No strategy works 100 percent of the time, but scrape hunting works often enough.
It seems everyone has an opinion about hunting over scrapes. Having guided many archery and rifle hunters for deer, and personally harvested whitetails in 14 states, I have one, too. Mine is pretty basic, but it works.
Just keep in mind that opinions are like noses, however. Everyone has one, and they all smell — or something like that.
What follows is my take on scrape hunting. It’s up to you to give it the sniff test.
I first started whitetail hunting with my dad when I was about 9 years old. What I knew about hunting white-tailed deer, I learned from him. As I grew and had my own encounters and experiences, I had to learn new ideas and techniques. I even had to unlearn some of what I knew.
One of the first things I learned is not every method of hunting whitetails works all the time. I was looking for a magic trick that would fill my tag every time.
I have tooted on darned near every doe bleat, fawn bleat, grunt, bawl, snort-wheeze and tending call invented. I have also used almost every type of doe pee, buck pee, gland lure and attractant scent ever bottled. I am also the proud owner of both manufactured rattling antlers and antler bags, and I’ve even made some of those by hand. I have deer decoys ranging from a bedded doe, alert doe, feeding doe, urinating doe, young buck, dominant buck and one I made with a deer hide stretched over a Delta 3-D target.
Some of the things I tried never worked. Some had merit and occasionally worked with the right deer and the right time of year.
It took awhile, but I learned there is no magic formula. There is no perfect decoy that works every time, no scent that brings them in like flies to a carcass and no call that deer come running to every time they hear it. In fact, most of these products can spook deer in some situations.
In short, there is no substitute for good old-fashioned scouting.
Now let’s get back scrape hunting.
Some say scrapes are worth hunting only before does come into estrus because bucks ignore them after that. Others say most bucks visit them only at night. Others say most scrapes are rarely ever revisited. I even read once that it makes no sense to hunt scrapes because deer just circle downwind and scent-check them from a distance.
I agree with those thoughts, somewhat. I also disagree.
Before I sound like a waffling politician, let me explain.
My experience has shown me that bucks sometimes stop working a scrape line to chase, breed and tend a hot doe. But I also have seen bucks come back to hit a scrape when the doe they were pursuing finished her cycle or got stolen by another buck.
I agree that some bucks visit scrapes only at night. That could be because that scrape is farther from his bedding area, is in an area the buck travels to only at night, or the buck could be mostly nocturnal. I’ve also seen and killed bucks in daylight over scrapes.
Do bucks make scrapes they never revisit? I’m sure a percentage of scrapes are abandoned. It could be because the buck got shot, moved to a different area or just marked his passing in a rutted-up fervor. I’m also sure bucks sometimes check scrapes religiously.
Do bucks ever scent-check scrapes from downwind? In my experience, that happens occasionally, but you should be set up downwind of the scrape, anyway.
The common element of all those items is scrapes can be very productive — sometimes.
Whitetail scrapes don’t start showing up in most states until mid-October, so that’s when I start looking for them.
If I’m in an area I have hunted before, I first check previous years’ scrape locations to see if they are being used again.
When I find a scrape, I use it to try to figure out a buck’s travel pattern. That’s important since bucks often change their patterns as the rut intensifies. They usually make scrapes where other bucks and does will see and smell them.
A big scrape tells me a buck considers the area a good travel route, and that’s good enough for me.
Trail cameras are great for watching scrapes. I set up my Stealth Cam in video mode and collect amazing footage.
One of the most interesting things I have learned is how some scrapes become community scrapes.
An important element of a good hunting scrape is how often it is visited. Some scrapes are rarely, if ever, revisited, while community scrapes are commonly checked by any buck or doe that wanders past it. That’s the kind of scrape I like.
A trail camera can show you what deer are checking the scrape, but you can also look at the size and shape of tracks to determine if different deer are using it.
This past fall in Illinois, I was filming for an episode of Easton Bowhunting TV. I was hunting with my Hoyt recurve and wanted a shot within 25 yards. I set up in a large tree near a trail and watched three different bucks over three days hit a scrape about 150 yards away.
I moved my stand 20 yards downwind of the scrape and waited for the right wind. The day I placed the stand, we got a pretty good rain. The next afternoon, I had a perfect wind that put the stand directly downwind of the scrape.
My cameraman and I snuck in to the stand in the middle of the day. We noticed the scrape had been freshened up some time in the previous 12 hours.
Not long after we settled in, a big 9-pointer came running in. He licked the overhead branches and started pawing the scrape. My pink-fletched arrow zipped through the distance separating us and into the buck.
My arrow had struck a few inches high, severing the buck’s spinal cord and dropping him in the scrape. It was the fourth buck we had seen visit the scrape in two and a half days.
I like hunting scrapes when conditions are perfect, and I like a scrape that is near a good tree for a stand. I also like a scrape that’s in some brush or cover where deer feel safe any time of day. A scrape located in the wide open or without close access to cover probably won’t be visited during daylight hours, especially by a big buck.
Does scrape hunting work all the time? Of course not, but it works often enough that I will continue to hunt community scrapes located in good ambush locations.
I like to think I’m pretty good at scouting out a good whitetail stand location, but odds are a buck is more of an expert in deer travel routes than I am. That’s why I trust the buck.
Read Recent Articles:
• The Two-Man Push: You don’t need a crowd to move deer.
• Shooting Long Distance: Whitetail hunting isn’t always a short-range game.
• High Mercury Whitetails: Sweat, bugs and extra effort aside, you can take big bucks when the weather is hot. This article was published in the August 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.