Hunting Whitetail Deer Scrapes

By T.R. Michels
After seven years of whitetail scrape research I have to admit that I'm afirm believe in using scrapes to determine which rut phase the deer are in, todetermine where the bucks are most active throughout the day and night, and todetermine what time of the day the bucks are most active. Once I havedetermined which rut phase the bucks are in (so I know how active they may beduring daylight hours) determined that scrapes in particular areas are gettinghit on a regular basis; and determined which scrapes are getting hit most oftenduring daylight hours, I have a pretty good idea of where I should setup tohunt for bucks.

One of the best times to hunt bucks is during the scraping phase (whichoften occurs from mid to late October in states above the 40th parallel),because it is when buck are often most active and predictable in where and whenthey move during daylight hours. But, you can use the information you gain fromchecking scrapes regularly to hunt bucks during the entire hunting season.

Hunting the different Rut Phases
Bucks begin traveling their rub routes, working licking branches, andusing some scrapes during the Pre-Rut/Rubbing and Dispersal Phases, as much astwo months before peak breeding. Even though these Pre-Rut/Rubbing andDispersal Phase scrapes may not be used regularly they can be productive ashunting sites when they first appear in September or October. If these earlyscrapes are traditional they may also be used during the Primary BreedingPhase, and again during the Post Primary Breeding Phase of the rut.

The best time to see bucks at scrapes is during the Pre-PrimaryBreeding/Scraping Phase, the two to three weeks just before peak breedingactivity. Because of their strong rutting urge buck's leave their beds earlierthan normal at this time, and they may check the scrapes near their beddingarea before sunset as they make their nightly rounds. They may also return totheir beds later than normal in the morning after looking for does all night,and they may check the scrapes along their route near their bedding area aftersunrise.

Although bucks may not regularly visit scrapes during the Primary BreedingPhase they often travel the areas where both traditional and non-traditionalscrapes occur (in travel corridors leading to and from bedding areas and foodsources; in staging areas near food sources; and near doe core areas), as theylook for or tend does. This is why you should pay close attention to allscrapes, especially those near food sources and doe areas.

During the Post Primary Breeding Phase the dominant bucks that are notworn out, and some aggressive subdominants, may start traveling rub routes andmaking new scrapes, or re-using previous scrapes. Most of this scrapingactivity will occur near doe use areas, and at staging areas near food sources.When the bucks no longer find evidence of estrous does they usually return tothe security of their core areas to rest and put on weight for the remainder ofthe rut and the winter. During the six years of my study I seldom saw dominantbucks outside their core areas in daylight hours during the Rest Phase.

Does that were not bred (or did not conceive) during the Primary BreedingPhase may come into another estrous about a month later. Older does, and someyearling and unhealthy does, may come into their first estrous at this time.This is when bucks start traveling rub routes and making scrapes again as theysearch for these estrous does. The bucks are not as aggressive during this latebreeding phase as they were earlier, and they may travel together to and fromfood sources. I often see bucks moving during the early evening and latemorning hours at this time, especially when there is cold weather and cloudcover.

Hunting Secluded Areas
Although bucks start to move more during daylight hours as the rutprogresses, they are still security conscious. As I noted in an earlierchapter, the scrapes made in September and early October were often in openareas where the deer feed at night. Obviously, many of these open area/fieldedge scrapes are unproductive hunting sites, because the bucks usually visitthem at night. But, as scraping activity increased in the last two weeks ofOctober, more scrapes opened up in wooded areas, in brushy ravines, along creekand river bottoms, along over grown logging roads, and on wooded benches on thesides of hills; places where the bucks could move during the day, but wherethey felt safe. As the rut progressed more of these secluded area scrapes wereused, and fewer of the open area scrapes were used. Many of these secluded areascrapes occurred along rub routes. This suggests that the best scrapes to huntare those that are in secluded areas, where there is a rub route that the buckuses at it moves during the day.

Hunting the Right Scrapes
Which scrapes should you hunt? That depends on when and why the scrapesare used. Scrapes made early in the season may be made simply out of ruttingurge, and they may not be used again. Scrapes made near early seasonal foodsources may not be used after the food is gone and the does stop using the foodsource; this often occurs after the breeding period. Recently used scrapes madeafter the breeding period may be the scrapes of subdominants that beginscraping because the older bucks have quit checking their scrapes and exertingdominance over the younger bucks; the older bucks are busy chasing does.

Once you have found a secluded area scrape that looks like it is recentlyused try to determine whether or not it is being used frequently. The best wayto do that is to check it daily, and if you have the opportunity you might aswell hunt it while you are checking it. Frequently used scrapes that do notshow recent use should be noted because they may be traditional scrapes, usedat specific times during the season. Try to figure out why the scrape was usedand when, then use the information to hunt the area next year.

If a scrape is near an all season food source (browse, clover) and a morepreferred food source (acorns, corn) becomes available, the deer may abandonthe area. A scrape in this area may be re-opened later if the food source isstill there. Frequently used scrapes showing recent use should be watchedclosely and hunted. Frequently used scrapes of any type are often traditional;used year after year; used by subsequent dominant bucks; used by numerousbucks; and are possibly checked by all bucks in the area. Frequently usedtraditional scrapes in secluded areas may be used during the day and oftenoccur in travel corridors and near doe use areas.

Scrape Lines
It is difficult to predict which scrapes to hunt, and when to hunt them;because most scraping occurs at night; because bucks begin to scrape more inthe day during the Pre-Primary Breeding/Scraping Phase and Primary BreedingPhase; and because scraping by individual bucks does not occur on a regularschedule. Since there is no reliable way of predicting when or how often a buckwill scrape, the best thing to do is choose the right area and hunt it when theconditions are right. Although hunting individual scrapes can be productive,you may be better off hunting near areas where numerous scrapes occur; areasreferred to as scrape lines, especially if the area contains severaltraditional scrapes.

Scrape lines often occur in travel corridors connecting daytime beddingareas and nighttime food sources that are used by both does and bucks. Thesetravel corridors may contain several traditional scrapes. Scrape lines may alsooccur in staging areas, often downwind of food sources. Scrape lines containingmore than one traditional scrape should be your first choice as a hunting site.Remember, because of their semi-open location, many traditional scrapes areused at night, but they are likely to be used during the day in the Pre-PrimaryBreeding Phase.

Groups of Scrapes
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 oftenscent check scrapes from downwind before they approach the scrape, and they maynot even approach the scrape. This means that bucks are extremely wary nearscrapes, particularly where there are numerous scrapes that numerous bucks maybe using. The best way to hunt scrape lines and staging areas is to find therub routes the bucks use as they approach the scrapes, and then set upcrosswind or downwind of where you expect the bucks to check the scrapes from.

The farther a scrape is from the buck's bedding area, the more likely itis that the scrape is used during the night. This means that the scrapes thatare most likely to be used during the day are: those in wooded or otherwisesecludes areas; those near the buck's bedding site; those along its route as itleaves its bed in the afternoon; and those along its route as it returns to itsbed in the morning. The best place and time to hunt scrape lines is during thePre-Primary Breeding Phase in the morning and evening, as close to the beddingarea as you can get without alarming the buck. You can also hunt scrapes duringthe Primary Breeding Phase and Post Primary Breeding Phase, because the bucksmay travel all day in search of estrous does, and they often cruise scrapelines throughout the day; which is when you should be prepared to hunt all day.

If you are interested in more whitetail hunting tips, biology and behaviorclick on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips If you have questions about hunting whitetails log on to theT.R.'s Tips message board. To find out when the rut starts, peaks and ends inyour area click on Whitetail Rut Dates Chart.

This article is an excerpt from the Whitetail Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00S&H), by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Productscatalog.

T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife behaviorist,outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck &Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His latest products are the 2003 RevisedEdition of the Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2003 Revised Edition of the ElkAddict's Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict'sManual. For a catalog of books and other hunting products contact: T.R.Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983, USA.Phone: 507-824-3296, E-mail:, Web Site:

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