Hunting Strategies - Scrapes
More Than Skin Deep
While I don't rely on any single deer sign to dictate my hunting plans when my gut or analysis of data collected tells me to hunt elsewhere, scrapes properly hunted can and have yielded some of my most memorable hunts as well as trail camera pulls; which is why they get my attention BIG TIME!
The keys to hunting scrapes depends how deeply you desire to delve into them. They truly can be as simple as the hunter desires or as complicated as one chooses to delve into them.
For this write up we're gonna go deeper than skin deep, which is something many hunters fail to do...and could be the reason many have wasted hours of no sightings over that "fresh" big scrape they found on their property...
...my goal is to hopefully not let that be you!
These shots during the 2013 season...all within a week time span set up on a communal scrape between bedding areas along a sloping hillside. Located on a 2 acre chunk of woods near the Homestead property we have permission to hunt and when hunted appropriate can yield very awesome hunts!
The Universal Language
Any hunter who has hunted more than a couple years has come in contact with a scrape and just to get past the basics of what a scrape is let's break them down to their basic form. They are merely patches of ground that are roughed up using nearly always the front two hooves on a deer...they then will urinate in them (sometimes onto glands first prior to dripping to ground). This is all done as a form of communication and any hunter that sees a deer walk by one realizes each deer will usually acknowledge them, and will typically smell/rough up the dirt again and/or urinate in it themselves. Most scrapes will also include what's known as the licking branch, a overhead hanging branch to the scrape which the deer will lick and rub forehead glands on depositing their own unique smell to the branch.
Scrapes, while at their peak during the pre-rut and throughout the breeding season can be found utilized through the entire calendar year. Scrapes usually take on three different forms in my book; communal or community scrapes are the ones utilized by nearly all the area deer. These scrapes if a camera is put up on them can get pictures of does, bucks, yearlings and fawns touching them up year round and these scrapes nearly always are the largest...at times they can have multiple licking branches and appear too large to be a scrape to an untrained eye. Now communal scrapes can become the second type which I would classify as breeding/sign post scrapes. These scrapes usually are the ones many hunters locate during or just prior to the breeding season. These spring up as bucks begin to feel the anticipation of the upcoming breeding season. Often times these scrapes are first started by the insubordinant bucks unsure of what the feelings are they have surging through them....then truly unleashed by the mature bucks a few days or weeks later. The third type of scrape is a deceiving one and unless seen created can be confused with the second one; that is the angst/spur of the moment scrapes. Many times during the pre-rut or full blown rut I've witnessed bucks scrape right where they're standing due to the hot doe near them or an approaching buck.
The ever famous licking branch nearly always will accompany the first two types but not always with the third and is usually a way I destinguish between the third one from the other types.
While I like to have cameras up on scrapes let's be honest none of us (outside of one person I know) have enough cameras to have each and every one covered for scouting purposes. So first and foremost let's analyze how a scrape can tell us the direction of the deer hitting it, which is a huge piece to the puzzle of when the scrape is being utilized most typically.
When analyzing a scrape first don't step in it...avoid this at all cost. However, squat down (don't kneel as that will transfer scent) and see if you can see dirt splatter out in any direction around the outside of the scrape. This is a lot easier if the scrape appears freshly used or if it has rained recently before the scrape was hit as only the freshest of dirt will be on top of the grass/moss/leaves.
Many times you'll notice a couple predominate dirt splatters coming off at almost a slight V diagnal from the scrape. This is due to the legs being pulled back and slightly out away from the buck's (does as well) body to avoid hitting the hind legs. This "V" will point towards the direction of the deer's travel.
A yearling buck still hitting the communal scrape despite the rut being well over...the scrape is not a site only utilized during the rut...the #1 mistake many hunters make each and every year. A scrape can yield a lot of activity if hunted appropriately throughout the right season if the wind, weather and access is right!
If there is no apparant "V" or splatter of dirt to help with the direction another easy way to tell is to study the scrape lines in the scrape. Naturally if you've observed a buck make a scrape typically the first inch to half a foot of their hoof drag they are applying the most pressure into the ground before pulling the hoof up and back (creating the "V" splatter). This would mean if you can tell which part of the drags is the deepest you will know where the deer's head was located at, and the direction they were facing/heading when making the scrape in question.
Obviously the 3rd way is if the ground make up allows simply looking for prints...and I'm going to assume if you've paid the small fee to be an Insider you know how to read deer tracks directionally.
Now of course the #1 way if possible is by putting a camera on the scrapes, this obviously can log mulitple hits without intrusion or human scent introduction to the vicinity, a positive thing nearly 100% of the time. Most cameras nowadays wil linclude the exact time, date and temperature on each picture which can easily be transferred to some kind of logging system you have for documenting and studying big buck movements (or deer in general). *Some even have the moon phase printed on them but as discussed in other videos sites like weatherunderground can give you A TON of information like moon phase, pre-dawn wind, prevailing winds and many other items for tracking purposes.
The Visitation Schedule
Knowing the direction is vital.....but knowing when a deer is most likely to visit is perhaps the biggest piece of the observation pie when dissecting a scrape. Again let's assume the scrape does not have a camera on it....how do we even begin trying to take a guess at estimating time it "most likely" gets utilized.
First, let me be honest I fell victim for years of the field edge scrape addiction. Field edge scrapes are those, sometimes massive, scrapes we all have seen in person or in videos located along crop field edges which seem to get hit ALL THE TIME. Every time you hit the woods they seem to be fresh...leading you to think you're just missing the deer when in actuality you could hunt them ALL DAY and a lot of times not be putting yourself in a high probablity situation. These large field edges are a place of weakness to many deer and are not routinely gone too unless they feel extremely safe during daylight hours (*remember all these statements are geared towards mature bucks)...these scrapes are visited nearly always under the cover of darkness by the maturest of bucks. *I will insert at this moment the disclosure that obviously there is always that day or two where seemingly even the most savvy buck can throw caution to the wind in that pursuit of tail...so just keep that in mind.
I can't imagine how many times I wasted hunting field edge scrapes on various properties only to see yearlings and just young deer in general...don't make the same mistake I did.
The nice thing is most small acreage properties don't have extremely large food sources or fields so this may be a non-factor to you...but what about your small or micro food plot edge scrapes? Well, the answer to this depends on the cover around the plot and proximity to the nearest bedding area...The Homestead property's main plot is one I wouldn't be shy to hunt at any time expecting possible action on a scrape due to how thick our woods are and the proximity to bedding or cover deer feel at all times. The slideshow at the top of the article shows some examples of deer visiting a scrape just a mere 50 or 60 yards around a hillside from our food plot...you'll notice some were there right at mid-day.
What does all this mean for guessing time? You gotta analyze the location and area around the scrape...ask yourself if you were a deer would you feel safe visiting the scrape in the light? If the answer is no 9 times out of 10 the mature buck is gonna think the same thing. That's why the majority of my scrapes I hunt during the season are usually within 100 yards or closer of bedding areas, some are smack dab in between a couple (the slideshow one above is one of them) of bedding areas. This can be accomplish due to a benefit of small acre properties; short and quick access.
Other things to remember is checking their use after storms (touch on that later), high winds or I've also heard of guys pushing a couple dead leaves in them or twigs so next time through they can check if still present (inactive) or gone (active)...just small subtle ways to know activity level if no trail cameras are available.
You'll hear me say it numerous times but hunting scrapes is no different; the key is a short and swift access and ascent of the tree I'm hunting if possible. The scrape to the right is one situated on the down slope of a hill that runs between two primary bedding areas around The Homestead property. This spot would be un-huntable if it weren't for the quick short access from the neighbor's driveway/barn which is a mere 40 yards from the scrape itself and maybe 20 from the tree we go up. It is the perfect access route as it doesn't cross any of the main trails leading to the scrape or between the two bedding areas...with certain winds it can blow our scent away from both bedding areas and/or over the scrape well before hitting the floor of the forest (benefit of hunting 26-32 feet high). It honestly I bet takes myself 5 minutes time to get from the truck, to the tree, climbed and standing on the platform hoisting my bow up. This is a benefit that small acreage properties can have over larger parcels of ground...if possible utilize this not only when hunting scrapes but anything.
Accessing and Hunting Them
For 2 days this buck seemed to return to this scrape about 8 times during the day...it was misting and overcast all day and seeking was in full tilt!
Now some of you may be saying "I don't have a short and quick access to mine...heck I don't even have a good one really." First, if there is any option other than what you have, seek it out. Knock on doors if you have to request just permission to use their property to access yours. After exhausting every effort for a better entrance first and foremost accept the fact you may not be able to hunt the scrape as much as you would like, because you are going to have to do it by the book smart and plan meticulously.
If you've pretty much narrowed it down that the scrape you are hunting sees the majority of it's action right at post-sunrise as deer approach the bedding areas try to make your approach come from the "bedding direction" (NOT THROUGH just from that general direction). This is banking on the hope that if the buck of your dreams approaches the scrape your hunting comes by, you will have a shot well before he may smell your approach trail. If this is the only approach you have just know that you either will have to hunt All Day or be willing to bust deer potentially on the way out...meaning this is a limited hunt set up and should be held off for those high activity times.
Obviously another thing when considering the approach to a scrape stand is the direction you expect a mature buck to approach the scrape. Bill Vale and myself are firm believers in the fact that unless a terrain or external obstacle (house/road/downed tree) blocks it they will approach the scrape from down wind in order to scent check it before progressing to it (from higher ground more often than not). Now sometimes this hooking to the downwind side may occur without you visually seeing it, as by the time you see him approaching the scrape maybe he's walking perpindicular to the wind (but he's already done the scent check). This is just another tidbit to keep in the back of your mind and possibly swing your entrance/exit route differenlty to allow the buck to do this with less likelihood of intersecting your scent trail.
When To Hunt Them?
I have said it already and will repeat it again, hunting over active scrapes can yield some of the most exciting and entertaining hunts PERIOD...however there are two times where my attention really shifts to actively utilized scrapes; the seeking phase and immediately after a rain.
There is a time period some of us hunters love to witness because there really is no other time like it in the woods and that is the peak of the pre-rut and seeking phase. This time period is the time of the year when there isn't really any strong number of does in heat however a few early ones have got the bucks so worked up in a tizzy they seem to be rubbing, scraping and fighting at every turn as a release of testerone build up. This moment can come quickly and in a matter of a few days an area's intensity can lesson some as more and more does come into heat and now the scrapes are not getting hit as hard and my attention switches more so to bedding areas and does. So pay attention to activity and when you sense this pre-rut/seeking pinnacle is upon you get on a active scrape which could be easily visited all day long with safety...you just might put down your dream buck!
The other time frame that I LOVE hunting active scrapes is after a rain. Correct that...IMMEDIATELY after a rain. Wait let me emphasize that a little more...IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING A RAIN AS IN LIKE THE MINUTE IT STOPS! This was something I had slowly begun to learn over my earlier years of always waiting till the rain had subsided to get ready and head out to my stand...I'd arrive and low and behold the scrape within eyesight of the stand had already been re-worked?!!
Frustrated I would sit in the stand without seeing so much as anything move...this happened quite a few times with both mock and authentic scrapes on properties I hunted. It wasn't until a discussion with Bill Vale and the re-analysis of trail cam pictures that confirmed what Bill told me I had to learn to do and that was be on stand the second the rain stops. Bill himself has used this approach to kill and/or see many a buck (mature and young) hit up scrapes immediately after a rain stops. If you begin to wonder why it because very apparent and obvious as to why they do this. Scrapes during the fall are predominately utilized by bucks to communicate their presence to an area doe group as well as a sign to other bucks they have competition...the second the rain hits their scent is washed away. This they cannot have so if safe to approache they will get up, shake off and freshen up their main scrapes...hunt them smart and while you may get a touch wet you could be staring down the approach of a your dream buck with rain beads still clinging to his rack.
Scrapes are an extrememly powerful sign hunters can use their advantage and is a topic that deserves way more time and space than provided here. I will continue to touch on different aspects of scrapes and hunting them over the coming months and on into the 2015 season. I will especially touch on techniques I use when doing mock scrapes...something many of you have asked if I do them, how I do them and if they've worked.
Good luck and God bless...Ty