The summer months are filled with anticipation and a curiosity to see which bucks survived the winter and how they will grow this year. Mineral sites and other food sources are effective ways to attract bucks to your area and to get pictures of them on your trail camera, but they’re illegal on a lot of public land areas and even on private property in some states. In big woods and large timber tracts, food sources are abundant during summer, which makes it difficult to really get a good inventory of the bucks living in the area.
Even though you can’t rely on mineral sites in these places, you are far from being out of options. Scrapes are one of the most discussed and debated topics in whitetail media, but most of those conversations are centered around middle to late October. That’s because scrapes are most visible during that time of year, when deer are pawing the ground and demonstrating typical “scraping” activity.
After years of running more than 30 trail cameras year-round in the Appalachian Mountain region of Pennsylvania, I’ve found that certain scrapes see traffic for the majority of the year. The deer don’t paw up the ground as regularly as they do in the fall, but they do utilize the licking branch as a communication method. The testosterone-based scrapes are still primarily active in the fall, but the community scrapes have deer stopping by in the summer months as well.
I didn’t completely understand the science behind this phenomenon until I interviewed Dr. Karl Miller on Episode 137 of the East Meets West Hunt Podcast. Dr. Miller talked with me about the senses and glands that whitetail deer use for communication, including the forehead gland that comes into play with rubs and scrapes.
You can use scrapes to gather intel in the summer because bucks and does will still walk past and rub their heads on the licking branch. Still, not all community scrapes will be productive in the summer. Location is one of the most critical pieces to getting bucks on your cameras. In the heat of the summer, bucks are typically in bachelor groups and living close to food and water.
For example, the big scrape you find in the saddle of a mature oak stand will probably not be as good as the one you find around thick, diverse vegetation such as a newer logging cut. The water source doesn’t have to be a river or a large creek; a small spring seep coming out of the top of a draw or a low-lying area that holds moisture will suffice. Additionally, bedding cover that offers shade and cooler temperatures is a bonus during the hottest months of the year. Conifer trees such as hemlocks provide great shade, as do cooler, north-facing ridge slopes.
Once you’ve found an area meeting the criteria, I like to build mock scrapes on the transition line between the different vegetation types where multiple deer trails funnel to a specific location. When scouting an area around logging, I look for slight dips in the terrain leading into the cut because those are the most likely entrance points, similar to what you would see entering a crop field.
I also pay close attention to the type of tree that I’m building the mock scrape underneath. This will vary depending on the state, but in Pennsylvania I find most community scrapes under hemlock and beech trees. I believe the reason is that hemlock trees don’t lose their needles, providing visual reference for the deer long after the leaves fall off other trees. Beeches tend to hold their leaves longer than other trees, providing a similar visual. Although this probably doesn’t make a huge difference in the summer, it will allow your mock scrape to survive into the hunting season.
To make the scrape, I break off a branch at about head height. Next, I use my boots to scrape up the ground in an oval shape. Deer probably won’t paw up the ground in the summer, but they always seem to notice fresh dirt. I’ve seen other hunters use sticks to get down deep in the dirt and reduce scent, but I haven’t had any issues with my method personally. The next step is to apply synthetic, forehead gland scent to the licking branch. I’ve used a variety of scents including pre-orbital glands but have found that the forehead gland scent provides the best results.
Last, I put a trail camera on the scrape to monitor which bucks are in the area and working the branch. You won’t get the volume of photos you would on a mineral site, but you should still use lithium batteries in all your cameras to increase the battery life. Remember, if you have the scrape in the right area, it will be used for most of the year. Don’t worry about checking too often.
In the past, I felt like I was at a disadvantage not being able to use mineral licks on public lands. After understanding the power of summertime mock scrapes, I feel equally confident in my knowledge of the bucks living in an area, with high hopes I’ll get an opportunity during hunting season.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.