Series on Whitetail Deer Sign: Whitetail Deer Scrapes
The ability to read whitetail deer sign will determine your success as a whitetail deer hunter. Therefore today’s whitetail deer hunter must be able to accurately read and interpret whitetail deer sign in order to harvest trophy whitetail bucks on a consistent basis. The next several articles will be a series covering different kinds of whitetail deer sign, what that sign means, how to interpret whitetail deer sign, and develop strategies to implement in an effort for whitetail deer hunters to harvest record book whitetails.
When whitetail deer scrapes first gained attention as a significant form of deer sign, biologists and whitetail deer hunters alike were under the misconception that scrapes served as a meeting place for bucks and does during the rut. Biologists now believe that scrapes have a complex purpose that may actually have run its course by the time breeding begins.
The biologists weren't able to say whether the whitetail bucks actually go to "their" scrapes each day or if they only freshen whitetail deer scrapes they "happen upon" while traveling. The significance of this point is huge. If they are scraping only when it is convenient then scrapes only tell us which travel routes a mature whitetail buck might be using. The whitetail deer scrape doesn't serve as an endpoint, but rather only one point in a line.
But, if mature whitetail bucks travel to freshen specific whitetail deer scrapes each day, then scrape hunting is the very best method for shooting them. You could find a fresh scrape, set up your stand, wait for him to come back and then shoot him.
I only wish it were that easy. Experience suggests that mature whitetail bucks scrape when it is convenient and rarely go out of their way to freshen the same scrapes every day.
Whitetail Bucks and does both utilize whitetail deer scrapes to communicate with one another during the year. Whitetail deer scrapes are areas on the ground where whitetail bucks paw the soil away with their hooves. They can vary in size from as small as a foot and a half wide to sometimes seven or eight feet. They are most often made and maintained prior to the rut. Deer make and maintain whitetail deer scrapes as a way to communicate with other deer. They leave their scent by urinating over their back legs onto the tarsal glands. Then they rub their tarsal glands together and squeeze urine over the whitetail deer scrape. This leaves a strong distinct smell of that buck in the whitetail deer scrape.
Most whitetail deer scrapes also have a low hanging “licking branch” that the deer lick and rub their head on to leave additional scent. A whitetail deer scrape may be used only the first time it was made or visited numerous times by many different deer. A whitetail deer scrape is not always used by just one buck. I’ve seen numerous deer using the same scrape, both bucks and does. Both sexes will urinate in the whitetail deer scrape in an effort to communicate dominance, presence in the area, and readiness of breeding. Scrapes are maintained during both day and night hours, but many times under the cover of darkness. Most scrapes that are checked in the daylight hours are done so from a location downwind of the scrape. From a distance a whitetail deer can smell what kind of activity the whitetail deer scrape has seen since it last visited. When you’re hunting around the rutting time of year you should notice scrapes in your area. Generally whitetail bucks like to make whitetail deer scrapes between their favorite feeding and bedding areas.
Recent research shows that whitetail deer scrapes are not solely produced for the purpose of determining doe estrous levels and breeding reception of the whitetail deer.
Territorial Whitetail Deer Scrapes
By late September, whitetail bucks systematically create perimeter rubs and scrapes, thereby leaving a physical indicator of their presence and stature. These early scrapes are generally found along field edges of food sources and are nothing more than an alert to the entire herd that they are indeed present in the area. A lot of the early season whitetail deer scrape are made during nocturnal hours as most large bucks don’t get into the food sources until right at last light. Just ten days ago in late September I discovered a half a dozen territorial scrapes along a bean field edge. I scouted the field from a distance many night in a row but saw no bucks working scrapes. However the next day after scouting several of the scrapes had been reworked. Trust me these early season whitetail deer scrapes are made during nocturnal hours. Thus the early season deer scrape hunter will setup in the woods 75 yards off the field edge of active territorial whitetail scrapes where big whitetail bucks “stage up” before entering the food source during nocturnal hours. The whitetail deer hunter that hunts early season territorial scrapes is most often times unsuccessful. You must find the route the buck is using to gain access to the scrape and setup somewhere between his bed area and the territorial scrape to catch him during daylight hours.
Whitetail Deer Scrapes Determine What Stage of the Rut Whitetail Deer are in.
A whitetail buck will periodically check his deer scrapes to see if a doe has visited his whitetail deer scrape to determine a does estrus cycle. When whitetail does are are approaching their estrus cycle they will visit a scrape, scent mark it themselves, sometimes by urinating. When the mature whitetail buck locates a doe on the verge of estrus he will chase after her and usually stay with her until she let's him tend her. When the does enters her estrus cycle and is ready to be breed she will urinate confirming to the buck that she is ready. The buck is now super stimulated and has only one thing on his mind.
While I most often times utilize topographical advantages to harvest record book deer, I recognize that using whitetail deer scrapes to determine which rut phase the deer are in, to determine where the bucks are most active throughout the day and night, and to determine what time of the day the bucks are most active. Literally to determine which stage whitetail deer are in the rut when evaluating whitetail deer scrapes normally the whitetail hunter will see more scrapes, worked more frequently, and even watch whitetail deer use these scrapes visually. Daylight scrapes visits by whitetail deer are an indication that hormones are increasing and the onset of the rut is just ahead. Next I determine which whitetail deer scrapes are getting hit most often during daylight hours, I have a pretty good idea of where I should setup to hunt for whitetail bucks. I have often noted that scrapes with larger licking branches are usually made by bigger bucks. Also look for scrapes made by whitetail deer that also hold big rubs within a 100 yard perimeter of the whitetail deer scrape.
Whitetail bucks begin traveling their rub routes and scrape lines, working licking branches, and using some scrapes during the Pre-Rut/Rubbing and Dispersal Phases, as much as two months before peak breeding. Even though these Pre-Rut/Rubbing and Dispersal Phase scrapes may not be used regularly they can be productive as hunting sites when they first appear in September or October if you don’t totally rely on the whitetail scrape itself. Believe me when I say, don’t hover over territorial scrapes during the early season. Read the deer travel routes in the area leading to early season scrapes and setup half way between where the deer are coming from to the scrape. These same territorial whitetail deer scrapes may be the same scrapes used during the rut.
The best time to see bucks at scrapes is during the Pre-Put Phase, the two to three weeks just before peak breeding activity. Because of their strong rutting urge whitetail buck's leave their beds earlier than normal at this time, and they may check the whitetail deer scrapes near their bedding area before sunset. They may also return to their beds later than normal in the morning after looking for does all night, and they may check the whitetail deer scrapes along their travel route near their bedding area after sunrise. Therefore during this time period today’s whitetail hunter may want to change strategies and concentrate on these scrapes during this time period. Hunting whitetail deer scrapes can be productive but I’ve got to be honest. I use whitetail scrapes generally just to locate a certain area that is being used as a breeding zone and concentrate more on topographical advantages leading to these breeding zones. I have harvested 15 Pope and Young Bucks and have yet to harvest one directly over a scrape, but by utilizing the topographical areas leading to scrapes, like funnels and other terrain advantages leading to the whitetail deer scrape I have seen huge success.
Although whitetail bucks may not regularly visit scrapes during the Primary Breeding Phase they often travel the areas where both traditional and non-traditional scrapes occur (in travel corridors leading to and from bedding areas and food sources; in staging areas near food sources; and near doe core areas), as they look for or tend does. This is why you should pay close attention to all whitetail deer scrapes.
After the peak of rut or during the 2nd rut, dominant bucks that are not worn out, and some aggressive subdominants, may start traveling rub routes and making new scrapes, or re-using previous scrapes. Most of this scraping activity will occur near areas of high doe concentration. Most often times during food sources.
Whitetail does that were not bred during the first whitetail deer rut may come into another estrous about a month later. Older does, and some yearling and unhealthy does, may come into their first estrous at this time. This is when bucks start traveling rub routes and making whitetail deer scrapes again as they search for these late estrous whitetail does. The whitetail bucks are not as aggressive during this late breeding phase as they were earlier.
Whitetail bucks are security conscious. As whitetail deer scraping activity increases in the last week of October and first week of November here in the Midwest, more whitetail deer scrapes will appear inside the timber, in brushy ravines, along creek and river bottoms, along over grown logging roads, and on ridge ramps as well as ridge benches on the sides of hills. These are all location whitetail bucks utilize to make scrapes without detection by whitetail deer hunters. Places the whitetail buck will feel safe. Many of these whitetail deer scrapes will occur along secluded rub lines. Remember to keep an eye out for whitetail buck scrapes that are on rub lines left on the biggest trees. This suggests that the best scrapes to hunt are those that are in secluded areas, where there is a rub route that the buck uses at it moves during the day. Get deep in the guts of the property to find the biggest bucks on the best scrapes during the time period.
Once you have found a secluded area scrape that looks like it is recently used try to determine whether or not it is being used frequently. The best way to do that is to check it daily. However don’t just walk right into the scrape to check it without giving serious consideration to how the terrain lies. If you feel you can’t check the scrape because its in an area that you can be detected from easily by a whitetail buck bedded nearby or cannot access the scrape without spooking a bunch of bedded deer when in route to it then watch it from afar or you will become patterned by the whitetail buck that has been visiting the whitetail deer scrape. Frequently used whitetail deer scrapes that do not show recent use should be noted because they may be traditional scrapes, used at specific times during the season. Try to figure out why the scrape was used and when. Its best to note records regarding scrape locations on your aerial photo, gps, or whatever tool you are using to examine the “lay of the land”. This often times will lead you right to the whitetail buck you are wishing to harvest. Remember your most secluded whitetail deer scrapes are most usually the scrapes you can intercept the trophy whitetail bucks during daylight hours.
Trophy whitetail deer begin to scrape more in the day when the peak of the rut occurs. Its so hard to determine which whitetail scrapes to hunt that as aforementioned its better to select the right general area to hunt containing scrape lines or groups of scrapes rather than set up a stand location over an active scrape you discovered. Choose the right area and hunt it when the conditions are right for whitetail deer. Although hunting individual whitetail scrapes can be productive, you may be better off hunting near areas where numerous whitetail deer scrapes are present. I call these areas breeding zones of the whitetail deer. Almost like during turkey season when mature gobblers pick “strut zones”.
Groups of scrapes often occur in staging areas that are near food sources. Although these may seem like good areas to hunt, they may not be. Bucks often scent check scrapes from downwind before they approach the scrape, and they may not even approach the scrape as often times they will smell you, or can smell the scrape from such a distance they don’t need to actually come to the scrape. Like I said before these whitetail deer hunters that hover 20 yards away from some whitetail deer scrape or some mock scrape they have made are seldom successful no matter what you may be reading in magazines or seeing on Outdoor Television. Remember much of what your seeing is simply to sell product, rather than reveal the truth about whitetail activity and educate today’s whitetail deer hunter so that he may learn what he needs to know in order to being killing monster whitetail bucks. The best way to hunt scrape lines and staging areas is to find the rub routes the bucks use as they approach the scrapes, and then set up crosswind or downwind of where you expect the bucks to check the scrapes from.
Remember that the farther a scrape is from the buck's bedding area, the more likely it is that the scrape is used during the night. This means that the scrapes that are most likely to be used during the day are those in wooded or otherwise secludes areas. However don’t be a “storm trooper” and try to march in close to bed areas and spook the very whitetail deer you seek to harvest. The best place and time to hunt scrape lines is during the Pre-Primary Breeding Phase in the morning and evening, as close to the bedding area as you can get without alarming the buck.
The goal should be to use 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 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 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 scrape that isn't along a believable travel route, it's not particularly valuable. In other words, a 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.
No single hunting technique is ever going to produce king-size bucks under all conditions, and scrape hunting 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 scrape. But, at the right time and in the right place, scrapes are another tool you can use when hunting big deer.