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Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

By Bob Humphrey

It helps to know when to start looking for the telltale signs of buck activity.

QUESTION: When do bucks begin to rub trees and leave scrapes? – Will P.

ANSWER: A better question might be: When do they stop? As most hunters know, deer behavior in general is ruled by photoperiodism, changes in the amount of daylight. As the days grow shorter, physiological changes occur. Blood supply to the antlers is cut off and they essentially become “dead” bone. It is shortly after that, and even during the shedding process, that bucks begin rubbing trees and shrubs, a process that may continue until antlers are shed.

However, bucks also rub overhanging branches or licking branches, gently working twigs in and around their foreheads and orbital glands to deposit and investigate scent. While this activity also intensifies and peaks during the fall breeding season, it occurs throughout the year.

Somewhat the same is true of scrapes. I’ve observed tremendous variability in terms of when bucks begin scraping in the fall, along with if, when and how often they revisit those scrapes. In my general vicinity, scraping usually begins around early October, but in my immediate neighborhood, I often don’t find scrapes until early to mid November. I suspect it has something to do with herd dynamics and local sex and age ratios.

I also find a few fresh scrapes every spring while I’m turkey hunting, and no, they’re not just turkey scratchings. While I have no empirical evidence to back it up, I believe it might be because the hours of daylight are the same as in November during peak rut.

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