In 1982 Roger Rothhaar’s book In Pursuit of Trophy Whitetails hit the market. It was one of the first books detailing how to hunt mature whitetails. I devoured the book and from that point on many of the things he mentioned changed the way I hunted America’s favorite game animal. A cutting edge strategy throughout the book dealt with scraping behavior and how to hunt scrapes. Today’s media was non-existent when the book was written so few deer hunters knew the significance of scrape hunting. At the time I was a full time nature photographer, writer and hunter, and specializing in whitetail behavior was in its infancy, so the book helped give me a jump start in my photography and hunting success.
The late 1980s saw a huge increase in the number of hunting magazines available to a growing population of deer hunters. The topics covered were immense. Though many scrape hunting features appeared each fall there were many skeptics who doubted the significance of scrapes, referring to them as mere random sign-posting locations. I was not one of them.
As the years passed and I learned more and more about scraping behavior, it was obvious to me the skeptics were wrong. Today, after 40+ years of studying and photographing this aspect of whitetail behavior I’ve come to realize, that if done right, hunting whitetail scrapes can be one of the best ways to harvest a buck during the rut.
To understand the significance of scrapes you have to understand whitetail behavior. For starters, a buck works a scrape to leave his scent and alert all deer in the area of his presence. As mentioned in my first blog, Hunting the Shift, whitetails have the ability to identify other deer in their core area by scent. Of all the scent whitetails leave behind in their travels, nothing rivals the amount of scent deposited at scrape sites. Consequently bucks will often visit scrape locations to identify other bucks that may have worked them. Nearly every time a buck visits a scrape he will leave scent from his nasal, preorbital and forehead glands on the scrape’s overhanging branch. They also leave a good deal of scent on the ground under the branch from their interdigital and tarsal glands along with the urine they deposit on the ground.
Once October arrives and the rut nears, three types of scrapes show up: boundary, secondary, and primary. Boundary scrapes are made randomly as bucks cruise their home range. They might show up anywhere; along the edges of overgrown fields and food plots, fence rows, old roadways and along creeks. I’ve even seen one made under a section of chain dangling from a child’s swing set in an urban backyard.
Secondary scrapes are generally found along well-used trails between bedding and feeding areas and they can offer an excellent chance to kill bucks (and does) if they are enhanced. I’ve probably killed more whitetails over secondary scrapes that I’ve turned into primary scrapes than at any other place (more on this later).
The “mother lode” of scrapes is the primary scrape. Unfortunately, without enhancement, these scrapes are often few and far between because it takes bucks over the age of 2 ½ to make them into true “bus stations.” Primary scrapes are normally found in strategic locations during the rut. You’ll find them along well-worn trails, along transitions of habitat (think swamp edges), and where trails lead into a food plot.
Once I locate a scrape I check the track size in the scrape to see if a mature buck(s) made it. If the track is more than 2 ¼” wide (with no more than ¼” inch split in the toes) the buck is probably mature and weighs more than 175 pounds because very few yearling bucks or does have a track width exceeding 2”.
Though bucks will work a scrape’s licking branch 365 days a year, October through mid-November is their prime scraping period in the North. Back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s I was involved in a scrape study on the Avery Estate in the heart of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. What we discovered was that mature bucks would work or make 6-12 scrapes every hour they were on their feet during the two weeks leading up to peak breeding. Once breeding went full-blown, scraping activity drastically dropped off.
Build a Whitetail Super Highway
The majority of my rut phase hunting is in funnels or transition zones, those areas deer travel through as they go back and forth between bedding and feeding areas. If conditions and habitat are right, several trails may pass through such areas. The best hunting site is usually near the trail with the most rubbing and scraping sign beginning mid-to-late-October. If sign is spread throughout the transition zone, you must take several steps to make one trail more attractive than the others. The best way is to block off the other trails with brush.
To make a trail into a super highway I hang two to five mock licking branches in the transition zone, along the trail I want to hunt over, spacing them about 40-50 yards apart. Using plastic draw ties, I attach a mock licking branch on an existing branch that hangs over the trail, about 5 ½ feet off the ground. If there’s no existing branch over the trail, I attach the mock licking branch to a wire strung over the trail between two trees. Once done, I expose the earth below each licking branch, which makes the site look like a natural, active scrape. I’ve used attractant lures on the branches, but have discovered they’re not necessary.
With or without lure, bucks usually begin working the mock scrapes in less than 48 hours. The mock scrape will concentrate deer activity, so be sure to clear a shooting lane that’s 10-15 feet wide, within 15-25 yards of the scrape. The accompanying photo shows one of the mock scrape bucks I’ve killed here on our farm over the years. I arrowed this 140” buck in early November as he worked a mock licking branch that was hung on wire over the scrape.
You might be surprised to know that does also work scrape licking branches. In my experience, nearly all deer work mock licking branches as they walk past, providing you with a clean standing shot at close range. Though does will not paw the earth beneath the licking branch they will leave scent from their nasal and preorbital gland.
So, should you bother hunting scrapes? Absolutely! Using mock scrapes to make a buck magnet is an incredibly effective strategy to kill both bucks and does.