October 18, 2022
By Josh Honeycutt
A heavy-racked buck grunts and snort-wheezes, challenging the intruder. Hairs stand on end, legs stiffen, ears pin back and heads lower. The deer circle one another, looking for a weakness and anticipating the first move. Testosterone levels skyrocket. A moment of suspense precedes the plunge. Two scar-ridden whitetail bucks clash in an epic battle for dominance.
This is a common occurrence during the whitetail rut, and it's one that hunters can mimic to convince a buck that another mature deer has moved into its core area. To do that, you must trick the buck's senses. It's all about realism—and selling the pitch.
STEP 1: PROFILE TARGET BUCKS
The first step in staging a mock intrusion is determining which deer are and aren't susceptible to being fooled by it. Although deer don't have different personalities in the sense that people do, whitetails do express different behaviors, tendencies and levels of aggression that prove they have different temperaments. Because of this, some deer are more likely to succumb to this tactic than others. Trail cameras and in-the-field observations are required for profiling bucks.
"In places where it's legal to bait, a camera at a feed station can reveal which bucks are most aggressive toward others," says Bone Collector co-host Nick Mundt.
In areas where bait isn't permitted, hang cameras over confined natural food sources, food plots, watering holes, scrapes and mock scrapes. Most any trail camera model or mode will work, but video is best. This provides a 10- to 30-second sequence packed with information. Analyze every available second of data on target bucks, but especially clips where other deer are present.
Watch how target bucks behave. Look for them to habitually pin their ears back, bristle their hair and turn their antlers toward other deer. These displays of dominance can reveal which deer are susceptible to the intruder tactics play. On the flip side, deer that cower, nose up to other bucks and display other submissive characteristics likely won't fall for this trick.
For hunters planning a whitetail road trip to a property far from home, profiling deer might be more difficult, but it's not impossible. I often run cameras on properties well before I hunt there, even on out-of-state tracts. If planning a non-resident deer hunt, take a special scouting trip to learn the area and post trail cameras. It just might pay off.
STEP 2: STINK IT UP
Once you've taken inventory and learned a little about the deer in the area, it's time to initiate the invasion by freshening existing scrapes and deploying some fake ones. Scrapes are like social media apps for whitetails.
If possible, start with real scrapes that were established by actual deer. Often, large community scrapes that remain open year-round, or at least appear in the same location each season, are your best bets. These are visited by the majority of the local deer herd. That said, don't invade bedding areas or high-risk spots where you might bump deer. Stick to scrapes along food sources and in areas where a visit isn't as likely to pressure them.
If possible, drive a truck or four-wheeler, ride a bike or simply wear a set of waders to help reduce the volume of ground scent left around scrapes. Where legal, pour a touch of urine into them. I like to use Code Blue's Buck Urine because the contents of each bottle are produced by a single buck. In areas where real deer urine isn't permitted, and if regulations allow, use synthetic scents instead.
After you've doctored up a few real scrapes, create a handful of mock ones and treat them the same way. If you like to go all-out, use a hoof from a buck you've killed and add some tracks to it. Establish mock scrapes in locations where you can hunt over them. Near the edges of bedding areas, food sources, watering holes, staging areas, trail intersections and other high-traffic spots are solid bets. This is especially important if you can't locate real scrapes or if they're in places where you can't hang a stand nearby.
STEP 3: LET FRUSTRATION BUILD
Now that you've doctored up the buck's core area, give it some time. Two to three days of soak time should do the trick. That'll give most bucks in the area time to get a good whiff. Still, if you're hunting close to home, giving it a little longer—and perhaps another round of buck pee—might not hurt. Understandably, that usually isn't feasible on an out-of-state trip.
Regardless, that sudden explosion of foreign buck urine that local deer don't recognize should trick some noses and help set things in motion. Again, this is a process, and the steps involved will hopefully culminate with a full-blown big-buck encounter.
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STEP 4: STAGE A FIGHT
The pre-rut is ramping up, and the rut might even be at hand. Take advantage of rising testosterone levels by deploying a buck decoy.
If bowhunting, place a decoy within 15 yards of your treestand or ground blind. Use rubber gloves and boots while setting it. Pour some of the same buck urine you've been using to doctor scrapes onto the decoy. This level of detail might not be necessary, but it could help a passing buck connect the dots between the scrapes and the "buck" it now sees.
Stake the decoy so it's quartering slightly toward your hunting location. Generally, while younger, submissive bucks will approach a decoy from the rear, a bigger, dominant deer will circle downwind, then approach the decoy from the front. This allows it to smell its opponent and then meet it head on. The best part? You increase the chance of an ethical, quartering-away shot opportunity.
STEP 5: TELL HIM OFF
If the decoy itself doesn't draw in a passing buck, or if the deer simply doesn't see it, try adding vocalizations—but start slow.
"I like to check their temperature with a grunt call," says Backwoods Life co-host Michael Lee. "I'll see what it does. If it stops and looks, I might try it again. If it still doesn't pay attention, I might get more aggressive and louder."
If grunts don't do the trick, ramp it up with a snort-wheeze. Again, see how the deer reacts. If it doesn't work, try another series of grunts and snort-wheezes.
"I once had a buck that was tending a doe that had come into a bean field we were set up on," Lee says. "It was probably 150 yards away. I snort-wheezed at him, he came to the decoy, circled downwind and went back to his doe. I snort-wheezed at him again. He turned and came right back, and I shot him the second time at 35 yards. But he circled downwind of that decoy both times."
"I've grunted and snort-wheezed in a lot of deer and killed them," Mundt says. "Probably the biggest buck I've ever killed with a grunt tube was a 173-inch [deer] I killed in Iowa. I grunted him from about 200 yards right to the bottom of the tree."
While Mundt has no reservations with using calls, blind calling isn't a common practice for him. He wants to see the deer he's calling to and make sure there is minimal chance of it swinging downwind of his location after he calls. Blind calling can lead to deer slipping in unnoticed.
Of course, if calls don't work, it isn't a bad idea to graduate to a rattling sequence. This is effective, especially if the deer is too far away to hear a grunt call.
By using a decoy to trick a buck's eyes and calls to trick its ears, the odds of a shot opportunity increase. Just make sure the wind is blowing from the decoy toward your stand or blind. Then, if a passing buck hears you and sees the decoy, though it might swing downwind of the deke, it'll probably remain upwind of the stand. We call that "mission complete."
The Core-Area Invasion Package
Everything you need to pick a fight with a buck.
If you want to convince a deer that an intruder is in its midst, the following gear will help bring that to fruition.
Trail cameras, like the Spartan GoCam Ghost in Realtree EDGE camo ($423.45; spartancamera.com), are very useful for reading a buck's personality, especially when set up over food sources. When it's set to video mode, you can learn even more.
The Spartan GoCam Ghost is a cellular model powered by Verizon 4G/LTE. In areas where cellular cams are legal, this is an excellent way to monitor a buck's personality—and do so in real time.
Scrapes and mock scrapes certainly play a role in convincing a buck that another deer has moved into its core area, and Code Blue's Buck Urine ($12.99; codebluescents.com) is perfect for a doctoring scrape or creating a mock one.
Each bottle contains urine from a single, unique whitetail. This can help persuade a buck that another mature deer is around. Hang trail cameras over scrapes to monitor deer and take inventory.
I carry a grunt tube to the woods every time I go deer hunting. Being able to call to passing deer that are out of range is critical, especially when creating the impression that you're a challenger. Using rattling antlers can often provide that extra incentive a deer needs to come check things out. The Illusion Hunting Systems Black Rack and Extinguisher combo pack ($44.99; illusionsystems.com) offers both.
A buck decoy creates a visual cue that nothing else can. A mature deer jacked up on testosterone might see it and commit. Still, you want a decoy that looks big enough to challenge a deer, but not so big that it intimidates it. The Primos Scar Deer Decoy ($179.99; primos.com) fits the bill.
Note: This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue of Game & Fish Magazine. Learn how to subscribe