Many hunters know that bucks build scrapes before breeding season and the rut, but how often do they actually check them?
Researchers using trail camera research have established that mature bucks typically visit scrape lines at night; however, in areas with relatively light hunting pressure they may also return during daylight hours.
Scrapes often receive misinformation. Some of this stems from the fact that age doesn’t always determine how often bucks visit one particular scrape site.
Primary scrapes serve as billboard advertisements for bucks, serving both visually and olfactorily to announce their presence and dominance in an area. Usually positioned year after year under an overhanging branch, primary scrapes may be maintained by one buck alone or multiple deer.
Bucks will lick and scent-mark primary scrapes while simultaneously working them, which is particularly crucial during pre-rut and rut phases. As breeding season nears, buck activity increases exponentially as males vie for female mates while establishing territories.
Licking an overhanging branch is an effective way for deer to mark their territory and signal to other males that a particular scrape belongs to them; however, this does not guarantee they will return again after being marked olfactorily.
Deer are easily startled by new noises or human presence; any scent from humans may make him wary enough to leave or abandon his scrape altogether.
Primary scrapes act not only as an olfactory signal but also serve as social hubs. Commonly located near feeding and bedding areas, primary scrapes provide several bucks with an ideal place to stage during daylight hours before heading out in search of does who are receptive.
A buck creates a scrape by ambling down a woodland trail and pawing at the soil with his front feet, kicking up debris to expose bare soil. Next, he scrapes his antlers against it while grinding together his dark-stained tarsal glands on his hind legs, before urinating on it before sending his scrape signalling other nearby does and male competitors.
Finding and hunting scrapes at the right location and time of day are of utmost importance when hunting scrapes. A trail camera can be an invaluable asset when monitoring activity at scrapes to identify patterns which lead to success. As hunting season continues, bucks’ behaviors often shift as competition for does increases; many will visit and work their scrape more frequently during daylight hours as he competes with other bucks to claim does from them.
As the rut nears, bucks increase their scrape checking to mark their territory, assert dominance, and attract does. Buck scent is at its strongest during this period; maintaining scrapes to deposit fresh scent is important to showing hens they’re ready to breed; therefore frequent visits to primary scrapes before breeding season begin is commonplace.
Mature bucks may spend 10-14 days searching for doe-in-estrus areas before returning to their core areas for the remainder of rutting cycle. In the Midwest region, this pre-rut window can offer great opportunities for scrape hunting if done at just the right moment and using appropriate tactics.
Finding scrape-seeking bucks begins with finding them. Knight suggests scouting frequently enough to gather fresh intel without disrupting buck behavior and setting up 30-40 yards downwind from scrapes so you can scent-check from a distance before approaching closer.
Bucks have keen senses of smell, so even brief encounters could send them running off in another direction.
For successful hunting in heavily pressured areas, setting up your stand in areas with dense brush and thick security cover can be essential in intercepting an amorous buck. Scout and hunt early as many mature bucks bed well before dawn during the rut phases; if you spook him during midday movement make sure to set up under secure cover and remain quiet; otherwise he may abandon his scrape altogether and become nocturnal and abandon it completely if you spook him! Should he return later that day he is an ideal opportunity for interceptive action armed by bow or gun.
As part of his doe-searching activities, bucks also devote considerable energy to marking their territory boundaries with scrapes and brush rubs – even if he never visits them again – which serve as “signposts.” They appear along field edges, fence rows, and roads without much traffic.
As soon as a buck first makes a scrape, he uses it as an act of aggression to establish his dominance and signal his intent to breed. Later during rut, as more scrapes appear he’ll return frequently to scent-check them and reinforce his message of readiness to breed.
Pre-rut, bucks will regularly check and refresh primary scrapes to revitalize their scent, keeping competitors from interfering with mate-attracting scent. It is during this crucial stage that hunting scrape lines is at its most essential.
Scouting camera placement near an active, primary scrape can be an invaluable asset to deer hunters. Not only will it give a detailed log of when and how often a buck visits the scrape, but it will also give vital insight into other bucks and does using the site – for instance a dominant male will use the same site multiple times when scent checking before working the site; in other cases he might use it multiple times just as he scent checks it or use it multiple times as part of an estrous doe trap or warning other bucks of his availability or his dominance over competing rivals.
As the rut approaches, search for scrapes beginning in late September or early October. Primary scrapes should be readily identifiable due to having recently been pawed, showing fresh dirt overturned into them; secondary scrapes are less obvious as they will likely be scattered about a buck’s territory and will show signs of repeated use such as piles of dirt left from repeated pawing activity.
Once a buck begins hitting scrapes, it is wise to position yourself 30-40 yards downwind of him. This allows him to easily scent-check from a distance and determine whether there’s an intruder there, or whether there is estrous present – plus, working the scrape from this position makes life simpler for him than on an upland or bottom surface.
As the rut approaches, bucks demonstrate captivating behaviors to establish their dominance and attract mates. One such action involves creating and maintaining scrapes – patches of bare soil where bucks rub their noses or paws to leave scent behind – in which they rub with their noses or paws, leaving behind scent trails behind them. They also lick or chew branches as visual and olfactory markers within these scrapes that they frequently check and refresh during this season, particularly after other deer visit their area and leave their scent behind as other deer visit and leave their scent trails behind them – frequently refreshment of these signposts is performed to keep deer away.
Early to mid October is usually when scrape activity first becomes documented across most of the country, though intensity and frequency increase rapidly leading up to the rut’s arrival in early November. Grubbing, rattling, mock scrapes indicate deer are in a mood to breed; soon thereafter they begin chasing does and making mock scrapes to simulate breeding behavior. But by November 1st when full force rutting takes hold most scrapes become inactive as bucks focus on breeding does and other scent-driven signposts like rubs instead.
At the height of rut season, scrapes can be an excellent place to find and hunt aggressive male deer. But not all scrapes are created equal and placing too much focus on hunting only certain ones may prove futile.
An unexpected rub or scrape might be caused by either an alpha male buck, or by multiple bachelors marking their territory with just their bodies and urine glands. Such scrapes often do not contain glandular urine and appear as mere spots on the ground to the untrained eye.
Deer leave behind messages in the form of urine and glandular secretions when making scrapes, usually to mark territorial boundaries or convey their desire for breeding. Interpreting these signals requires your sense of smell – so take notice!