September 23, 2019
If you aren’t making mock scrapes by the time you’re reading this, you’re already behind the 8-ball. Scrapes, long associated with November rutting behavior, are actually visited by mature bucks (and immature bucks, and does, and fawns) year ’round and constitute some of the most important whitetail sign going. And mock scrapes, the manmade version of the real deal, are an important part of my annual hunting plans. Mocks can attract bucks to an area, serve as killer trail cam sites and even make a good stand/blind setup even better.
You should have been making mocks weeks ago, but don’t despair; it’s not too late to start. And the even-better news is, making mocks is both easy and cheap. Here’s how to construct killer mock scrapes and incorporate them into your hunting strategy this fall.
FIND A BRANCH
While that big, dished-out patch of earth on the ground gets all the attention, the most important part of a mock is the overhanging branch. Without this tree limb (sometimes called a licking branch) that hangs 4 to 8 feet off the ground, a scrape is nothing more than some roughed-up dirt in the woods.
I’m not smart enough to know what deer are telling each other when they rub, sniff or chew on a licking branch, but it’s important enough that I’ve seen every deer from the greenest fawn to the oldest buck on a property working on an overhanging limb. So, yeah, you need one of those.
When I make a mock, I look for an overhanging limb in an area that already sports good to awesome deer activity—an intersection of two or more trails, the edge of a food plot or field or a staging area. And if that limb doesn’t exist, I simply create one by taking a nice, stout, leaf-bearing limb from another tree and wiring, nailing or stapling it to a tree where I want a scrape to exist. Then I create the scrape beneath it by roughing up the dirt with my boot or a weed scythe.
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I don’t think the width of the scrape is critically important, but I’m generally happy with a 2- to 3-foot circle. What does seem to be important is eliminating any rocks, weeds and sticks; bucks like to scrape in dirt, and the richer and darker, the better.
SPICE IT UP
It’s no secret that deer urinate in scrapes. That knowledge has been around since people first got paid for researching whitetails. What’s still unknown is what information is being transferred at the licking branch level. I don’t claim to know such data, but I have learned this: If you apply interesting odors (including urine) to a licking branch, deer will go out of their way to interact with that smell. Of course, it’s physically impossible for a whitetail to urinate on a branch hanging higher than its head, but tell that to a curious doe or buck. Put whitetail pee on a licking branch, and every deer that cruises by will sneak in for a big whiff. So, apply deer scent to your mock and it will definitely stand out.
Here’s a big secret: If you really want your mocks to rock, hang a foot-long chunk of braided rope from the overhanging limb. This is a tip I was lucky enough to receive from a few expert whitetail buds a while back, and it’s proven huge in the years since.
Not only do the ropes seem to attract deer better than the garden-variety licking branch, they also do a better job of holding and transmitting scent. And while real licking branches can break and render a scrape ineffective, a rope will last for years.
MAKE IT WORK
Once you’ve learned how to make mocks, it’s time to incorporate them into your hunting strategy. Here are three of my favorite uses.
Camera sites: In my experience, no camera setup will capture most (if not all) of the bucks in a given area better than a mock scrape. One of my favorite sites is on a field or food plot edge, as these scrapes are among the most highly visited, and one of the best tactics I’ve discovered is something I call “blowing up” an actual scrape; I walk the field edge, find a scrape already started by a buck, and when I find an uber-fresh one, I create two or three mocks right next to it, then douse them with scent. This seems to create a sense of competition, as if the original scrape-maker spots the new scrapes and thinks “well, who made this thing!?” And then things get really exciting.
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Hunting setups: While field edge scrapes are the most abundant and exciting, they’re often among the toughest places to actually kill a buck, simply because most of that scrape-checking occurs at night. Conversely, scrapes in the timber may not get as much overall attention, but the bucks that do use them often do so regularly. One of my favorite hunting uses of a mock scrape is to find a staging area—a patch of thick cover just off a feeding area—set a stand and create a mock within shooting distance. Even bucks that are reluctant to enter a field during daylight will often come visit a staging area mock an hour or more before dark, scraping and rubbing until nightfall.
Scraping on the fly: Although I do much of my hunting from stands and blinds I’ve set up long in advance, I also pull off many “hang-and-hunt” setups each fall. Hang-and-hunts are perfect for responding to fresh sign I discover when scouting, or when I realize a pre-hung stand is not in quite the right position. So, I carry a stand and climbing sticks to the area, scale the tree to hang the stand and hunt it immediately. Before I hunt, however, I create a triangle of mock scrapes just upwind of my setup. Any buck cruising through will immediately be drawn to the sight of the mocks and the smell of fresh dirt. This is the only time I don’t worry about the presence of a licking branch when I create a mock. Since this is a one-shot setup, I don’t need area bucks to come back for return visits; all I need is for a single, curious buck to swing in for a scent-check and give me a shot.