Cruising Bucks

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While it isn't truly productive to hunt over scrapes, you can use scrapes and rubs as ways to pattern bucks. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Using Buck Sign to Find Travel Routes

Biologists have done studies to show that mature bucks make most of the early scrapes and that scraping reaches a peak just before the does come into estrus. This should lead you to an important conclusion: scrape lines are a great way to find buck travel routes during the early phases of the rut.

Individual scrapes don’t tell you much. They could be purely random made at night by a buck that stopped for a few minutes along the edge of a field. But, lines of scrapes that fall along a believable travel route should be a clue you use when deciding where to set up. The bucks are not making the travel routes in an effort to freshen their scrapes. They make their scrapes along their travel routes. The scrapes will help reveal these routes.

However, just because you don’t find a scrape line along a good travel route doesn’t mean bucks aren’t using it. Some of the best stands don’t have scrapes near them. Scrape lines are just one more tool you can use when scouting to help you find a travel route, but they aren’t the only tool.

Using Cover and Terain to Find Travel Routes

Bowhunting and funnels go hand in hand. I’ve already mentioned the most likely Point A and Point B for morning and evening hunts. Now, you need a funnel that falls somewhere in between.

Ridges: Does will travel right on top of the ridge while bucks tend to favor a path a small distance down the side hill on the downwind slope. The best way to find these routes is to look for rub lines that will start to take shape after mid-October. You may even see a trail. Don’t hunt too far down off the top, however, because you will get into swirling winds.

Side hill erosion ditches: When water runs down a hill for a few thousand years it makes a deep ditch that starts out shallow at the top and continues to get deeper and nastier as it cuts its way down the hill. Deer make big detours to get around these ditches, or they cross only where the banks are gradual. These funnels often fall between two bedding ridges making them great morning stand locations.

Creek Crossings: Creeks and small rivers generally have shallow sections where most of the deer can wade across easily. Even in very shallow creeks deer may be forced by high banks to use only certain crossings. Obviously, the farther apart such crossings are, the more heavily used each will be.

Saddles: A saddle is any low spot along a ridgeline. Saddles are often found within the cover of the woods, and present an easy point for the buck to crest a rise without sky lining himself.

Cover-related funnels: Bucks also rely on cover when traveling. As with terrain-related funnels, their goal is to keep out of sight and presumably out of danger. The most obvious and common form of cover-related travel route is the common fence line. Overgrown fence lines are everywhere, connecting wood lots, traversing open ridge tops, and linking chunks of river bottom cover. During the early phases of the rut, they are buck super-highways for two reasons.

First, a buck would rather walk along a fence than jump it, especially if it runs generally in the same direction he’s heading. Second, and more important, fences provide cover and the sense of security a secretive buck desires.

River and creek bottoms are about the only form of deer cover in many of the plains states. Narrow sections of cover, such as are often found on the outside bank where the river makes a turn, will funnel deer movement very well. Also, look for any fingers of cover leading away from the river bottom. Bucks use these as travel routes into crop fields where they feed or into thickets and grassy uplands where they bed.

Another cover-related funnel is called an inside corner. It is formed when a field has a corner that extends back into a wooded area creating an “L” shaped piece of timber. Deer will generally avoid the open field as they travel from one leg of the “L” to the other. This causes a concentration of deer movement right at the corner. Trails from several different directions tend to converge at this point. Like other cover-related funnels, once you start looking you’ll find inside corners everywhere.

Something as basic as an hourglass of trees that connects large blocks of timber will constitute an excellent travel funnel. Also, fingers of cover which point toward each other from opposite sides of an open ridge top (even if they don’t connect) will be used by traveling bucks because they can stay hidden longer.

The easiest way to find cover-related funnels is to study an aerial photo of your hunting area. Once you train your eye to spot them, these rutting buck highways will jump out at you from everywhere.

If I had to stake my whole season on one week it would definitely be the week just before most of the does come into estrus. I’d be sitting in a stand overlooking some form of narrow funnel between two places where lots of does live. I’d sit there until noon and then move to a different stand in another funnel near a feeding area. Seven days of that and I’m likely to be out of tags. During the late pre-rut, travel routes are where you’ll find the hottest action.

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