Understanding Deer Scrapes

deer scrapes
Using a product like Tink’s Power Scrape to freshen your scrapes can help increase daytime activity and your chances at harvesting a nice buck. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

When most deer hunters think of the rut, they think of deer scrapes, scrapes as big as a Buick - pawed out of the ground by rut-crazed bucks with antlers so big they snag on nearby trees when he walks. Deer hunters want to see deer scrapes when they're scouting and they want them near their stands. The bigger they are the giddier the deer hunters become. Let's face it, this is no way to go into the season. I should know; I have been there myself.

Hunting deer scrapes aren't a free pass to trophy buck heaven. In fact, they don't need to be a big part of your deer hunting strategy. When deer hunting the peak of the rut, you don't need to care if deer scrapes are near your tree stands or not. At this time, deer scrapes carry almost no information that interests some deer hunters. Why the 180-degree reversal? Simple; hunting deer scrapes doesn't work the way most deer hunters think it should.

hunting deer scrapes
Simply finding a deer scrape when you are scouting doesn't assure that you will soon see the buck that made that scrape. Whitetail behavior isn't that convenient.

In truth, hunting deer scrapes do work during the early phases of the rut, but not during the middle of the rut when most deer hunters try to hunt them.

There are still many misconceptions concerning deer scrapes, and as a result, many deer hunters still sit over the wrong ones at the wrong times. They quickly become frustrated. You can read volumes on deer scrapes and how to classify them, but in the end, there are really only two kinds: those that will be visited again by the buck that made them, and those that won't. If you really want to put deer scrapes to work this fall, you need to cut through the misconceptions and gain a better understanding of what deer scrapes really mean.

Scrape Education

When deer scrapes first gained attention as a significant form of deer sign, biologists and deer hunters alike were under the misconception that deer scrapes served as a meeting place for bucks and does during the rut.

deer scrapes
By urinating across their hock glands, bucks leave their individual scent in the deer scrape itself.

Biologists now believe that deer scrapes have a complex purpose that may actually have run its course by the time breeding begins.

R. Larry Marchinton and Karl Miller, from the University of Georgia, conclude that once does begin to come into heat, bucks have little use for deer scrapes and stop using them. In their findings, they state that only mature, dominant bucks produce large numbers of deer scrapes and that they scrape most intensely just before breeding begins. They also ramp up their scrape activity again - but to a lesser degree - after most does are bred.

Here is a real world analogy that might help you understand the role of deer scrapes in the deer herd better.

Scrapes serve much the same function in the whitetail world as a mailbox post or a fire hydrant does for dogs. The mail box post or fire hydrant is only used by males to keep track of other males or possibly even as a way to maintain order in the local dominance hierarchy. In no way does the canine scent post serve as a means for male and female dogs to get together.

deer scrapes
Deer scrapes will appear everywhere that there are bucks even on the edge of a lawn in a residential area that has tracts of timber nearby. However, just because you find a scrape doesn’t mean the buck that made it will come back to freshen it any time soon. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Leading biologists also believe that the scent left in and around deer scrapes is a means for subordinate bucks to learn whether a dominant buck is available in the area. If so, it is quite likely that the sexual intensity of the lesser buck is suppressed. Subordinate bucks, if they scrape at all, do most of their scraping after the period when mature bucks scrape most intensely.

The biologists weren't able to say whether the bucks actually go to "their" deer scrapes each day or if they only freshen scrapes they "happen upon" while traveling. The significance of this point is huge. If they are scraping only when it is convenient then deer scrapes only tell us which travel routes a mature buck might be using. The deer scrape doesn't serve as an endpoint, but rather only one point in a line.

But, if mature bucks travel to freshen specific scrapes each day, then hunting deer scrapes is the very best method for shooting them. You could find a fresh deer scrape, set up your tree stand, wait for him to come back and then shoot him.

hunting deer scrapes
Deer scrapes along open fields are not useful sign for most deer hunters because the bucks that frequent that area may not get to the fields until after dark. Scrapes are most productive before the first does come into estrous. In most parts of the country, this means they are most productive during the last week of October and the first few days of November. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

A lot of deer hunters feel that mature bucks scrape when it is convenient and rarely go out of their way to freshen the same scrapes every day.

The Right Place

The goal should be to use deer scrapes only to identify travel routes that at least one mature buck is using. In other words, you should be looking for scrape lines. You don't need to sit right on top of a deer scrape as long as you can cover the route. In this way, you can better use terrain, cover and local wind flows to your maximum advantage when setting up your ambush. Maybe, due to swirling winds, you can't kill him down in the draw where the biggest deer scrapes are found, but you do have a chance up on the ridge where the trail or travel route leads.

If you find an individual deer scrape that isn't along a believable travel route, it's not particularly valuable. In other words, a deer scrape along the edge of an open field is not the goal. However, a line of deeply dug scrapes found back in the cover is a much better find.

The Right Time

Based on the reported research findings, the earlier in the fall you find deer scrapes, the more significant they are. Early pre-breeding is the best time for hunting deer scrape lines. This period falls just prior to the first real chasing of the rut - about two weeks before does start to come into estrous. In many parts of the continent, this is the last week of October. Bucks are still staying close to home, but are starting to move more as they check on does in feeding and bedding areas.

deer scrapes
You won't find a deer scrape without an overhead branch. Bucks leave their scent in two ways, first with the urine they deposit in the deer scrape and second with scent from their facial glands left on the overhead branch. When bucks make a scrape, they also rub an overhead branch across their eyes and across the glands on their forehead in order to leave important scent at the scrape.

No single deer hunting technique is ever going to produce trophy bucks under all conditions, and hunting deer scrapes is no exception. You will take more big bucks over the course of your life by focusing on how bucks relate to cover, terrain, doe concentrations and hunting pressure than you ever will by simply sitting over a deer scrape. But, at the right time and in the right place, deer scrapes are another tool you can use when hunting big deer.

Directional Nature of Scrapes

Deer scrapes can be somewhat directional since a buck throws the dirt behind him while working it - presumably in the direction from which he approached. While this information should be used as only a general clue about the pattern of the buck that last worked a scrape, it can provide valuable information. When studying deer scrapes, take the time to determine which way the buck was facing.

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