Hunt OTG Over Fresh Scrapes

Find a fresh scrape and set up on the ground.

Mike Bickers | October 30, 2023

The author’s technique of easing into the woods in the early afternoon, finding a fresh scrape, and setting up on the ground produced this Morgan County buck—and a bonus doe that showed soon after the shot.

There are dedicated bowhunters who hunt exclusively with a bow, even during gun season. It’s mostly because they like the greater challenge of hunting with a primitive weapon. That greater challenge naturally results in a higher level of satisfaction once they close the deal. After all, anyone can sit in a tree stand or blind, wait for a deer to walk into view, and know with the squeeze of the trigger, that deer will be theirs. Add a food plot or a corn feeder to the equation, and the scales tip even further to the hunter’s advantage.

I no longer bowhunt, but instead hunt strictly during gun season with a focus on the rut. I prefer the quick, clean kill of a rifle. The private property I hunt is over 200 acres and I don’t feel the hunting pressure surrounding my property is as strong as it was in years past. Thus, I’m comfortable staying out of the woods prior to gun season, without worrying that someone else is going to impact my opportunity to harvest a nice buck.

Years ago, I discovered something by accident that has served me well over the years: hunting from the ground. I frequently hunt from permanent tree stands, but on occasion, when the wind isn’t right for any of my stands, I opt to hunt from the ground, and I often venture out in search of a fresh scrape to set up near, typically for an evening hunt. No advanced scouting necessary, I simply walk my normal roads or trails until one is hopefully discovered. After that, it’s simply a matter of picking the right ambush point.

The first time I did this was on a 100-acre lease in Morgan County where I had an opportunity to hunt in addition to my private property. I had two ladder stands that I hunted on the lease, and they were on either end of a swamp. Afternoon hunts were always difficult in these stands, due to the low-lying terrain. Wind currents tend to drift upward in the mornings and then downward in the evenings as the air cools. In the swamp, the air would swirl in the afternoons. Most times when I hunted these stands in the afternoon, I was serenaded by numerous deer over the course of the hunt. Here a snort, there a snort, everywhere a snort-snort. You get the picture.

One afternoon, I decided I would hunt from the ground somewhere away from my stands, in order to avoid spooking every deer in the area. At around 3 p.m. I proceeded down to a small river on the far side of the lease called Little River. I followed an ATV trail that ran parallel to the river, an area where there was significant cover. I came across a fresh scrape. It was large, around 2 feet in diameter and perfectly round. It was also very clean (no leaves), indicating it was actively being monitored. On one side of the trail was the river. On the other was a privet thicket, affectionately referred to as “privy hedge.” A light breeze was blowing from the privy hedge thicket, across the trail toward the river. I set up on the edge of the trail in the privy hedge, about 15 yards past the scrape. My back was against a very small tree, and I was sitting on my folding turkey seat cushion, which has thicker padding in the front than in the back of the seat, along with a padded back.

I faced the trail, which put the scrape directly to my left, which was necessary since I am a right-handed shooter. My feet almost reached the trail edge as I sat with my knees folded upward, as they would serve as my shooting rest. To my surprise, within 30 minutes I heard a deer approaching through the privy hedge, from my left rear. I slowly positioned my Marlin 30-30 rifle on my left knee and leaned over toward the scope. I slowly turned my head ever so slightly to the left, and out of my peripheral vision, I saw a buck approaching. It had a large rack, and although I couldn’t count the points, I made the instant decision that it was a shooter, and he was walking directly toward the scrape. I eased the hammer back on my 30-30, got my eye to the scope and five seconds later I had the shoulder lined up and squeezed the trigger. My gun went “click,” my first-ever misfire on a deer. I instinctively ejected the shell and readied another, but it was too late. Big bucks don’t give you a second chance. I later examined my gun and found powder residue that had built up near the firing pin, thus not allowing the cartridge to seat itself properly. I then remembered a misfire that occurred weeks earlier while sighting-in my rifle for the season, and I had dismissed it assuming I simply had a defective round. Regardless, this was an awesome experience that would repeat itself two years later, only with better results.

The author included hand-drawn diagrams of OTG setups that were successful with putting a nice buck in close range. Mike goes in early for an afternoon hunt and finds a fresh scrape, with no prior scouting, and hunts on the ground, setting up based on the wind and the scrape.

Fast-forward two years, and one afternoon I followed that same trail along the river, early again around 3 p.m. I came across three scrapes together. One was large and pristine, and there were two other smaller scrapes. I’ve read that younger bucks will often make scrapes near a larger buck’s scrape, which was probably the case. At the time, I simply thought three scrapes are better than one, and I was excited.

I set up in a similar fashion as the previous time, but based on the wind direction I decided to set up about 30 yards from the scrapes, such that I could see the entire length of the trail. Again, my back was against a small tree, my knees were folded up, and I waited, looking down the trail directly toward the scrapes, facing into the wind.

Soon, several does appeared near the scrapes, approaching from the river side of the trail. As they neared the trail, one of the does looked directly at me and alerted. She stomped her foot a few times, adjusted her head several times trying to figure out what I was and determine if I was a threat. I imagined her thinking there was a new piece of furniture in her living room that wasn’t there yesterday. She would feed a bit and then look back up at me. I sat completely motionless, and she finally got over it and meandered around with the other does. They appeared to be looking for the buck, as well. Eventually, they wandered off out of sight. Shortly thereafter, here comes the buck, about 80 yards down the trail. He was walking straight toward me and had a giddy-up in his step. He was large and in charge. When he got within about 50 yards, he made a slight turn to the left, allowing me to line up on his right shoulder. The 170-grain soft point dropped him in his tracks with barely a twitch after he hit the ground. He was a nice 9-pointer with decent mass and now has a place on my wall. I stayed put for several more minutes as I never want to rush toward a deer after it goes down. Surprisingly, following almost in his tracks was a large doe. She approached the buck and stopped, not sure what was going on. I pulled the trigger on her, as well, and my venison needs for the year were then satisfied.

The following year I was hunting on an adjacent 50-acre lease and was learning the deer patterns on this new piece of property. The first morning, I hunted a tripod stand on the main trail that was left behind from the previous lease holder, as it was somewhat in the center of the property. On my way out on the main trail, having seen a couple of does, I noticed an area with multiple scrapes near the intersection of another trail that ran perpendicular to the main trail. That afternoon, I set up to hunt that set of scrapes from the ground. First, I tried to determine which way the buck might come from. One side of the trail was open hardwoods, the other side of the trail was also open hardwoods that sloped downward. Beginning about 50 yards from the trail was a thicket. I decided that thicket might make a good daytime bedding area for a buck and was relatively close to the scrapes.

The wind was blowing parallel to the trail, which was favorable. I decided to position myself about 30 yards from the scrapes on the opposite side of the trail from the thicket. Due to the slope on the other side of the trail, I would not be able to see his approach until he reached the trail, but this might work in my favor as he would not be able to see me on the ground until it was too late. Like my previous experiences, the buck appeared early, around 4:00, as if he had studied my script. The first thing I saw was antlers. He stopped, just on the other side of the trail, probably scoping the area before approaching the scrapes. I could only see the tips of his antlers but knew it was a good buck. Fully in position with my rifle up on my knees, I pulled back the hammer on my 30-30, acquired the antlers in my scope and waited. Soon he proceeded forward, and I had him in full view. He was a nice 10-pointer but not the one I was looking for, so I decided not to shoot. Seconds later he spotted me sitting there in the open with my back against a tree and did not waste any time returning to the thicket. Although I didn’t harvest a buck, I counted this as another successful hunt from the ground.

These experiences have convinced me this is a viable alternative to hunting from a tree stand or blind, for anyone, especially those looking for a greater challenge. Hunting over fresh scrapes, my success has been 100% as the three scenarios described are the only times I’ve done this over a fresh scrape. I’ve hunted numerous other times on the ground, without the benefit of a scrape, and almost every hunt resulted in a memorable experience. I’ve had does feeding within 3 feet of me on the ground, unaware of my presence, for example. I once had an armadillo rooting around me, even partially crawling under my folded knees. I’ve been busted many times by does, mostly due to my movement as they approached from the rear. Minimizing movement is much more critical when hunting on the ground.

Anyone who considers this hunting technique should of course ensure they wear hunter orange, perhaps including an orange hat, especially when hunting public land or other areas with multiple hunters in the woods. Use the terrain or other means to conceal yourself from your quarry. Pay close attention to the wind direction and position yourself downwind of where you expect the deer to arrive.

Try this, you will not be disappointed!

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