It may not be as sophisticated as your off-white business card with the subtle coloring and tasteful thickness, but mature bucks do actually have their own way of announcing who they are: their scrapes. A tell-tale sign of the rut, you’ll find these scrapes under trees, marking the territory of the local bucks.
So why not get in on the action yourself? Making your own mock scrape is a great way to attract trophy bucks and get them moving so you can take the perfect shot.
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Why Whitetail Deer Make Scrapes
During the whitetail mating season known as the rut, bucks get extremely territorial and pretty impulsive about it to boot. Think teenage boys with four hooves and antlers.
One of the ways a mature buck mark his territory is by making scrapes. While it may just look like some scrapes in the ground to you, this is actually a big ritual for bucks and a strong message to their fellow deer.
They don’t just scrape the ground as a visual message but also rub their antlers and heads on the branches above them, leaving their scent via their preorbital glands. They also urinate over their tarsal glands leaving a strong olfactory marker for other deer.
So Why Should You Make a Scrape?
Basically, when you make an effective scrape, you’re telling all the mature bucks in the area that there’s a newcomer in the area and one that isn’t afraid to commandingly state his presence. This accomplishes two main things:
- Attraction: The most obvious effect of the mock scrape is that it will attract bucks to the area. Whether by sight or smell, when they detect the scrape, they’ll want to check it out and figure out who this interloper is in their territory. This lets you catch them with your trail camera or potentially even your bow.
- Impulsivity: The more mature the buck, the wiser he is. During the rut, he’s looking for does and trying to drive out competitors, but in the back of his mind, he knows you’re hunting him. You need to push his testosterone-fueled impulsivity over the edge and make him do something stupid, and mock scrapes are a great way to do that.
If you have a buck that’s been the top dog for a few years, he’s not going to take kindly to some stranger disrespecting him by making a scrape in his territory. He’s more likely to throw caution to the wind to find the interloper, and that’s when you’ll get him.
The Basic Mock Deer Scrape
Whitetail deer scrapes really aren’t all that complicated. In fact, you don’t want to go overboard making them too elaborate or they’ll seem suspicious to the bucks in your area that have survived multiple seasons.
Basically, you want to imitate what a mature buck does when he makes a scrape by, well, scraping the ground. You don’t need any tools to do this, and shouldn’t use any tools because they could leave behind human scent. Instead, grab a nearby branch and use it to scrape away leaves and brush under a tree in a 4ft-by-4ft square in the same motion that a buck would do with his hooves.
Once you’ve done that, make two or three deeper gouges into the soil and deposit deer scent into the scrape. Discard the branch you used a decent distance from the scrape so as not to raise suspicion. That’s it. You’re done.
Tips for Making an Effective Scrape
Location, Location, Location
Choosing a good location for your mock scrape is a combination of three factors that you have to keep in mind all at once.
First, it has to be in a place a buck would actually make a scrape. Deer aren’t that dumb, and if they see a scrape in a weird place, they’ll assume a human made it or at least that it isn’t another buck.
This primarily means choosing the right tree. Since bucks like to rub their antlers on a branch above them while making the scrape, you need to make the scrape under a tree with at least a branch or two hanging low enough to be this “licking stick.” That means a maximum of about five feet off the ground. Your scrape should then be directly under this branch.
Second, the bucks have to be able to see it. If you make the mock scrape somewhere where deer never go, then it’s useless. Whitetail deer, especially bucks, like to travel along the edge of the woods, so this is a good place to start looking for deer trails. If you find a trail between a buck bedding area and an open feeding area or doe bedding area, this is an excellent place where bucks travel frequently.
Last, it needs to be in a place you can access. If you just want to use the scrape to catch bucks on your trail camera, this isn’t as important and the scrape can be anywhere that meets the first two requirements.
However, if you actually want to hunt the area of the mock scrape, it has to be somewhere you can see while staying hidden and upwind, be it in a tree stand or blind. Again, this makes the tree line of a feeding area a good spot.
As you might have guessed, the time to make your mock scrape is during the peak rut, which also coincides with hunting season in most places. In places with a noticeable winter, from Canada and the northern states down into the Midwest and even into the mid South, this will be about the last two weeks of October into the first two weeks of November.
If you hunt deeper in the south like Florida, Alabama, etc., places where there isn’t a noticeable winter, the rut is not as predictable or well-timed. Does go into heat as early as July and continue into as late as February. As a result, mock scrapes can be used nearly anytime but are in general less effective.
It’s also important to note the enigmatic “second rut” just after Thanksgiving when bucks go after the youngest does who matured a little late and have gone into heat a bit after their sisters. While some hunters debate whether this “second rut” even exists, making a mock scrape towards the end of November or beginning of December is worth a shot.
Hide Your Scent…
Smell is a deer’s primary sense. It’s how they experience their environment and recognize each other and other animals. As a result, hiding your scent is the equivalent of a visible disguise for human beings and is essential for making an effective scrape.
For starters, only use items you find in the wood like branches to make the scrape. Don’t bring anything from home.
Additionally, try to cover your own scent as best as possible. This means showering with a neutral-scent wash the night before and wearing clothing that you’ve at least washed with a neutral-scent detergent if not treated with a scent masker or, like my aunt, kept in a box with pine needles for a week.
Finally, wear gloves and a mask when you make the scrape. I know it sounds like you’re robbing a bank, but this is how well deer can smell and how suspicious they are. Latex gloves work well enough to hide the scent from your hands and a surgical mask (which everyone has these days) or ski mask should be enough to block any spit you might accidentally leave in the area.
Well, Except for One Scent
Yeah, so there is actually one of your scents you can leave on the scrape. That’s right, your urine. Before you leave the scrape, relieve yourself into your work.
Now, I know this seems pretty absurd. I just spent a whole section talking about how deer use scent to experience their environment. Wouldn’t leaving an incredibly potent human scent scare them off?
Back in the old days, this was the established dogma. My grandpa would have made me walk home to the bathroom before letting me pee in our mock scrape, but times have changed. Studies have actually found that human urine will in fact attract bucks to the scrape, although whether it’s because they actually think it’s some other weird buck or just curious in general isn’t exactly clear.
If you’re still not really sold on this strategy, not to worry. Instead of your own urine, you can deposit some actual buck urine or another deer scent that you’ve purchased.