September 06, 2016
After a morning hunt, you are walking out along the edge of a field when you spot an active scrape. Studying it, the oversized track convinces you that the buck you're after just had to have left that track.
The burning question in your mind is how do you use this info? Do you scramble home to get a stand and setup on it right away?
Truth be told, odds are best that it changes nothing. All it really tells you is that Mr. Big worked this scrape, most likely before you even headed to your morning stand.
Scrape hunting can be one of the most frustrating wastes of invaluable hunting time there is. Studies have consistently shown that the overwhelming amount of scrapes are made after dark and not consistently revisited. After all, one mature buck alone can make over 200 scrapes in a fall, with the vast majority being worked after dark and never revisited.
With that in mind, it's easy to assume that scrape hunting is next to worthless. For it to pay off consistently, you have to somehow select one of those primary scrapes that are repeatedly revisited and it has to be from the very small subset of those that are hit during daylight. Odds aren't in our favor.
Though that is all painfully true, scrape hunting can yield great results. It's all about setting up on the right scrapes, with the right stand placement and hunting them at the right time. Here is exactly how to do that.
Nailing the Scrape
Obviously, the system begins with finding one of those relatively rare scrapes that are consistently worked, with at least a respectable percent of those visits being during daylight. With the land being literally cratered with scrapes in many areas, relying on the luck of the draw isn't a great move.
The most effective means of predicting how heavy of use a scrape will receive this fall actually lies in finding them before the previous spring green up. Primary scrapes are much like human billboards, trying to maximize their reach to their audience.
Because of that, so long as the licking branch remains intact and massive changes don't occur to deer movement patters, the best scrape locations have a very high degree of repeating year after year. After all, it takes some serious changes to alter where the most prime billboard locations are.
By finding them before spring green up, one can fairly accurately gauge the level of activity they received the previous fall. Those ones that merely are paper plate sized probably weren't worked very hard. However, those the size of a card table and bigger or that have a more bowled shaped appearance from repeated pawings were obviously worked quite a few times. Those are your primary scrapes.
If you didn't have the chance to find scrapes last spring, just search your memory for which scrapes seemed most active last year. If hunting new ground, take a walk during a bad weather peak scrape phase midday. Relying on the rain and wind to cover your disturbances, get out and find those scrapes that are being hammered, ignoring those that aren't.
Nailing the Location
The next challenge is locating those primary scrapes that offer high odds of daylight visits. Frankly, that scrape along the edge of the field likely won't see mature buck daylight activity in most areas. Sure, one can score on them in some areas of Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and other areas with relatively high mature buck numbers while offering relatively low hunting pressure.
Try that in most areas of Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina, Virginia, heck, the majority of whitetail states and Provinces and you're likely going to be relying on squirrels and birds for those sits' entertainment.
In most areas, to achieve somewhat consistent mature buck daylight activity, one can't sit on the edges of wide open fields. Even in the relatively few areas where that happens, getting back into the timber even just 50 yards can be a real game changer.
Targeting primary scrapes back in cover is the key. Here are some of the areas that seem to produce the best:
€¢ Scrapes on the downwind sides of doe bedding are about as good as it gets, as the more mature bucks realize some does will enter estrus early and the downwind side on any given day allows their nose to tell them if one is present, simply by tending the scrapes on that side.
€¢ Streams, creeks, rivers ridge systems are very often the backbones of mature buck rutting travel routes. Because of that, primary scrapes along their banks and the backbones of ridges can often produce great results.
€¢ Though that wide open field edge may not get much mature buck daylight activity, those small staging/kill plots and natural opening just 50 yards or more back in are often completely different stories. In fact, when that plot or opening is somewhat close to the night's primary food source, it's often where Mr. Big wastes the last minutes of daylight, before heading to the nighttime food.
€¢ Funnels and the intersections of major in-woods travel corridors are the definition of killing two birds with one stone. When sitting either, does one really care if the 160" buck they spot approaching is coming to hit the scrape or just passing through?
One can debate precise stand placement for covering scrapes. After all, we should always adjust stands to be able to take advantage of features that help to offer safe wind direction and all factors are rarely equal.
That said, in those cases that all other factors are equal, setting up on the downwind side is a good choice. Next, I strive to set the stands around 30 yards on the downwind side. That yardage should vary, based on comfortable shooting distance. Strive to be as far downwind as one can get, while still being within your very comfortable shooting range.
The reasons for this are pretty simple. One, you don't want odors blowing to the bucks working the scrape. Secondly, some bucks will skirt the downwind side, scent checking them from a distance.
When set up 30 yards on the downwind side, I can easily cover the bucks working the scrape, as well as those scent checking from as much as 60 yards down wind. All I have to do is get the arrow off on those downwind bucks before they hit my odor stream.
The last piece is timing. Hunt scrapes too early and odds are that most, if not all the activity is still occurring after dark. All one does then is needlessly risk educating them to our hunting before we even have a chance.
On the flip side, hunt them too late and the bucks are off chasing does. Scrapes play a pivotal role in helping to shape the buck hierarchy and advertise the bucks' presence to other deer. What they are not is pickup bars. It's an old myth that estrus does hang out around scrapes, waiting for Prince Charming to come and take them away. Mr. Big has to go find the princesses. That's what he's doing far more than working scrapes during the chase or breeding phases of season.
For Midwestern and northern deer, the magical window for scrape hunting is the 5-7 day period right before the chase phase begins in earnest. Because the rut is often stretched much longer in the south, southern hunters can experience great scrape hunting for as much as two weeks before the breeding phase really kicks into gear.
In either case, the most consistent window is right before the bucks start going nuts trying to find does. At that point, daylight movement encouraging testosterone levels are now high, but odds of finding estrus does are low. So, they continue focusing on their scrapes. That's when hunting the right scrape, at the right time, from properly positioned stands can be truly thrilling.
Speaking of scrapes, mock scrapes provide a method of creating scrapes where they don't exist. Whether it's planting a scrape tree or making a traditional mock scrape, the lick branch should be pointed towards the stand. Doing so focuses attentions away from the hunter and strongly encourages broadside and quartering away angles.
The rest is merely following a series of steps:
1. Select a location where you expect the deer to be traveling within shooting range of and with a potential lick branch pointing towards the stand. It's also best when the forest floor is relatively open and flat or sloping slightly upwards, towards the lick branch.
2. The licking branch should be around nose level to passing deer, and drooping downward towards the earth. Existing branches can often be pulled down to accommodate this or be added to a tree with brackets or wire.
3. Following the tip of the lick branch down to the dirt, begin about a 2-3' oval, with the majority being offset to the front of the lick branch.
4. I then attach a Wildlife Research Center's Magnum Scrape Drippers to a branch above the lick branch, keeping it out of the way. Filling it with Active or Golden Scrape can keeps the scrape charged with scent for up to two weeks.
Planting a Scrape Tree
When hunting open areas larger than one can cover, simply creating it by cutting and "planting" a scrape tree can be a big difference maker.
The first step is finding a suitable tree that will offer a licking branch, when buried approximately 3' in the ground. It's best when the tree is a hardwood species that's commonly used by deer for scraping. Softwoods will also work, but their branches snap easier and must be replaced every year, where it isn't uncommon to get 2-3 years of use from hardwoods. In the Midwest, young oaks work well.
It also helps when the tree has a diameter between a soda and small coffee can size. These trees will often get rubbed. Having some size helps them withstand beatings.
Finally, having a "bushy" top is better than a single licking branch. These trees standing out are what make them so effective. Within reason, the bushier the scrape tree, the more they stand out.
With a suitable tree selected and cut, go 20-30 yards out into the opening in front of the stand and dig a 3' hole with a post hole digger. Position the tree so the licking branch is pointing towards the stand and pack dirt in well around it. One can even cut the potential licking branches off the back side, to encourage scraping on the wood side of the scrape tree.
Scrape hunting is an incredibly frustrating endeavor, when left to chance. As with so many hunting related tactics, success really begins with understanding what's inspiring bucks during that phase of season. Then, we can form a solid game plan of attack.
Following the guidelines covered above is the best method I've yet to find for experiencing great buck hunting during the scrape phase of season.