Pose as a rival to throw a mature buck off his game.
The big whitetail was closing the distance, but light was fading just as quickly. I wanted to force the issue with a challenge grunt or wheeze, but the openness of the area and the proximity of the 140-inch 8-pointer made me think twice. At 50 yards, the buck stopped and tested the wind. Plumes of steam curled up from his nostrils in the cold November evening, but nothing betrayed my presence. He continued to march my way.
Perched 10 feet up a stubby burr oak, I scarcely breathed. All I had to do was be patient — until the wide-racked monarch veered off course.
Now, I had problems. The deer was headed directly downwind, and I had no shot in that direction. My heart sank as I realized that I wasn’t going to get a shot. I had one more trick up my sleeve, however.
When I arrived at the stand early in the afternoon, I doctored the setup. Having employed such tactics in some form or another for several years, I ratcheted things up a notch on the advice of an old-time bowhunter friend who had used similar techniques successfully — something he calls the “ol’ switcheroo.”
These tactics, he explains, play on a whitetail buck’s natural aggressive nature during the rut and its disdain for other males of the species.
Just as I thought the situation was hopeless, the mature buck slammed on the brakes, put his nose in the air and turned on a dime to stalk past my ambush at point-blank range.
The buck paused, broadside at nine yards, to inhale another whiff of scent. His ears went flat, his hackles stood at attention and he began tearing up the ground with both antlers and hooves. Oblivious to the danger above him, the big whitetail put on quite a show, throwing grass and leaves in the air for several minutes before he finally made his way to the mock scrape. There, he proceeded to tear up the turf in a 6-foot circle.
Next, he turned his angst to the licking branch, at one point standing on his hind legs and flogging the branch so violently that he ripped it completely from the tree. Finally, he focused his fury on a 4-inch sapling, tearing and gouging at its bark until the trunk looked like a prop from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
As darkness enveloped the landscape, the enraged buck backed up several steps, let out a vicious snort-wheeze that hurled snot and spittle 10 feet, and then shook his head from side to side in a show of dominance before stalking off into the night. I was dumbfounded, bow still in hand and arrow still nocked, amazed at the power of the animal and of the technique that had lured him into point-blank range.
To understand why the ol’ switcheroo is so effective, you have to understand the demeanor of a whitetail buck. For most of the year, bucks live together in relative harmony. Then, in autumn, testosterone levels escalate and thoughts of love drive bucks temporarily insane.
Those that have lived in close proximity seldom fight violently because they’ve established a pecking order throughout the year. But when they begin cruising in search of does, dominant bucks from one area cross into unfamiliar territory, and that’s where trouble starts.
If a mature buck gets wind of another mature animal, he will seek him out and try to drive him away.
My setup from the beginning of this article worked perfectly, right up to the point where I forgot I was hunting. But that was my fault.
That setup included a mock scrape with fresh dirt hauled in from another authentic signpost scrape, complete with a real licking branch that I cut off another tree and then attached over my mock scrape. I also had taken the tarsal gland from a mature whitetail I had previously arrowed and anchored it to the ground in the center of my mock scrape.
They say nothing beats the real thing, and that certainly applies to fooling rutting bucks. Store-bought scents can and do work, but the dirt from a real scrape is as fresh as it gets. And I don’t believe the pre-orbital scent left on a licking branch can be duplicated in a lab.
I like to use rattling antlers to tear up my mock scrapes. Then, I use fresh, scented dirt that I’ve carefully collected in sealed plastic bags.
To cut licking branches from other areas, use rubber gloves at all times. Use zip ties to attach the branch over your mock scrape.
The icing on the cake is a real tarsal gland, carefully skinned from a harvested animal. You can anchor it in the scrape or hang it above the setup where marauding bucks can’t reach it.
One late October afternoon while hunting a similar setup, I watched a 2 1⁄2-year-old 9-pointer come marching in. It tore up the ground, the licking branch and the tree, and then refused to leave. The buck had potential but needed another year or two of growth, so I didn’t really consider taking a shot. However, when it got dark and I tried to climb down, the animal became even more aggressive. I thought I might actually have to shoot it out in self defense.
Finally, after I yelled and waved my flashlight, he backed off enough for me to climb down and make a hasty retreat. I could still hear him breaking brush and snort-wheezing when I topped a ridge 200 yards away.
The key to this tactic is to use scent from several bucks from other areas.
The setup in the opening story included scrape dirt that I had collected a week earlier while hunting in Kansas. The licking branch came from a scrape I found on public land about 10 miles from my farm, and the tarsal gland was taken from a buck I arrowed in Texas.
When the big 4x4 smelled the scent of three different unknown bucks, he had to investigate. Likewise, the 2 1⁄2-year-old in the second anecdote was lured into easy longbow range with scent from bucks from Kansas, Missouri and Minnesota.
Whatever scents you use, whether droppings, scrape dirt, licking branches or tarsal glands, they must come from outside the area you are hunting. Bucks usually won’t show the kind of mindless aggression you’re trying to elicit if they smell familiar bucks.
This tactic is at its best about two weeks before peak breeding begins. That’s when bucks often travel long distances in search of receptive does. Once breeding begins in earnest, many bucks will be locked up with hot does and won’t travel much.
To add even more spice to this technique, I like to stimulate as many of a buck’s senses as possible. Call and rattle aggressively, making as much noise as you can. Any buck within earshot of a violent mock fight will already be in a lather. Once he smells the scents you’ve put out, you’ll likely have a point-blank encounter. A buck decoy can bring violent reactions as well.
This past fall, I was waiting for a hunting partner to show up at my Minnesota farm early one morning so we could head up to Manitoba for a week of chasing big whitetails. As I waited, I happened to walk down my driveway a short distance to my 3-D range where I have 15 targets, including five buck deer.
Of my five buck targets, four had been destroyed. Legs and antlers were broken off, and a couple had deep tine holes in their midsections. The only target that wasn’t attacked was my Glen-Del buck, a target that not only has a giant set of antlers but also a giant body. Even around that target, the ground was pawed right down to the dirt for 20 feet in all directions. I have to attribute that behavior to a mock scrape I had made a short distance into the woods. Such are the effects of rival scent when the timing is right in the whitetail woods.
If you want excitement this season and a great chance to harvest a mature buck, try the ol’ switcheroo.
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