Creating a mock scrape for trail cameras and hunting strategies
By Jennifer Pudenz
When it comes to pursuing or monitoring whitetail bucks, one of my favorite ways is through scrapes. Scrapes are a great way to initiate a reaction and cause a distraction whether that’s for getting the perfect shot on your trail camera, a perfect shot from your tree stand or both.
Luckily, you don’t have to find a scape in an ideal spot, you can create your own scape, called a mock scape, quite easily. And what’s great about setting up your own scrape is you really don’t have to perfect it – all you have to do is fool just one little, young buck and -ta dah!- your mock scrape is now a REAL scrape! Get ready to fool even your most mature bucks and watch their frustration unfold!
Before you start, take a minute to think like a buck and think of real scrapes you’ve noticed in the past. Tree-lined field edges are a prime example. Whether a crop/food plot field or a grass field of some sort, the edges of fields are a main place to find many scrapes. Bucks know fields are a gathering spot for many does, so they will cruise these areas looking for does as well as let go of frustration on scrapes and leave their scent to try to stake out their territory.
Find or make a field edge scrape also where a popular deer trail runs through the timber perpendicular into the open field and set your trail camera right in the timberline, pointing out toward the open field. This will not only give you some really beautiful scenic photos, it will also catch deer in the background of your photos and give you a less busy background. The clearer background is important for targeting bucks for photos so you don’t have trouble zooming in and seeing what is a tine and what is a twig from a timber background.
Set the camera at angle so you not only catch bucks on the scrape, but also can catch deer walking by on the trail. If you set it too square, you’ll get more blurred photos as deer walk by your smaller frame of view. You’ll also want to watch that you don’t have the camera angled directly into the rising or setting sun.
If wanting to set a tree stand or blind in this area, set it inside the tree line so you’re less viewable and can shoot both the field and your popular deer trail. Then deer are likely to be distracted by the scrape and scents while you prepare to shoot.
However, keep in mind that scrapes are often visited at night. So you might want to hunt further off the field into the timber, though you can use the scrape to lure them by still.
Another key land feature to focus on is ridges, as bucks often use them as travel corridors. However, since bucks don’t like to be fully out in the open, they often cruise through a third of the way down the hill from the ridgetop so they can still be up high to see and smell while not feeling over exposed.
You can have a really great ridge trail camera and tree stand combination setup. Focus on a main deer trail that crosses a ridge and find a tree that is 20 yards down the hill from the top of the ridge and shooting distance from the crossing trail. Then going further downhill on the other side of the tree, set up a scrape within shooting distance. This now puts you in place for deer to move around you with shots to several areas: the ridge in front of you, the trail beside you and the scrape behind you.
The area I harvested my buck last year during bow season is a prime example of this. Sitting in a large oak tree, the ridge was a 20-yard shot in front of me, with mowed paths/trails on both sides of me within 10 yards and 15 yards behind me is another trail moving with the direction of ridge and with a scrape. I’m at a location the deer are naturally going to be moving through and I can take shots anywhere. And since I’m on a hill, I just have to choose days that my scent blows over everything down hill.
Early in the morning, my 5-1/2+-year-old buck came cruising up from downhill behind me. As he sniffed the scrape and deer scents, I double checked to make sure he was a shooter for me. Then as he began to walk again, he chose the trail to my right to cross over the ridge. I pulled back while he was behind some tree limbs and let him walk up the hill a little more, presenting me with an excellent angle that wasn’t steep and was quartering away. I said “maht” to stop him and released the arrow quartering into his lungs.
While not all hunts play out perfectly, this is one I’ll remember how it did, and that’s thanks to having a setup that all works together.
Besides your prime location, there is one other key for setting up a scrape and that is having a branch hanging down at the proper height. While bucks scrape at the ground, they also love to reach up and smell and rub a branch. Once I have my target area to create a scrape, the right branch is the very next thing I look for. You just need a small low-hanging branch or two to create some magic. If the branches have leaves on them, you can pull them off on the ends and also snap one of the branches so it’s still connected but hangs straight down, just like the real deal.
All this action makes scrapes also a perfect time to set your trail camera video mode or photo/video mode sometimes. However, this will take up more of your camera card space and batteries, so you don’t want to do video mode unless you’re going to be able to check it enough. Using a larger camera card, such as a 16 GB, and having your camera on the way to your tree stand is a great way to handle this.
The next step is to tear up the ground right below the hanging branch into a patch of dirt. While you can use tools, I usually just rub the bottom of my (scent-free) boots to break up the grass and use the heel of my boots to expose the dirt. Once it’s open to the ground, I like to grab a stick and run a bunch of vertical lines as you see in real scrapes from deer pawing at the ground.
Your scrape is now set! It just needs one finishing touch – scent. Choose your scent depending on what time of the season it is. I like to create pre-season scrapes to start getting some bucks worked up for what’s to come. However, rutting buck or estrous doe scents aren’t a life-like scenario for this time. This is when I use a general deer scent such as Deer Dander (my favorite) or EverCalm. Once you get to pre-rut or the rut, this is when you can start to use dominate buck scents and estrous doe urine.
While this might not be for some people, I’ll still throw it out there – male or female, you can even pee on the scrape yourself! Studies have showed there is no real difference in urine and hormones. Animals can’t tell the difference between their urine and human urine – they just smell the same testosterone and estrogen hormones!
I’ve created or added to previous scrapes for years and it’s always something I get a kick out of. I will admit that it makes me feel a little ornery as I prepare branches, tear up the ground, add scent and throw in a comment, “Oo, that’s going to really piss the bucks off!” but in the end, it’s a serious hunting tactic to add to your arsenal and prepare yourself for some amazing trail camera photos!
Jennifer Pudenz is founder and editor of ADVENTURESS magazine.