Hunt Smarter: Read Scrapes, Locate Whitetails

Featured Wildlife

Posting to social media keeps friends updated on your day, they know where you’ve been, what you ate and even your mood. Deer don’t communicate through social media, but they do send similar messages in their own way by leaving scent in scrapes.

A scrape is a bare patch of ground shaped like an oval or triangle with an overhanging branch. To make scrapes, deer paw away leaves and debris exposing the soil, which acts as a host for scent they leave behind. They mouth and rub their foreheads on the overhanging branch which also holds scent. It’s all part of a communication ritual they perform during the weeks leading up to the rut.

How Deer Use Scrapes

Deer communicate with scent, sound and body language. Communicating through scent might seem like a strange concept but remember, a deer’s most powerful sense is their sense of smell. They use the seven glands throughout their body to leave scent messages and one way they deposit scent is through scraping.

“In most cases a buck begins the scraping process by rubbing his forehead, preorbital, and nasal glands on the branch and in some cases will actually lick and chew on the overhanging branch,” writes whitetail expert Charles Alsheimer in an article for Legendary Whitetails. “Once done, most bucks will paw the leaves and other debris from the ground under the branch, then urinate into the pawed out earth. The process usually takes less than two minutes, but during this time a buck will leave liberal amounts of scent behind.”

How to Hunt Scrapes

Setup your trail camera facing a scrape and you’ll find out what time of day the bucks come by and what direction they’re traveling. When you check your camera, you’ll have a lot of great action shots of deer working that scrape. Photo Credit: GrandViewOutdoors.com

Scrapes serve as a sign deer are using the area. In this way, they are like other deer sign such as rubs, tracks, droppings and bedding areas. If there’s a scrape near your treestand, you’ll at least know it’s an active location. To confirm the activity and get more information you can setup a trail camera.

Setup your trail camera facing the scrape and you’ll find out what time of day the bucks come by and what direction they’re traveling. When you check your camera, you’ll have a lot of great action shots of deer working the scrape.

A scrape gets deer to pose for the camera, it can also get deer to pose for a shot. Half the challenge of bowhunting is getting deer inside your effective range. Positioning yourself near a scrape can give you a close shot at a distracted, motionless deer, which is a perfect scenario.

If you have a favorite treestand providing consistent action but there isn’t a scrape nearby, you can create a mock scrape to bring a buck in close.

To create a mock scrape, find a location with an overhanging branch that’s about chest height. Then use a stick to scrape a bare patch of ground. Archery shops carry deer scent you can distribute onto the scrape and the overhanging branch to complete the illusion.

While you’re scouting, you’ll find smaller scrapes throughout the woods. These are usually visited infrequently but are a good indicator for buck activity. If you find a large scrape, then you should get excited. Photo Credit: Charles Alsheimer

You can also go the natural route and hunt over an active deer scrape. Timing and the type of scrape you hunt are key for this tactic. According to Alsheimer, the best time to hunt scrapes is the weeks leading up to the peak breeding period. Once breeding begins scraping activity declines dramatically.

While you’re scouting, you’ll find smaller scrapes throughout the woods. These are usually visited infrequently but are a good indicator of buck activity. If you find a large scrape, get excited. Large scrapes are called primary scrapes or community scrapes because many deer use them including does.

“In many ways they are the ‘mother lode’ of whitetail scrapes, with some having the potential of becoming very attractive to whitetail bucks,” writes Alsheimer. “They are most often found in strategic locations—inside corners, ridge lines, and especially along well-worn trails between bedding and feeding areas during the rut.”

It’s hard to know for certain why deer make scrapes, but we do know that they make a great hunting spot. Now is the time to get out and use these annual phenomena to get close to your dream deer.


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