You’d be hard-pressed to have a conversation with someone about deer hunting and not touch on scrapes. Scrapes are arguably the most powerful communication tool that bucks and does alike use. They get the most attention during October and early November, but some scrapes are used year-round, depending on their location.
There’s nothing better than finding a well-used community scrape that deer have used for years. I would rather see a deer-made scrape than make my mock scrape any day, but that’s not always the case. In some situations, the best scrapes are located in areas that are not huntable do the wind, thermals, or a combination of both. In other cases, you don’t have suitable access and are worried about bumping deer. The last circumstance is just being unable to find a good community scrape.
Mock scrapes can fill this void by creating a scrape in a location you can hunt if done correctly. Idaho bowhunter, Troy Pottenger often refers to his mock scrape setups as trapping whitetails from the success he’s had over the years.
The first thing to look for when building a mock scrape is location. Look for scrapes in areas of high deer traffic: bedding, feeding, and travel areas. Bedding area scrapes are usually right on the edge of the thick cover where they’re visible at a distance in the open woods but still give the deer a sense of security with escape routes. Feeding area scrapes will be on field edges, open oak ridges, and other feeding zones. You can find travel area scrapes in pinch points of cover, terrain, or with both in best-case scenarios.
Building a mock scrape for trail camera inventory places can be good at these three locations, but it’s better to focus on bedding or travel area scrapes for actual hunting purposes. If you’re hunting in a low-hunting pressure area, then feeding area scrapes may also yield daylight activity.
In hill country, you can produce great results by building a mock scrape at the bottom of a bowl, otherwise known as a thermal hub. These areas have multiple drainages that run into one bottom place, usually causing swirling winds that can frustrate any hunter. That being said, you’ll often find an enormous community scrape in that hub. If you locate an area like this that doesn’t have a scrape already, make one!
Choosing the perfect tree is critical to building a productive mock scrape. The visual representation will be the first reason to draw a buck into the scrape. When creating a mock scrape, consider that they’re comprised of licking branches—the visual cue to bring deer in from a distance—and the actual scrape on the ground.
I’ve found specific tree types in Pennsylvania work best for mock scrapes. I learned what these tree types were from finding thousands of real scrapes over the years. I’d argue that over 90% of the prime scrapes in my area are under a hemlock or beech tree.
This will fluctuate depending on the tree types in your area, but they choose these trees because of the visual representation. Hemlock trees are conifer trees, meaning they don’t lose their leaves. It allows them to stand out during the fall and winter while their deciduous counterparts embark on their annual abscission. Beech trees can lose their leaves, but usually, it occurs much later than the rest of the forest, providing a tremendous visual throughout the hunting season.
In addition to the tree type, what you do with it, will make a world of difference. When I find a great scrape, it usually has multiple licking branches hinged at 90-degree angles, with some entirely broken off from years of use.
The most productive mock scrapes I’ve built have had multiple licking branches. It’s no surprise that more visual aid leads to more deer traffic. Pennsylvania hunter and guide, Steve Sherk makes his licking branches by using a beech branch and tying it to another tree using a piece of paracord or wire. This allows him to make any tree a good mock scrape tree in the right area. These setups usually last longer than if you break the limb above the scrape.
Finding the perfect mock scrape tree isn’t exactly a science. Still, if you pay attention to the location, tree type, and visual attraction, you’ll undoubtedly have increased activity at your scrape.
Feature image via Matt Hansen Photography.