Those of us who make a habit of pursuing trophy whitetails don’t have an off-season. Our obsession is enabled by affordable, user-friendly game cameras, and images from late-winter cameras can be the “fix” needed to help us through the next several months, offering assurances that interesting bucks made it through another hunting season.
Of course, Mother Nature being the cruel mistress she is, there is no guarantee that the bucks glimpsed immediately post-season will make it through the long challenging winter and lingering spring. That is why a summertime game-cam inventory of the bucks on your chosen tracts can be a smart move—if you have the know-how to pull it off. There are pitfalls. Summer can be one of the toughest times to capture a mature buck on film, especially if local regulations prohibit use of reliable deer magnets like mineral licks or bait piles. In such cases, you might need to “plant” your very own scrape tree.
My friend Steve Bartylla, an accomplished whitetail bowhunter who has managed several whitetail tracts across several states, regularly uses transplanted scrape trees to attract mature bucks to his game cams in summer. His plan is based on a rather simple concept: Fresh scrapes may be some of the best places to capture images of bucks in late October, but Bartylla believes that the very best scrape locations from the previous fall—complete with their accompanying licking branches—continue to see regular use virtually year-round, as a hub of communication by the resident deer herd. And he’s got plenty of photographic proof the theory is sound.
Bartylla knows that not every scrape will see regular year-round visits, but his research has found that field-edge scrapes, or those located on primary food sources, are most likely to see at least some consistent year-round use. He begins his search for these “eternal” scrapes by placing his game cams on the best, most-used scrapes discovered the previous fall. If he doesn’t pick up buck images within two weeks, he moves on to other known, natural scrape sites.
When Bartylla runs out of natural scrape sites, he constructs his own. If you hunt on private land, this might be your best option, but understand that the process is much more involved than simply digging up the dirt with your boot and squirting in some scent. Bartylla knows the real draw of a scrape is its overhanging licking branch, so he will cut a suitable tree and bury it about 3 feet deep near a primary food source (inside a small food plot is ideal). The goal is to offer a highly visible, readily accessible “community scrape,” complete with several suitable licking branches at just the right height. Bartylla prefers a durable hardwood species (oak is great) that will provide two or three years of use; ideal tree diameter ranges from a Coke can to a small coffee can. Use a post-hole digger to bury your “tree” deep enough to allow bucks to rub it without toppling it.
Because the goal of your scrape tree is to take inventory of all local bucks, Bartylla recommends sinking the tree well within game-cam range of the surrounding woodline (where your camera should be mounted)—about 30 to 50 feet. Remember to trim potential licking branches from the spar’s backside, as you want all visitors captured clearly on camera. With the bogus tree positioned thusly, Bartylla has found that the vast majority of bucks using the field will be photographed at the site within a two-week span. And that’s some valuable intel to feed your trophy-buck obsession.