rarely is a buck over 150 inches slipping along a field edge or even a woody deer trail before the sun goes down and total darkness sets in. 

Their instinct to survive disciplines their travels to night time. However, their urge to breed eventually overtakes this (survival) instinct a week to 10 days before the actual rut kicks into high gear.

The key to success for any bow hunter is to recognize when this actual change in behavior occurs and then have a solid gameplan to take full advantage of it. One of the biggest advantages I’ve realized from my discovery of this unique time period is that the absolute biggest bucks are potentially on the prowl, but there are no girl friends available yet to occupy their desires. In other words, does are simply not interested in a buck’s amorus nature yet. Therefore, bucks are more apt to be alone.

This results in a more predictable travel pattern — visiting rubs and scrapes — as well as a higher degree of probability that the approaching buck will stand still for some period of time to rub a tree or work a scrape site. 

Hunt the scraps

So my experiences suggest the focus of October hunts for trophy bucks should definitely include setting up near rubs and scrapes. In particular, I like to find areas with a group or cluster of scrapes. In my book, this means bucks are spending a lot of time at this site. 

One single scrape might not mean nearly as much as four to six scrapes — all within sight of each other. Scrapes at various locations in a small overall area are a hot ticket for sure. 

Much information has been passed along by various sources on what scrapes actually are, what sex of deer made them, and the role scrapes play in the fall mating ritual. 

No matter what you may have read about scrapes in the past, here’s what I think it all means: Scrapes are basically made by bucks to advertise dominance. Also, scrapes are usually visited and reworked by more than one buck. Scrapes are positioned in locations so they can be monitored and approached from different trails and various wind directions. 

Every buck living in that immediate area, from the smallest yearling spiker to the largest racked stag, is likely to visit the same pawed-out circle of dirt. The most dominant ones urinate in the scrape, paw the earth more,and spend a lot of time working the overhead licking branch, common to every good scrape. In fact, the licking branch above the scrape is quite possibly more important as a communicator than the ground scrape itself.

Smaller, subordinate bucks may not paw the earth in the scrape or even think of urinating in it since this is a sign of dominance. Yet, nearly every buck works the overhead licking branch. As a buck works a licking branch, he is depositing his own signature scent from a gland near his eyes called the preorbital gland, as well as the individual odor he has from his face and forehead area. 

At the same time, he is scent-checking the licking branch in order to determine if any other bucks have visited this scrape area recently. The entire scraping ritual escalates throughout the fall as the peak breeding season approaches and hormonal levels continue to rise. As soon as breeding actually starts, scraping drops off dramatically.

Pick a stand

The key to hunting any hot looking scrape area is to pick a vantage point that is first and foremost down wind from the scrape itself. Bucks are sure to be on high olfactory alert when approaching any given scrape. They will detect human intrusion almost immediately if your set up is not correct. 

Always approach your treestand setup downwind from any scrape or scrapes and never walk near a scrape cluster if you can avoid it. 

Set your treestand at an angle on the tree so you can easily view the most likely approach trails from a comfortable sitting position with minimal movement. 

Finally, when you actually see a “shooter” buck approaching, remain completely still until the buck gets to the scrape and buries his face in the licking branch or paws the ground. 

Then, carefully draw (your bow) and settle in on your aim point. Take your time and concentrate on making a good shot. It simply doesn’t get any better than this!