Growing up in the early ‘90s, I was taught that if you saw a scrape, you ought to hunt it right away. It was just that simple. There was seemingly no deer sign more hyped than the pawed up patches of dirt that whitetail bucks make each the fall. But, in the early 2000s, after University of Georgia researchers found that 85% of scrape activity takes place at night, hunting scrapes fell from grace in a big way.
Since then, whitetail aficionados have mostly turned their fawning eyes to other crazes, such as food plots, trail cams, and buck beds. But to completely ignore scrapes would be just as big a mistake as blindly hunting them at every chance. Here’s how scrapes can still help you kill a buck.
The most important way I use scrapes today, and the most common use by experts interviewed on the Wired To Hunt podcast, is as trail camera locations. Scrapes act as a communication hub for the whitetail herd and are visited frequently for that reason. While much of this activity is after dark, if your goal is to get an inventory of bucks in the area, scrapes are hard to beat.
Scrape use is highest in the fall, but bucks check licking branches even in the off-season, making these locations useful for trail cameras all year—especially if the use of attractants or minerals isn’t a legal alternative.
As I do each year, in late August I moved most of my trail cameras on our new Back 40 property to scrapes, both real and mock, and set them up about 10-15 feet away. I then created or freshened a pawed-up area, ensured there was a licking branch hanging at deer-head height, and urinated in the scrape. Researchers out of Stephen F. Austin State University have found that bucks react just as positively to human urine in a scrape as rutting-buck urine. We’re already seeing trail cam pictures of bucks scent-checking these locations.
I’m also using scrapes to “sweeten” certain stand locations. I don’t typically depend on a scrape as the primary reason I hunt an area, but I’ve found that scrapes can make a good spot even better. For this reason, if there’s an active scrape in my predetermined zone of interest, I’ll make sure there’s a shot to it. And, if there isn’t a scrape already there, I’ll create one.
If a buck is passing through the general area and just so happens to see or smell that nearby scrape, it might be enough to nudge him 10 yards in your direction. In a similar scenario, when that passing buck does stop at your scrape, you now have a perfect standing still shot opportunity. If possible, I try to create mock scrapes in several shooting lanes per stand location to get this desired standing shot.
While I don’t set up in locations just because of a scrapes very often, there are some hunters that have found success doing so. John Eberhart, a DIY Michigan hunter who consistently kills bucks in some of the heaviest hunted areas in the country, is a fan of targeting scrape lines.
John specifically focuses on what he calls “primary scrape areas,” which he describes as a zone featuring clusters of concentrated scrapes inside some form of quality cover. If 85% of scrape visits happen after dark, this is where the 15% of daylight activity happens.
These scrape clusters back in cover are also strong indicators that you’re in a high buck activity area and close to bedding—both of which are good enough reasons to set up for a hunt on their own. If you’re trying a hunt like this, timing is critical. Scraping activity has been found to build through the fall, peak in late October, and then slowly tail off through November and December. For more on hunting primary scrapes, listen to Ep. 62 of the Wired To Hunt podcast with John Eberhart.
All of this is to say that while scrapes might not be a foundation worth building all your hunts on, they can still help. Key in on them in the appropriate way and you’ll be one step closer to filling a tag.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.