This time of year the evidence of buck activity begins to explode. Scrapes and rubs are popping up all in buck travel corridors, and hunters fill with anticipation as the evidence of buck activity lends to their hopes of tagging a nice buck. Often times hunters do not recognize good sign for what it is, and why its there. Recognizing sign and when and why you should hunt is crucial to success in pre-rut. During the rut the bucks chasing can put that buck anywhere in the woods at anytime of the day, but pre-rut has bucks traveling there range leaving territorial sign on a daily and nightly basis as they prepare for the oncoming breeding phase. Let’s discuss sign and if and when you should hunt it.
Rubs are a great indication of a buck in the area you are hunting, but often these rubs are not very dependable to hunt over. Rub lines essentially detail a buck’s travel route and territorial marker, especially fresh rubs this time of year compared to the early season. These rub lines from my experience with trail cameras surveys are more often utilized at night. There is one key to a rub line set that can make them worth hunting over, field edges. Finding a good rub line just inside the wood line of a field can yield success. These rubs are often made by bucks as they stage before entering the fields in the cover of last light or darkness, giving the hunter a shot at the buck during shooting light if they setup in these staging areas. This is the only scenario I personally hunt over any rub sign.
The ground markings of circular shapes under licking branches are popping up along buck travel routes, fields, and staging areas this time of year in plenty. These are much more attention worthy than a rub. Finding both rubs and scrapes can be the jackpot, but dialing in on when a buck is using them is the key. I utilize trail cameras, and although bucks often move more during the cover of night there are ways to sway his movement to the daylight to help us get an opportunity. Even if you are not running trail cameras, finding scrapes and utilizing the technique I will mention next will often lead to success, thought we still cannot control when the buck will move, we can give him that incentive to move.
Pre-rut incentivizing –
My favored technique for hunting pre rut is utilizing mock scrapes, and scrape drippers. I hunt a lot of public land, highly pressured public land. I find areas that should be low pressure zones/safe zones, and find fresh sign as described above. I only focus on areas that I find a culmination of buck sign that shows his prevalence of utilizing the area. I then hang 1-3 mock scrapes in the area. This plays on the bucks territorialism and his curiosity(bucks have been with heir fellow bucks all year, and all of a sudden a new buck is in the area that they want to check out). There are several products available for mock scrapes on the market and I have used several with success, though the Scrape vine kits are really, really good, used in conjunction with the day time scrape drippers. I then hunt that “set” for 3days, and often within 3days this has provided success more often than not. Used in conjunction with calls, and as pre rut gets later, some rattling can be highly successful. (if your buck ratio is high enough to have bucks willing to partake in fighting. I have had low buck areas where bucks were not into rattling and just would not respond.)
Recognizing the phases of hunting season, and the techniques to apply can greatly increase your odds, as they say…knowledge is power.
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