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River Valley Outdoors
Author and some of the lures used to tag big bucks over scrapes. (Photo by William Clunie)
Deer hunting with rifles in Maine starts on October 27 this year, and hunters across the state gear up in preparation for this traditional event.
Hunters that haven’t scouted out a prime location for taking their deer can still get out during grouse hunting season to search out secluded whitetail hideouts.
As October comes to an end the male of the species begins searching for does that come into heat, beginning the reproductive cycle. Hunters that understand the mating cycle look for signs that indicate this rutting activity.
Look for pockets of deer activity in the woods, and then narrow the exact location down by finding places where bucks leave signs of their mating intentions. Most of this activity will be centered near some kind of food source; beechnut trees, new-growth browse from recent logging operations, old apple trees, or agricultural growth.
Rutting bucks leave subtle signs around these feeding areas that show observant hunters their general mating territory. Look for freshly-rubbed saplings and scrapes, or trails that lead to these areas.
The male whitetail rubs the bark off small trees with its antlers at waist level to increase neck muscle strength in preparation for mating battles with other bucks.
The rutting bucks also make scrapes at this time by digging up the ground under an overhanging branch, usually near one of their primary trails, or near the edge of a wooded parcel that meets an open area.
Biologists suggest that these scrapes might be some kind of calling card to indicate to the female deer a buck’s intent to breed. Some also suggest that scrapes mark a primary rutting territory for bucks.
Either of these signs of buck activity indicates a great hunting location for the scouting deer hunter – especially if they want to take an antlered whitetail.
Don’t stop at finding only one location marked in this manner, but continue the search until several areas have been identified as primary rutting locations. That way, if the hunter finds his or her special spot taken by others with the same idea, they can move on to the next chosen location.
I like to place a ground blind downwind of the site at about fifty to a hundred yards to keep my scent from covering the area. Some hunters go a bit further by placing another stand on the opposite side of the site in case the wind happens to be coming from another direction.
During the first week or so of the rifle-deer season, the bucks cruise their territory, checking the scrapes they’ve left for any sign of the presence of a receptive doe. Most of their searching takes place at night, so hunters should concentrate their efforts at dawn and dusk. If possible, during this first week, a plan of staying on stand all day should be attempted – some bucks are persistent and continue their searching patterns throughout the daylight hours.
Remain as scent-free as possible, washing clothes and showering with scent-eliminating products. Some human odors inevitably will be left behind, so hunters can go one step further by adding some kind of covering lure to mask their scent. During the rut, a good lure would be a doe-in-heat scent that doubles as a covering scent and an attracting lure that might draw in an unwary buck.
Some deer hunters laugh at all this preparation, but fine-tuning your hunt with some of the details mentioned above might give you the edge when it comes to taking a trophy this year.
When you hoist your big buck up on the scales at the tagging station, and the hefty weight gets recorded, nobody will be laughing – the blaze-orange crowd will be congratulating your success.