Advanced Scrape Hunting: 8 Tips All Deer Hunters Should Know

By mid October, the whitetail woods are filled with fresh scrapes, with more to come. Make sense of these important signposts and you might taste hunting success before Halloween hits.

by Bob Humphrey


By mid October, the whitetail woods are filled with fresh scrapes, with more to come. Make sense of these important signposts and you might taste hunting success before Halloween hits.


Looking for Love—SWM (single whitetail male), physically fit and well endowed (with antlers) seeks companionship of SWF for brief, intimate encounter. Not into long-term relationships. Must enjoy the outdoors and should also be in good physical condition.

If whitetails could post personal ads they would probably look something like the lines above. The fact of the matter is, they actually might, just not in the same manner as we do. While humans do most of their communication verbally, and in print, whitetails use scent as their primary means of communication. And while they leave scent wherever they go, they intentionally leave scent at certain locations, not the least of which are scrapes. In human terms they function as a sort of message board, and in some cases maybe even a Personals ad. If you know how to read them, you might be able to post one of your own.

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Not All Scrapes Are The Same. Scrapes and rubs have several things in common, not the least of which is that deer make them for several reasons. Some rubs are merely created when removing velvet or as an act of aggression, while others function as signposts where deer deposit scent from their forehead glands. Similarly, some scrapes may be simply the result of a sudden surge of testosterone or an encounter between rival bucks, who will posture, snort-wheeze and paw the ground to show off their vigor and intimidate their rival, leaving combat as a last resort. In the image above, the buck on left, bristled up and with ears back, is posturing to show dominance and intimidate a potential rival. He may also paw the ground creating a scrape that in all likelihood will never be tended or visited again. As pre-rut kicks in, bucks will also open a number of scrapes, many of which they’ll never re-visit. All these are random and will seldom be of little value to the hunter. Often you can recognize them more for what they lack than what they have.

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The Licking Branch. Traditional scrapes or those visited on any kind of regular basis all have one thing in common: an overhanging limb often referred to as a “licking branch.” This is at least as important as the scrape, possibly even more important. (Deer also have traditional licking branches that may not have a scrape underneath). While making or tending a scrape a buck will sometimes rub-urinate, grinding its tarsal glands together while urinating on its legs. This potent stew of urine, fatty acids and hormones leaves a strong olfactory message. At the same time, the scrape maker will also rub their head on the branch, leaving scent signals from their forehead and infraorbital glands. Subsequently, and far more often, the scrape maker and other deer will visit the scrape, sniff and lick the overhanging branch and leave their own scent without urinating or pawing the ground. The location of these scrapes, with overhanging branches, are the ones you want to focus your attention on and save as Map Markers in your HuntStand Custom Maps.

Hold on. Deer Visit Scrapes Year-Round? It’s true. While most scrape creation and visitation occurs in the fall, which is when we’re most interested in them, deer do create and visit scrapes at other times of the year, particularly in the spring. While there’s no real science behind it, yet, I believe spring scraping is a result of daylight length being similar to that of the fall, possibly creating a minor “shot” of testosterone. Keep an eye out for them while you’re turkey hunting and record their location in your HuntStand app so you can revisit during fall scouting trips. Don’t confuse turkey scratchings with scrapes; again, look for the tell-tale licking branch.

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Scrapes Say A Lot. As previously mentioned, bucks leave a scent message when they make and tend a scrape. And while we’ll never know exactly what that message is, biologists speculate it says a lot about the buck that leaves it. From the urine and glandular scents deposited, other deer may be able to identify the sex, health and possible status, and probably even the identity of the individual that left it. For at least the latter, we can also do the same thing by setting a camera on the scrape. At the very least, it will tell you if the scrape maker is a buck worthy of your attention. Adding photos as log entries in the HuntStand app then makes it easier to start recognizing movement patterns of individual bucks in your Hunt Area.

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Most Scrapes Are Tended At Night. Research has shown most scrape visits occur at night, which makes scrape hunting a low-percentage proposition. If you’re going to hunt on or near a scrape, your best odds will be probably around twilight. However, the operative word is “most.” Bucks do sometimes visit scrapes during the day and I’ve killed several while they were tending them. Furthermore, other bucks and even does will visit scrapes, especially those on regular travel routes. That makes scrape hunting a good option during the rut, when bucks are seeking does.

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Remote Sensing. Rattling experiments in Texas found that bucks often respond to rattling not by charging in, but by circling downwind and scent-checking the scene first, to avoid potential danger. Similarly, much the same holds true for scrapes as well. Because they are signposts that attract other deer, a buck will sometimes check his scrape from some distance downwind. For obvious reasons you should always set up on the downwind side of a scrape, but you may want to consider setting up well downwind. Look for subtle trails and dense cover that bucks might use to scent-check a scrape without being detected, and set up downwind of that rather than the scrape. You can use the HuntZone feature of your HuntStand app to see prevailing wind patterns in your Hunt Area, and to view expected winds on the days you plan to hunt.

Offer A Challenge. As already mentioned, deer use scrapes to communicate specific messages, possibly things like: “I’m the dominant buck here, looking for love and willing to fend off all rivals.” By presenting a challenge, you may be able to lure that buck into exposing himself during daylight. I once read a tip on how someone took soil from one scrape and deposited it in another scrape. That seems a bit extreme, and labor and time intensive. You can probably do the same thing by simply applying commercial scents in and around a scrape. Urine-based scents are one option, but I also like to use glandular scents, especially the gel type as they last longer. Pour or spray some on the ground, as well as on the overhanging branch.

HumpScrape8 900Make Your Own. What if the scrape you find doesn’t offer a huntable situation? Or what if there are no scrapes at all on the ground you hunt? Years ago, Michigan deer researcher John Ozoga discovered that by creating a licking branch, you can sometimes induce deer to scrape underneath it. Since then hunters have come up with all manner of devices and methods for creating mock scrapes, including scrape drippers and even artificial licking branches. The bottom line is, if you build it, they will come… sometimes. Of course, you’ll be far more successful in your efforts if you try to make deer go where they already want to. Using HuntStand’s multiple base layer option you can create maps of your Hunt Area that include satellite imagery, topographical lines and Map Markers of specific features you’ve identified. Look for cover, terrain and things like primary deer trails that encourage and show concentrated deer movement, then build your mock scrape on, in, or near them.

As with rattling, calling or any other tactics you might employ, the most important thing to remember is that none will make you a better hunter. You still have to put your time in scouting, studying, recording and analyzing sign. Stealth and scent control are essential (which is where HuntStand can help immensely) and even the best-laid plans don’t always work out. But the level of gratification you receive when it all comes together is directly proportional to the amount of effort expended. Good hunting.

Bob Humphrey is a certified wildlife biologist and a registered Maine guide who has hunted and studied whitetails across North American for nearly half a century.



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