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Social Scrape Networking for Whitetails

11/17/2013
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whitetail buck making a scrapeThe term social networking has never before been thought of in terms other than human interaction via the internet.  Animals communicate in different ways and the communication between whitetail deer is a phenomena which has perplexed biologists and hunters alike for eons.  Oak Duke is a well respected outdoor writer at the local and state level in his home state of New York.  Having spent over 40 years as a writer and chasing whitetails, Duke has thousands of pages of notes on whitetail deer behavior and being able to sit and talk with him at the camp dinner table each season is nothing short of inspiring.  Although he is an older guy, Duke is not scared of changing with the times and technology available to hunters.  With the improved technology of trail cameras Duke used them to his advantage and discovered  a part of deer behavior which he used to his advantage and the results have been jaw dropping. 

Scrapes are a pivotal part of the whitetail deer hunter’s game plan.  We look for scrapes  to hunt near or over each fall.  However, Duke discovered a method to unleash the potential activity at an existing scrape or on his own mock scrapes.  “ A few years ago I decided to put one of my trail cameras over an existing scrape and subsequently began seeing a pattern with deer.  I found that over 95% of the time, deer were paying attention to the licking branch instead of the ground,” says Duke. “ This goes against the common school of thought, but I have an entire external hard drive worth of photos showing this phenomena.” 

So what does this mean?

Duke believes as the rut creeps closer and closer both bucks and does are timing themselves.  He believes that the saliva and other scent glands left on the licking branch is the social network for deer. “I have countless pictures of both bucks and does working licking branches, they are keeping track of each other and the dominte bucks will tear up licking branches in order to mark their area.”

Drawing the conclusion the silva on the licking branches are the primary communication tool, Duke began finding scrapes he could not hunt over or in areas he was not hunting, clipping the licking branch, storing them in plastic bags, and moving it into his own areas, particularly, his own mock scrapes.  Duke  finds a nice flat area near his stand or near a triple cover chance and sets up shop.  By simply clearing some  of the leaves away on the ground and zip tying the foreign branch between four and a half to five feet above the ground is a direct challenge to any bucks in the area.  Duke reports for some reason deer like to be able to stand directly underneath the licking branch.  “ Their sense of smell is incredible, by using this method, I am getting pictures and video of bucks I never knew existed.  My areas become overrun with bucks.  Especially to the dominate bucks in the area, this direct challenge drives then crazy.”  Right now during this pre-rutting action while the bucks are chasing each other around and establishing dominance, bringing in the licking branch of another buck  is too much for them to stand. “I have had many bucks come into my mock scrapes the same day I set them up.”  Another of Duke’s tricks involves cotton balls. “ If I kill a doe, I immediately swab her mouth with cotton balls to pick up her residual saliva. Just like with the branches, I’ll zip tie these above a scrape and the results are incredible.

Over the past five years Duke has been paying attention to this interesting behavioral pattern in whitetails he has compiled thousands of pictures and videos and notched several tags as well. “ With the improvement of technology we are able to see into the secret world of deer, I am excited to see what we will know just ten years from now,” says Duke.   Although this method of using the licking branch goes against traditional wisdom, I am willing to try this form of challenging a big buck in order to notch my tag.

Jason Reid

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