Is hunting over scrapes really worth your time?
I remember when I first encountered a whitetail’s scrape while hunting. I was in Alberta, and the area was torn up like a barnyard. I was pretty dumb back then. It was about the time Nixon was president, and I thought I had found the proverbial pot of gold. I sat at that spot for a week. Except for some squirrels and a few songbirds, I was pretty lonely.
Today, hunters know a good bit more about scrapes and scraping behavior. Biologists have monitored and studied scrapes and have a good idea of how and why they’re made, and what they mean in the social hierarchy of a deer herd. Smart deer hunters have begun to use this knowledge.
The first major scrape study was done by Dr. Karl Miller. It was conducted on a penned deer herd at the University of Georgia, and the results were published in 1987. Miller wrote that dominant bucks did most of the scraping, and while subordinate bucks sometimes marked the licking branch, they rarely pawed or peed in the scrape. The deer were observed only during the day.
While very basic, the Miller study set the ball in motion. What really changed our knowledge of scrape activity was the introduction of motion-sensing cameras. Scrapes could be monitored around the clock, both on captive and wild deer. The information learned from those cameras changed everything.
Early on, most people believed scrapes were mechanisms through which does informed bucks they were ready to breed. We also believed they helped mature bucks find those does.
We now know this might not be the case. We also know the most important element of a scrape is the overhanging limb, or licking branch.
Research has shown the two most common behaviors that occur when bucks come to the scrape are marking the overhanging limb and rub-urination.
Interestingly, almost half the bucks that come near a scrape do nothing. Those that take action typically smell the ground and stretch to reach the licking branch. Once they’ve smelled the branch, they often lick it and/or rake it with their antlers, rubbing it to deposit scent from the forehead gland and possibly the preorbital gland at the corner of the eye.
Next, the buck usually paws the scrape before bringing his back knee joints together and urinating over his tarsal glands. This rub-urination behavior is performed by both sexes year-round, but most often by bucks just prior to the peak of the rut. Research has also shown that dominant bucks rub-urinate more frequently than subordinate bucks.
While you might see some September activity, scraping throughout most of the whitetail’s range peaks in the last seven to 10 days of October through the first seven to 10 days of November.
One Michigan study, conducted by John Ozoga in an enclosure, showed 80 percent of all scraping occurred before the first female was bred.
University of Georgia graduate student Karen Alexy used infrared video cameras on six scrapes that were active the previous year in two northeastern Georgia counties. Her two-year study showed yearling bucks visited the scrapes often in mid-October, bucking the long-held belief that yearling bucks don’t visit scrapes.
She also found 2½-year-old and older bucks visited the scrapes most during the week of Oct. 15 to 21. Oct. 8 to 14 was second, and the first week of November was third. The highest scrape visitation rates for does occurred in mid-October.
What about time of day?
Alexy’s study showed 85 percent of buck visits and 75 percent of doe visits occurred at night.
The same was true in a study done by Dr. Grant Woods in Missouri. Woods’ study showed the top daytime visitation periods were, in order, 8:45 to 10:15 a.m., 3:45 to 5:15 p.m. and 11:45 to 1:15 p.m.
The research also indicates dominant bucks do not necessarily control scrapes.
For example, Alexy documented as many as 13 different bucks and as few as three using a scrape in one year. She also found only half of the bucks revisited a scrape, while some returned several times.
Deer hunters have long known there are primary and secondary scrapes.
Large scrapes made in the same area year after year are primary scrapes. Like signpost rubs, primary scrapes often have a network of trails leading to and from them like spokes in a wheel.
Secondary scrapes are usually located along established travel routes and are visited less frequently.
The random scrapes often found along field edges and old logging roads are called tertiary scrapes, at least by those who put them in a separate group.
Research tells us scrape activity is most intense during the pre-rut, and bucks have little use for them once does begin to come into estrus.
Scrapes can help you identify preferred buck travel routes, however. For example, if you find a primary scrape, you’ll probably find several secondary scrapes along one of the trails leading to it. While I wouldn’t pick a stand site based on one secondary scrape, it would be worthwhile to look for an ideal ambush point somewhere along a trail with multiple secondary scrapes.
There are several primary scrapes along a river bottom on a farm I often hunt in southeastern Illinois. Because the wind constantly swirls in that bottom, setting up over those scrapes is a fool’s game. However, I found a line of secondary scrapes leading down into the bottom on a trail that’s almost impossible to see. Several deer have been taken along that trail, largely because the wind is easier to predict.
For me, though, the Holy Grail of hunting spots is a primary scrape that’s the hub of a line of secondary scrapes and a rub line or two.
Such locations are the HOV lane of deer movement. Sooner or later, a mature buck will cruise by. Don’t over-hunt such locations, and go there only when the wind is just right. I like to have multiple stands within a reasonable distance of the hub so I can hunt the general area without burning it out.
When I’m hunting a travel corridor that’s not a scrape line, I sometimes make a mock scrape within shooting distance of my stand. I do this mainly because research has shown bucks sometimes visit a scrape out of curiosity. If they see a licking branch and kicked-out area of leaves, who knows? Maybe that will be enough to pull them in for a shot. It can’t hurt.
I almost killed the biggest buck of my life at such a location. There were two traditional rub lines leading to a big signpost rub on an ancient wooden fence post, with two primary scrapes located at the junction of the rub lines. I sat there for five days, observing all sorts of deer. On the morning of day five, a monster showed up.
The huge 10-pointer was bigger than the typical 181-inch buck I’d shot a few years earlier. He stopped 25 steps from my tree and 50 yards from the scrapes, screened by three neck-high cedars. Remaining motionless for 10 minutes, all he had to do was take one step forward or backward to be mine. Instead, he turned and walked straight away from me with the cedars protecting him the entire way.
How do they know to do that?
It’s a vision I’ll carry to the grave, but it’s also why I hunt the travel routes leading to and from primary scrapes during the early stages of the rut.
You should, too. Read Recent Articles:
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• The Same Old Rut? When it comes to deer hunting, the rut is hardly mundane, routine or predictable. This article was published in the November 2010 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.