The Magic Of A Scrape Is Much Debated
If one wants to get into a fistfight at deer camp, bring up scrape hunting. The use of hunting over, or near, scrapes is a much-debated topic in the world of the whitetail.
Again, all I can pass along is my personal experiences, not only in our part of whitetail country, but also in other parts of this great country of ours.
This past week while I was mowing a piece of property that isn’t really known for deer activity — although there has been plenty in recent months — I saw my first scrape of the season. Oct. 6 was the day. Now, it wasn’t much of a scrape — more territorial than anything — but it was certainly a scrape.
During the pre-rut, you’ll see many little scrapes open up, generally in what I call a triangle format. When all three are being hit, this is when you’ll see more consistent buck movement. Hunters love this time of year, but learning how to hunt them successfully is an art form. Remember, once breeding begins, the scraping stops. However, an area like the one I mentioned above still puts you in a great transition area to intercept a buck.
Using some doe pee in a scrape hurts nothing. I believe scent helps many hunters get the shot of their dreams. But don’t hunt a poor wind direction. Wind is everything during the time frame when scrape hunting is most productive. Of course, movement is more frenzied during the rut, allowing you some leeway with the wind once seeking and chasing time begins.
Create mock scrapes at strategic locations to help improve situations. I have seen them work really well. Just last fall, in fact, we put in a mock scrape and had some risks with the prevailing winds. We knew not to hunt it until the wind was right. The beauty of mock scrapes is that they can be placed to give you more control over the location as far as your setup in relation to prevailing wind.
I find the most active scrapes on field edges or along mowed trails. I’ve also noticed most scrapes pop up in the same locations where they were. I’m a big fan of scrape hunting, but I like to put a trail camera on them first. This tells me when bucks are coming, the direction from which they’re approaching and when the scrapes are most active the previous year.
Most scraping activity occurs at night, so my favorite time to hunt a scrape is the moment I start getting daylight photos of bucks working it. You can actually get ahead of the game by placing cameras where you’ve seen scrapes in the past. As soon as the scrapes open back up, get in there to hunt immediately.
I like to add a little scent to an existing scrape just to pique a mature buck’s curiosity. This causes him to think another buck was in the area using the scrape and may cause him to check it out more frequently.
I generally create mock scrapes near a natural scrape, or scrape line, close to my stand. I believe this is an excellent way to get nocturnal bucks to visit during daylight. I also like to create a scent trail from the scrape to a main trail. This often grabs the attention of passing bucks and leads them right to my mock scrape and shooting lane.
When I hunt scrapes, I have tried using a decoy this time of the year also. I like to exploit their desire and instincts to fight. When bucks stroll through to check scrapes, they can smell the new scent I’ve dispersed, plus they can see my decoy. Mix in a little grunting or rattling and they’ll rarely ignore the “new buck” in the neighborhood.
Having all these elements in place can trick numerous senses, and bucks often approach stiff-legged and ready to fight. It may not work all the time, but is well worth the effort and it’s also a lot of fun to watch other deer’s reactions.
During the pre-rut, mature bucks more actively visit scrapes. During peak rut, smaller bucks may hit scrapes, but mature bucks are chasing and tending does. Once I see the bucks on their feet chasing, I usually leave the pre-rut scrapes and head to the largest concentration of does, which is usually at a food source.
One of the things I have discovered about deer here in Western New York is to do a lot of morning hunting if the bucks aren’t up and moving yet. If deer aren’t moving a lot, you often mess things up for the afternoon hunts anyway. I normally just wait until the big bucks are on their feet before we start hunting the mornings hard. Then it’s sometimes worth sitting all day.
Scrapes serve as signposts for whitetails. They’re a place to exchange information with other deer in the area. Deer can leave information via their saliva, forehead and preorbital glands on the licking branch above the scrape, and via their urine and interdigital gland in the scrape. Given a whitetail’s highly complex olfactory system, scrape use and behavior are a perfect way to communicate. Now, one would think that it only makes sense that bucks, does and fawns regularly use them.
Certain features increase the odds of finding scrapes, some are along field edges, logging roads and areas with high deer traffic. Remember that scrapes are like bulletin boards, so bucks intentionally make them in high-traffic areas. They don’t necessarily use the exact same scrapes annually, but they often use the same general areas and routes. Recent research shows numerous bucks can use the same scrape and, in some cases, a line of scrapes was used by entirely different bucks.
It is common knowledge that bucks use scrapes to advertise their presence and gather information on other deer in the area before and during the breeding season. Many hunters even know that most scrape visitations occur at night. Thus, hunting right over scrapes is generally unproductive. A better strategy involves hunting a travel route between a bedding area and an area with active scrapes. There, you can intercept a buck as he heads to a scrape before shooting hours end or catch him as he returns to his bedding area in the morning.
Scrape hunting can be a lot of fun and confusing at times, but one of the reasons we enjoy hunting deer is because you just never know what is going to happen.