Just a Coincidence or a New Tactic?
Snow Scraping Buck on Opening Day
By: Jim Servi
Every fall, big bucks visit scrapes throughout my hunting area, but almost always at night. Daytime visits most likely consist of a quick scent check and then on to the next, without triggering the trail camera. There is one exception. Immediately after a snowfall, bucks tend to visit scrapes during the day. Thinking it was just a coincidence, I didn’t make the connection until the 2016 Gun Deer Season.
Walking into my stand on Opening Day, a light snow covered the ground. Fresh wolf tracks, made just hours before, sent a shiver through my body. After climbing into the sanctuary of my tree stand, darkness was just beginning to give way to the morning light. Gusts of wind were already forecasting the high winds to come. This stand is a special place for me and I generally only hunt it this one time of year. Like many young hunters, I went through my share of struggles in my early years, missing bucks that still haunt my memories. This stand was different though. Hunting it since 2009, I didn’t see a lot of deer, but the ones I did were often bucks, and my aim was always true.
Light now filled the entire woods and I found familiarity in the landscape. A gradual, downward slope leading to a thick swamp was my facing view, mostly hardwoods, but sprinkled with hemlocks. On the sugar maple ridge behind me, I saw a flash. Two does had come out of the swamp and disappeared. Suddenly, three more does appeared in front of me, uneasy from the wind. They lingered. I had already seen more does this morning, than the previous two years hunting this location. Trying to stir something up, I hit my grunt call. Suddenly, there was another deer at the base of my tree. A little nub buck was trying to figure out where that noise came from. All morning they came and went, but no bucks. Finally, in the early afternoon, they departed and so did I. My wife’s delicious Opening Day chili was waiting.
Warm and full, I made my way back out to the stand, taking a different approach, making sure to stay clear of the bedding area to the south. That unknowingly turned out to be a good decision. Settled back in, the wind was still swirling, but the deer activity had slowed. It was now mid-afternoon. Suddenly, I heard a noise behind me. I slowly turned. Cleaning the snow out of a scrape, all I could see of the buck was his long tines protruding into the hemlock branches above. I got ready, hoping he would continue towards me. Satisfied that his scrape was refreshed, he stepped out from behind the tree, a perfect shot.
Rushing to the spot, I could see it was a good hit. A short tracking job and there he was. The largest buck I had ever seen hunting was now the largest buck I had ever harvested.
Always curious, I backtracked his tracks in the snow. The scrape near me was the last of a half dozen scrapes he cleared out that afternoon, leading back to his bed in the area I avoid, just south of my stand. Little things matter when you are hunting and the route to my stand made all the difference that day. What about the snow? Was it just a coincidence that it had snowed the night before, covering the scrape? Or had he come to clear them out because of the snow? Days later, there was another hot scrape cleared out during the middle of the day after another snowfall. Trail cam pictures from past years confirmed the same. Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe there was something to it. Either way, I know where I’ll be sitting after the first fresh snow this year.
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First Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on November 1, 2017.