Scrapping The Scrapes

posted by Bill Winke on 10.02.15

When Joe Bowhunter thinks of the rut he thinks of scrapes, scrapes as big as a Buick. He wants to see them when he’s scouting and he wants them near his stands. The bigger they are the giddier Joe becomes. Let’s face it, Joe’s in for a tough season. I should know; I was Joe myself once.

I learned the hard way, through several frustrating seasons, that scrapes aren’t a free pass to trophy buck heaven. In fact, today I don’t even look at them. I’ve become the Anti-Joe. When I’m hunting the peak of the rut, I don’t care if scrapes are near my stands or not. I don’t even care if there’s a single scrape on the entire farm that I’m hunting. At this time, they carry almost no information that interests me. Why the 180-degree reversal? Simple; scrape hunting doesn’t work the way most bowhunters think it should. I

There are still many misconceptions concerning scrapes, and as a result, many hunters still sit over the wrong ones at the wrong times. They quickly become frustrated – just like I did. You can read volumes on scrapes and how to classify them, but in the end, there are really only two kinds: those that will be visited again by the buck that made them, and those that won't. If you really want to put scrapes to work this fall, you need to cut through the misconception and gain a better understanding of what scrapes really mean.

Scrapes are most actively used prior to the start of breeding.  And they are most valuable to the bowhunter even before this.  When the bucks start chasing does, you should abandon your scrape lines.SCRAPE ENLIGHTENMENT

I grew up on a farm, and like everyone else along our road, we had a mailbox at the end of the driveway. It was the focal point for every dog in the neighborhood. Daily, I watched local mutts stop and raise their hind leg at our mailbox post. Every time I let my own dog out of his kennel, the first thing he did was run to the mailbox. He sniffed around it for a while and then marked the post himself. Satisfied that he was still the king of all he surveyed he put on an impressive demonstration of grass pawing and then took off to keep our cats in shape.

In no way did this canine scent post serve as a means for male and female dogs to get together. I never looked out the front window to see a female dog bedded nearby waiting for Rover to show up. The scent post was used only by males to keep track of other males, possibly even as a way to maintain order in the local dominance hierarchy. Scrapes serve much the same function in the whitetail world.

Biologists now believe that scrapes have a complex purpose that may actually have run its course by the time breeding begins. R. Larry Marchinton and Karl Miller, from the University of Georgia, conclude that once does begin to come into heat bucks have little use for scrapes and stop using them. In their findings, they state that only mature, dominant bucks produce large numbers of scrapes and that they scrape most intensely just before breeding begins. They also ramp up their scrape activity again – but to a lesser degree - after most does are bred.

Leading biologists also believe that scrapes are a means for subordinate bucks to learn whether a dominant buck is available in the area. If so, it is quite likely that the sexual intensity of the lesser buck is suppressed. Subordinate bucks, if they scrape at all, do most of their scraping after the period when mature bucks scrape most intensely.

The biologists weren’t able to say whether the bucks actually go to “their” scrapes each day or if they only freshen scrapes they “happen upon” while traveling. The significance of this point is huge. If they are scraping only when it is convenient then scrapes only tell us which travel routes a mature buck might be using. The scrape doesn’t serve as an endpoint, but rather only one point in a line.

But, if mature bucks travel to freshen specific scrapes each day, then scrape hunting is the very best method for shooting them. You could find a fresh scrape, set up your stand, wait for him to come back and then shoot him. I only wish it were that easy. My experience suggests that mature bucks scrape when it is convenient and rarely go out of their way to freshen the same scrapes every day.

THE RIGHT PLACE

The goal should be to use scrapes only to identify travel routes that at least one mature buck is using. In other words, you should be looking for scrape lines. You don't need to sit right on top of a scrape as long as you can cover the route. In this way, you can better use terrain, cover and local wind flows to your maximum advantage when setting up your ambush. Maybe, due to swirling winds, you can’t kill him down in the draw where the biggest scrapes are found, but you do have a chance up on the ridge where the trail or travel route leads.

If you find an individual scrape that isn’t along a believable travel route, it’s not particularly valuable. In other words, a scrape along the edge of an open field is not the goal. However, a line of deeply dug scrapes found back in the cover is a much better find.

THE RIGHT TIME

Based on the reported research findings, the earlier in the fall you find scrapes, the more significant they are. Early pre-breeding is the best time to hunt scrape lines. This period falls just prior to the first real chasing of the rut – about two weeks before does start to come into estrous. In many parts of the continent, this is the last week of October. Bucks are still staying close to home, but are starting to move more as they check on does in feeding and bedding areas.

No single hunting technique is ever going to produce king-size bucks under all conditions, and scrape hunting is no exception. You will take more big bucks over the course of your life by focusing on how bucks relate to cover, terrain, doe concentrations and hunting pressure than you ever will by simply sitting over a scrape. But, at the right time and in the right place, scrapes are another tool you can use when hunting big deer.