One of the more fascinating aspects of the whitetail rut revolves around the wonderful, and at times mysterious, phenomenon known as “scraping.”
Why do bucks make scrapes, where do they tend to make them and what does the act of scraping mean?
We are now in the waning weeks of deer season here in the Deep South, but with unbred does still roaming the woods, we will still see varying degrees of a secondary rut — including some resumed scrape activity — before the close of deer season.
Starting with the basics, let’s first define the term “scrape” as it relates to whitetail bucks and the prerut on through the rut time frame.
When we talk about a buck scrape, we are referring to the ground beneath an overhanging branch that has been pawed by a buck. After one to several uses, all vegetation and leaf litter is scraped away and pawed and thrown from the spot, exposing the bare soil.
Almost always, the tip of at least one over-hanging branch will be broken and chewed. The broken overhanging branch is referred to as a “licking branch,” as it is licked and chewed on by the buck that initiates the scrape and other bucks that stop by for a visit.
Also, scraping bucks rub the overhanging branch with their foreheads and hook, and thrash the branch with their antlers.
A scrape is a complex signpost containing scents and visual cues that express dominance and breeding readiness to all deer passing by.
Bucks make scrapes, but does also visit them regularly to sniff out just who has set up shop in the neighborhood. This is somewhat akin to neighborhood dogs all urinating on or near a fire hydrant, mailbox post or corner shrub when they pass by, using the spot to advertise their presence.
Not all bucks that visit a scrape at any given time perform every step in a full scrape sequence. Quite often — especially during daylight hours, in my experience — they will only need to pass by a scrape downwind to pick up most of the information they are looking for.
The various steps bucks can take when they approach an existing scrape include licking and chewing the overhead branches, sniffing the branches and bare scrape to see who else has been there, rubbing their foreheads and eye glands with the branches, thrashing branches with their antlers, and pawing the scrapes with their hoofs and then rub-urinating on or near the pawed area.
A buck might paw the ground with first one hoof and then the other, gouging the ground with the points of his hooves and throwing the dirt back in sort of an arrowhead pattern.
Rub-urination is the action a buck takes when he hunches up his back, places his hind legs together in a slight squat and urinates down his hind legs across his tarsal glands. The tarsal glands are located behind the dark, stained hair on the inside of a buck’s hind leg hocks.
The resulting combination of urine and tarsal gland pheromone, which is a given buck’s “calling card,” relays information about his age, sex and social status.
I once had an old, fully mature buck that I had been after for at least two years suddenly appear in front of me at a scrape not 25 yards away. The buck thrashed the overhanging limb back and forth, and then stood there and rub-urinated on the scrape.
For those few moments, he was the absolute picture of a regal monarch, and I was one of his subjects as I sat on the ground totally spellbound within BB gun range.
It was just pure magic, and I just could not raise my rifle and ruin the moment.
The old boy slowly meandered away and I, at that particular moment in time, had no pangs of regret for letting him walk.
Now, to be fair to the reader, a week and a half later he walked by my tree stand with his nose to the ground following an estrus doe and I sealed the deal with no hesitation.
During the earlier “chip-shot” encounter, it just didn’t seem right.
The conventional wisdom is that scrapes are made and visited by bucks primarily at night. My experience has shown this to be mostly true — but there are exceptions to this norm, as is shown by my trail camera data collected on my hunting property.
The lower-most graph of the two accompanying graphs of my data clearly indicates that overall, during the time period that collected the data points, total buck events recorded by way of trail camera photos were pretty evenly split between daylight and darkness.
The devil is always in the details though, as illustrated in the upper graph, which indicates that the majority of daylight buck visits were right after dawn and right before dark.
Look closely at the upper graph and you will also see a spike in buck activity in the 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. time slot. This result squares solidly with what I, and probably most of you, have observed from deer stand over the years: During certain parts of the rut you will often see a surge in buck activity during the mid- to late-morning time frame.
There is a sweet spot before the peak rut when we should all consider hunting over or near active scrape lines. The absolute best opportunity to utilize scrapes as a hunting tool is during the approximately week to week-and-a-half period before the local breeding peak.
This prime chunk of time straddles the seeking and chasing phases of the rut.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Some scrapes will be better than others. Choosing the right scrape or scrape line might take some experience and experimentation over time.
In my neck of the woods, this particular time period falls roughly in the Dec. 20 to Jan. 1 time frame. There can be great buck hunting before and after this period, but if I were looking to schedule vacation to coincide with when my odds of success are at the max, this is when I need to be in the woods.