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How To/Pro-Tips

Sorting Out The Sign

So what's hot -- rubs, scrapes, trails, bedding areas or feeding areas? Actually they all are. An area containing all these things indicates a high level of deer activity. However, I don't bet the farm on any one of them. Maybe I'm smart or maybe I'm indecisive, but I try to split the difference. I don't like to hunt solely over scrapes because that's an easy way to spook a buck. Invading his bedding area is even worse. Rub lines indicate only one of his routes and he might be going another way that day. Feeding areas are a good bet during the peak of the rut but are usually too open to tempt a buck at other times. I like to set up on a buck trail, which is usually small and located in denser cover than main trails. I look for a trail that connects two or more of the above areas. Sometimes I will set up on the buck's "bedroom" door of his core area, but I won't go in. -- Bill Jordan

Hit Where It Counts

My preferred aiming points on deer depend on whether I'm hunting with a bow or a gun. With a bow, it's an easy call. I shoot for the chest area behind the shoulder. Straight down shots into the spine worry me. Today's powerful bows and strong broadheads can make this shot into the spine or through the three inches or so of loin muscle. But when I can, I avoid bone, including shoulder bones, with bows. With rifles it's a very different deal. I actually aim for bone to maximize expanding bullet performance, produce more shock and get a quicker kill. Square on the shoulder is hard to beat. If I'm in a rock-solid stand, particularly with a shooting rail, and the deer presents the right shot, I'll go for the neck. I don't like head shots because a slight miss is a major wound on a deer I am unlikely to recover. Spine shots mess up the best meat and rear-end shots can go wrong too easily. -- Joe Drake

Connect The Dots

It's easy to get confused by too much information, particularly when it is not organized. After extensive scouting and perhaps some hunting, you have a lot of information about the sign and movement patterns of the local deer. You know about territorial rubs, rub lines, scrapes and trails. Success lies in putting it all together. This is easiest to do with an area map or aerial photo. Simply mark down where all the different sign occurs. That gives you about half the picture. Next, bring the terrain types into the game. Correlate main trails, identified by actual trails and rub lines, with certain types and areas of terrain. Look for funnels, connecting cover and barriers. By knowing where and in what type of cover the deer have been and where they have made known trails, you can deduce how and where they are most likely to move from one place to the other. By knowing where the barriers are, it's easy to find the funnels. -- Ricky Joe Bishop

Rubbing It In

Many hunters believe rubs to be the most reliable form of buck sign. Some believe that the bigger the rub the bigger the buck. To an extent I agree with both. The big advantage is that rubs are less likely to be made randomly than scrapes. Rubs appear first and they are about a whole lot more than getting velvet off antlers. The buck marks his territory from glands on his forehead while rubbing. There are three main types of rubs. There are the purely territorial rubs around the buck's core area that are much like "No Trespassing" signs. There are rub lines that are strung out along a trail indicating a buck's preferred travel route. A communal rub often occurs where two or more bucks' territories join. It is usually on a larger than average tree and all the dominant bucks in the area will rub it. So will some sub-dominant bucks and this is the exception to the "big rub, big buck" theory.

Scrape Savvy

Scrapes are like e-mail for sexually active deer. The buck paws out a clean area of soil, usually under an overhanging limb, and urinates in it. If a receptive doe comes by, she also urinates in the scrape. When the buck returns to "check his mail," he picks up her trail. Sounds like a can't-miss deal for the deer hunter, but there's more to it. Most scrapes are situated so that the buck can check if he's "got mail" from a distance. Often he checks his scrapes at night. In fact, there's a theory that most bucks shot over scrapes are intruder bucks rather than that scrape's maker. Also, individual scrapes are checked at random intervals. Some are checked regularly, some infrequently and some are never revisited after they are made. Watch for scrapes that are kept clean and frequently have fresh urine in them. Don't set up right over the scrape. Look for a nearby trail downwind of the scrape and hope to ambush lover boy.

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