By Steve Sorensen
Trail cameras and pre-orbital scent –
a new summer time scouting method.
If you want an opportunity at a mature buck this year, the biggest step you can make toward that goal is to begin scouting now.
Yes, I know the heat of the summer is an unpleasant time to be in the woods. Yes, bugs are abundant and ready to eat you alive. Yes, dense foliage makes visibility impossible. And yes, it’s hard to evaluate bucks that don’t have fully developed headgear. So why bother?
Here’s why. Because spring and summer gives you a unique opportunity to join a buck in bachelor groups. Ever wonder what’s going on in those bachelor groups? And how buck groups differ from doe groups?
How Are Bucks Different From Does?
Does travel in family groups – a mother and her fawns, maybe a friend and her young, possibly a grandmother is included. These females invest their energy in nourishing, teaching and protecting the young.
Whitetail bucks invest their energy in macho stuff. (No surprise there!) They hang out with the guys. They do some sparring. They establish a pecking order. And the mature bucks, the ones that have been through the rut before, are sizing up their competition. They have a unique way of doing that. By spreading their scent around they’re saying, “I’m in the game.”
How Do Bucks Communicate Through Scent?
Hunters know deer interact at scrapes – places where they paw the ground and deposit scent. The problem hunters have is that until rutting activity begins to ramp up, we don’t find many scrapes.
Here’s what most hunters don’t realize:what’s more important than the scrape on the ground is the “licking branch” above it. Bucks use licking branches year ’round, whether they’re scraping the ground under them or not.
A study by Josh Braun at Missouri State University showed that even during the rut, the majority of a buck’s activity at a scrape involves contact of the licking branch to the scent gland in front of his eye, the pre-orbital gland. So the key to scent communication for bucks isn’t in the urine they deposit in scrapes. Urine dissipates quickly. The key is in what’s on the licking branch above the scrape.
When a buck applies his pre-orbital scent to the licking branch he’s alerting other bucks to his presence. Even young bucks, who aren’t yet sure what the game is, are instinctively driven to apply their scent to the licking branch.
How Can A Hunter Join The Bachelor Group?
Find a licking branch. Put a tiny amount of pre-orbital gland lure on it (I get mine from a West Virginia lure maker named Smokey McNicholas, www.SmokeysDeerLure.com). Then, set up a trail camera, and watch the bucks get interested.
When a buck visits a licking branch you’ve “doctored” with pre-orbital lure, he’s doing two things. He’s asking, “Who’s the new guy?” And he’s saying, “I’m in the game.”
It doesn’t matter if you can’t find an established licking branch, because you can start your own. Just select a live branch with a tip the thickness of a pencil about 5 feet off the ground over a deer trail. Or, make your own licking branch by tying a limb to a tree and letting it hang over a trail.
When other bucks show up at the licking branch, they’ll put their nose on the branch and catch a whiff of other bucks that have been there. Then they’ll apply their own scent, each one leaving his calling card, his unique identifying scent, on this bachelor’s club bulletin board.
And, the more mature the buck, the more likely he is to take an interest in the scent you place, because he wants to know who he’s competing with for breeding rights.
All you do is collect the photos, and review them on your computer. This is a great low-impact summer scouting method. Because pre-orbital gland scent is not water-based, it has staying power so you can reduce your visits to the site. Once every week to 10 days, swap-out your camera memory cards and reapply the pre-orbital gland scent.
If you want to take an inventory of the bucks in your area, join a bachelor group by using pre-orbital gland lure on licking branches in front of your trail cameras. You might be surprised at the bucks you see.
I covered this scouting method in detail in the August, 2011 issue of Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and in the September, 2012 issue I talk more about how to make your own mock licking branches. Try it, and while most hunters are looking for bucks with binoculars, you’ll be intimately acquainted with your local buck bachelor group.
About Steve Sorensen
Award-winning outdoor writer and speaker Steve Sorensen loves the Havalon knife, and has been a fan of knives since he begged his dad for a hunting knife when he was six years old. His articles have been published in Deer & Deer Hunting, Sports Afield, and many other top magazines across the USA. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow his writing on his website, www.EverydayHunter.com.
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