column and photo by Josh Boyd:
Autumn's cool breeze has finally brought much needed relief to south-central Kentucky, breaking the bounds of a seemingly endless summer. Many hunters, who were held idle due to the stifling heat of early archery season, are now becoming increasingly focused on heading to the woods to put some fresh venison in the freezer.
As we begin to near the half way point of the month of October, an often welcome shift in deer behavior is on the horizon. This ensuing shift is most commonly known as the pre-rut. Bucks begin to ever-increasingly switch their attention from their standard bed to feed regimens, to that more consistent with marking their territory for the upcoming seeking phase of the rut.
This territorial behavior leaves behind easily identifiable calling cards, that if attentive, a hunter can readily locate and identify. A hunter can capitalize upon the discovery of such sign and formulate a strategy to hunt that given buck due to their findings.
One such form of sign left by bucks during the pre-rut period is rubs. Rubs are markings made on a tree's trunk by a buck as they rake their antlers across it. These rubs are made by bucks in an attempt to announce their presence to other deer in the area, by way of visual declaration, as well as with the dispersal of scent.
These rub trees are easily identified by their lack of bark at a certain height, and often feature gouges made by a buck's tines as they rake across the tree's trunk. These rubs are often found on numerous trees within an area, referred to as a rub-line.
Another form of buck sign that becomes increasingly prominent during the pre-rut is scrapes. Scrapes are characterized by bare segments of dirt in a circular or oval pattern that appear to have been raked free of leaf litter and other ground debris.
Bucks use these scrapes as a means of announcing their presence, as well as for assessing the presence of other individual deer in the area. Bucks urinate in these scrape locations to mark their territory. Scrapes almost always also feature an overhead branch known as a "licking branch." These branches are used to facilitate the process of depositing a buck's distinct scent.
When attempting to locate buck sign such as scrapes and rubs, a hunter is wise to focus his or her efforts around known deer travel corridors. Because such markings are made in a buck's effort to mark their territory and to find receptive does, scrapes and rubs are commonly found within areas of high deer traffic.
For this reason, terrain features that form pinch points and funnels are excellent locations to focus scouting efforts. Field edges are also key areas of interest when scouting for pre-rut sign. Fields that are highly utilized as food sources by deer, especially does, can be significant sources for the discovery of scrapes and rubs.
Once buck sign such as scrapes and rubs are located, it is up to the hunter to formulate a plan based upon their findings. It is of value to analyze this sign to estimate how recently it has been made.
While this can be somewhat difficult at times, scrapes especially, can give away their timeline of activity. If scrapes are void of all leaf litter when leaves are falling at a constant rate, odds are good that the scrape is active and activity has taken place recently. Trail cameras are also an effective means of monitoring scrapes and rubs for continuous usage.
Once fresh sign has been located, a hunter can hang a stand in a well hidden manner and plan to hunt the area accordingly. While a buck will typically return to check the status of their handiwork, frequent visits to the site are not always sustained. For this reason, it is advisable to form a strategy and execute upon it accordingly, as soon as an opportunity presents itself.
As the pre-rut phase inches ever closer, scout with intent, and put yourself in firm contention to capitalize on this wonderful phase of season. Don't miss out on this often action packed period of time to be in the south-central Kentucky deer woods.