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Deer Behavior

A Closer Look at Whitetail Scrapes

by Bobby Worthington   |  September 22nd, 2010 0

Made by mature bucks, these “breeding scrapes” (or whatever you choose to call them) are made in strategic locations and will receive plenty of attention just before and during the time that the older does start coming into heat and using them. However, you must set up on them at the right time. These scrapes will not be productive places to hunt all through­out the rut. You must hunt them during that short window when the rut urge has moved a mature buck from his nocturnal pattern to being out during daylight, just before the majority of does come into heat.

I believe a mature buck’s main purpose for making scrapes is to find that first old doe that is receptive. He has been waiting all year and if he has reached dominance, it is his desire and right to breed with the first doe in heat. Does, particularly old does, want to breed with mature bucks. When the majority of does come in heat, a mature buck’s scrapes will be abandoned because of the availability of hot does. However, when things start slowing down, or when he is between does, he may start revisiting his scrapes. These scrapes will be large — often 3 to 8 feet in length.

Mature bucks have developed the muscle mass and body size to tear up the ground and they will. They don’t want to keep their scrapes secret. These scrapes will be well worked and they’ll have a major limb hanging over them. There may even be two or more limbs that are being used. Sometimes the limb will be as large as a man’s thumb and it will often be mangled.

Finding large rubs close to large scrapes is another sure sign that these scrapes were made by a mature buck. I have seen rubs made on the sapling or tree that the overhanging limb was attached to. I have also found small saplings in or near scrapes that were twisted and broken off at the ground by buster bucks. Don’t be fooled by the size of the sapling rubbed. If you find saplings, even small ones, that are twisted and mangled, the damage was done by a mature buck.

Never assume that just because you find one or more scrapes near or in the edge of a field that a young buck made them. A field may be a prime location for the area does to feed and mingle in. This may be the most productive place for a mature buck’s scrape, particularly if there is little to no hunting pressure at that spot. If you find large, overhanging limbs with considerable damage done to them, or if you find large rubs and tracks around the edge of the field, you can bet that a mature buck is working the field. However, if you hunt in an area in which there are no older age-class bucks, you may never see one of these scrapes because they’re made by the masters of the woods, the “super” bucks that have reached the older age-classes. Seldom is one of these super bucks killed by a hunter!

Of course, you can call large scrapes made by mature bucks “breeding scrapes.” Because the buck that made them had this in mind at the time. You could also call them “community scrapes” because once the does start using them, it causes a chain reaction. Any buck that happens upon one will put his scent in it, as long as there is not a more dominant buck close by. Furthermore, you could say that these scrapes suppress the breeding of younger immature bucks by intimidation.

Let’s look at an illustration. Say you have a young male dog a year or so old. Say you put him in a pen with a female that is close to coming in heat. He’ll immediately start strutting around and urinating on everything in sight. But throw a healthy 4-year-old male in the pen and see what happens. The young dog will cower down. His strutting and “marking” will be over. He won’t even challenge the older and more dominant male, especially if he was raised around this dog and dominance has been decided.

The same thing happens with whitetails. As mature bucks start expanding their range and laying down scrapes during the pre-rut, a 1 1/2- or 2 1/2-year-old buck that once was the “bull of the woods” will no longer be king in his little core area. When a young, immature buck comes upon a large scrape that has been vigorously worked by an older mature buck, he’ll immediately know that the boss is back in town. He’ll know this not only because of the way the big buck paws the ground, but also because of the scent the mature buck leaves in his scrape.

A mature buck is a strong, musky, rank-smelling animal. I have many times smelled this strong, musky scent in a large, heavily worked scrape. I also have smelled areas where a mature buck recently passed through the woods, especially on wet days. If you’ve ever been close to a dead mature buck that had been rutting, you know what I’m talking about. They are rank. Of course, this is not a rank smell to other deer. Instead, it’s a smell of dominance to the other bucks, as well as to does.

So, could a scrape made by a mature buck suppress the breeding urge of younger bucks? Of course it could. It tells the younger buck in the area that a more mature, dominant buck is making his rounds in his little part of the world and that he’d better move over and respect the more dominant buck or there could be consequences.

I also believe that a large, active scrape made by a musky-smelling, mature buck could cause a doe to come in a few days early. These musky odors contain pheromones that are sexually stimulating scents. I was raised on a farm and I’ve been around stock all my life. I’ve bred, raised and trained working and sporting dogs most of my adult life. I have seen animals, and dogs in particular, come in heat a few days earlier than they were scheduled to when another female in the same pen came in.

I have also seen this happen after a male was put in the pen with her. However, I have never seen this effect change things more than a few days. So, in my opinion, when a mature buck suddenly shows up on the scene, a doe close to estrus could be influenced by his sight, his behavior and his odor.

It’s very difficult to hunt one of these major scrapes made by a mature buck. The problem lies in the location that a mature buck usually selects for his scrapes. They are most often in a hub of doe activity. This makes it difficult to set a stand up in a location where you will not be winded. Your job is to find the direction in which there is most often a void of deer activity. Hang your stand on that side of the scrape and make sure the wind is blowing toward the void before you hunt the stand.

This brings us back to the purpose of scrapes. The “scraping ritual,” as I see it, is as follows: A buck will travel through his territory making scrapes. As mentioned, mature bucks don’t waste much energy making haphazard scrapes just anywhere. They always make their scrapes at locations where the most does will pass by them.

After the buck has worked the ground and put scent on the overhanging limb, he’ll rub/urinate in the scrape. He will then move on and make other scrapes at other prime locations. When an estrous doe or one close to estrus, passes by one of the scrapes, she will know if the buck that urinated in it is mature by the scent he left. If the buck is one she wants to breed with, she’ll then urinate in the scrape as well.

She may continue on her way or she may travel a short distance and bed down to wait on the buck. It depends a lot on her state of estrus as to how far she may move from the scrape. If she is close to estrus, his pheromones or scent will stimulate her into coming in more quickly. When the buck returns to the scrape, he will check for estrous scent. If he finds it, he will follow her scent trail right to her.

This is the main purpose of a scrape as I see it. However, you must remember that there are no absolutes when there are so many variables in nature. Also, whenever you’re dealing with as many individual personalities as you find with whitetail bucks, there are always exceptions.

Following are some different situations you might encounter other than what I have outlined in my simple illustration of how bucks and does use scrapes. A mature buck sometimes makes small scrapes at random locations, and he’ll have no intention of revisiting one of these scrapes.

One situation where we might find this is when a rutting buck smells the spot where a doe urinated, especially if she is close to estrus. He will usually paw the ground a little at this location, and if there is a limb close by, he’ll rub his face in it.

A mature buck may also intentionally make one or more large scrapes in a prime location that he does not revisit. This will happen if he makes the scrape just before he begins tending a hot doe. Once the doe comes in, a mature buck may go from one hot doe to another without returning to his travel corridor and the scrapes he has made for several weeks.

Next, we must realize that it is of little consequence whether a hot doe has urinated in a mature buck’s scrape or not if he runs up on her and she is willing to mate. In many situations, especially in the South where there are numerous does for every buck, it’s easy for a buck to go into a doe feeding area during the rut and “pick up” a date. When it comes to scrapes, the “hand of man” has removed much of Nature’s intentions by interfering with natural one-to-one buck-to-doe ratios.

You might also observe an immature buck working a large scrape. Any time a rutting buck of any age happens upon an active scrape in the fall woods, he’ll usually paw the ground and put in his two cents worth. When we see a buck working a scrape, it does not necessarily mean that he is the one who originally made it.


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