The Anatomy Of A Deer Scrape

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locating a deer scrape
Locating a deer scrape such as this on your hunting property leads to instant excitement. However, it is important to understand why the buck made the scrape in order to up your chances of taking him. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Picture this sequence if you will, and tell me it if doesn’t sound at least vaguely familiar. After an unsuccessful morning deer hunt, you’re walking back to camp for lunch, letting your mind wander. Suddenly, you look to your left and notice the leaves have been pawed away and the bare earth exposed; and musky, wild smells infiltrates your nostrils. Yes, a deer scrape! You know this sign; it belongs to a mature, dominant buck. Upon further investigation, are you sure why that deer scrape is there and why the buck made it? Read on for answers on how to dissect the anatomy of a deer scrape.

Instead of writing about how to hunt scrapes, this particular article is devoted to teaching you what exactly a deer scrape is. The information a single deer scrape can provide is of the importance to any serious whitetail hunter. In a nutshell, a deer scrape is a buck’s way of alerting the does in the herd of his dominance and his willingness to breed.

Different Types of Deer Scrapes

While it may seem unnecessary to categorize deer scrapes, learning and understanding the different scrapes bucks make can increase your deer hunting success. When examined closely you will find there are essentially three different types of deer scrapes.

Primary Scrapes are the deer scrapes that should receive the majority of your attention because they receive the most deer activity. Primary scrapes are like traditional buck rubs in that they appear in the same place every single year. While a lot of the deer scrapes you find in the deer woods are along trails and travel corridors, primary scrapes are often the end result of such trails. These are the deer scrapes that should receive your deer hunting attention as bucks and does alike will visit them frequently during the seeking phase and into the chasing phase, just prior to the actual breeding process. Due to the frequent traffic these deer scrapes receive from the local whitetail population, they tend to be the biggest of all scrapes. Some primary scrapes may be up to 5 feet in diameter!

Secondary scrapes are the deer scrapes that are likely most prevalent in your hunting woods. They are located along travel routes and trails, usually between bedding and feeding areas. Secondary scrapes can be easily recognized as they are often formed in a line, better known as a scrape line. These scrapes indicate that a mature buck is in the area and often times he is working the trail or travel route in which the scrapes were made.

The third and least important type of deer scrapes are known as “boundary scrapes.” These deer scrapes are often found along field edges and old logging roads or at the intersection of two trails. Initially they look like great spots to hunt and it’s tempting to hang a tree stand there but unfortunately these deer scrapes are most commonly visited almost exclusively at night and tell you very little about the buck that made them. In fact, all these deer scrapes really tell is that a buck was traveling through the area, and pawed the ground. These deer scrapes are also made by younger, immature bucks more times than not. In many cases bucks may make numerous secondary scrapes in the same general area, but rarely revisit them. They are more a sign of the buck’s passing through than his constant presence in the area.

Why Do Bucks Make Scrapes?

Illinois Buck
This Illinois buck deposits scent on a licking branch during late October, the peak time for most scraping activity.

Think of a deer scrape like a buck’s personal Facebook or Twitter account, or any other social networking engine that has taken the world by storm. Each deer scrape contains specific information exclusively pertaining to the buck that made it. For example age, dominance, social status, readiness and willingness to breed and of course sex can all be determined by just one buck’s scrape. Does rarely urinate in the actual scrape, although they visit them often. Some deer scrapes become community scrapes, meaning they are worked, visited and utilized by multiple bucks and does. However, when a buck actually works over a scrape, he is leaving specific, individualized data pertaining his dominance and readiness to breed.

What is most fascinating about deer scrapes is the number of external glands a whitetail buck uses to deposit scent in one, single scrape. Each deer scrape requires the usage of the interdigital gland between the hooves, the tarsal glands on the hind legs, the salivary glands inside the mouth, the preorbital glands around the eyes and the forehead gland; each gland serving a very important function and in doing so has left a very unique “fingerprint.”

It is still unclear as to why bucks actually make scrapes, but our knowledge of their presence and existence is growing constantly. We do know this: as excited as deer scrapes make deer hunters, the majority of scraping activity is done after dark. Think of how many deer scrapes your have come across in your deer hunting career. Now, think of how many times you have actually seen a buck make a scrape. This may sound like sobering and depressing information, but it is actually misleading information as well.

Bucks make scrapes to let to let the does within their core area know of their presence, dominance and readiness to breed. This does not mean that the buck that made the scrapes you saw last fall moved exclusively at night. In fact, it’s very likely he was active during daylight hours prior to and just after making the scrapes working the area scent checking for does. Also keep in mind that only about half of the bucks that are exposed to scrapes work them over. This means the other half are simply passing by. They will smell the ground and overhanging branch, but will leave no visual or aromatic evidence they were there. Bottom line: bucks do not rely on scrapes to find and locate does during the rut. Deer scrapes are just visual signposts letting the does know that there is a dominant buck in the area that is ready to breed.

How Bucks Make Scrapes

To begin the process, the buck first finds an overhanging branch between 4-7 feet off the ground. Not all scrapes have what is known as a “licking branch”, but it is important to know that the licking branch is the most important part of a deer scrape, not the pawed ground. Once the buck has chosen his licking branch he will chew the very tip off the branch. He is not trying to eat it, but rather chew on the branch which becomes more bristly and capable of holding more scent from his salivary gland. The scent deposited from his salivary gland will contain his age, dominance and social status.

Next, he will rub his forehead gland on the same branch depositing scent similar to when he makes a buck rub. Again, this will leave scent regarding his age, dominance and social status making other deer well aware of his presence. He will then rub his preorbital gland on the branch as well. This doesn’t leave any scent, however, it’s a pleasurable to the buck, similar to a human having their back scratched. It’s apparent that deer enjoy rubbing their preorbital gland as they close their eyes and appear relaxed and calm when doing so.

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