Myths About Scrapes

Ron Spomer |

In a round-about way, some new field studies seem to support my contention that deer hunters can best improve their chances for success by honing their shooting skills instead of their biology theories.

Whitetail hunters have been scraping by on rumors, myths, half-truths and lies about whitetail scrapes for years. They aren’t what we’ve been told…

fresh_scrapeScrapes are those bare patches of ground bucks paw open in the fall. For decades we’ve been told they are territorial markers, breeding centers and visual and olfactory signposts. Scrapes are like the local deer “post office” where bucks leave messages advertising their virility and any receptive doe can post “call me!” notes about her availability.

Except that’s not true.

We’ve also been told scrapes are laid in lines marking a big buck’s travel route and the bigger the scrape, the bigger the buck. Not true either.

We’ve been told scrape activity peaks during the heart of the rut and after breeding one doe, a buck returns to check his scrapes for olfactory signs of another. Not true.

The dominant bucks make the biggest scrapes, check them once or more daily and prefer to make them where woods border open fields… None of that is true, and believing it has cost us time, money and lost opportunities

How many fruitless hours have you sat over scrapes? How many high dollar concoctions have you poured into them? How many backdoor trails have you clipped and raked and tiptoed down in the dark to reach your scrape stand undetected? Welcome to the club

tree_rubLike most hunters I’ve seen scrapes, watched bucks make them and seen bucks check them. Like most I’ve read the theories, concocted some of my own and passed the word. So forgive me. I, too, was wrong. Too, turns out scrapes are no better than rubs for predicting when to where a buck will show up.

According to recent research studies involving round-the-clock camera monitoring scrapes and scrape lines, our cherished myths about scrapes aren’t really lies so much as incomplete information coupled with reasonable guesses and more than a little wishful thinking. The cameras recorded no visual evidence for any of it.

Yearlings and immature bucks visited more often than mature bucks. Doe visits were twice as high as buck visits. Scrapes averaged just slightly more than 30 visits each throughout the fall season and only five of those were in daylight hours.

One study did discover that there are, indeed, traditional scrapes, with 80 percent reused in subsequent years. But there was no indication bucks checked a scrape line or followed a series of scrapes to and from feeding or bedding areas.

The common belief that bucks open old scrapes and make new ones at random in early or mid-October — a month before the main rut — did prove out. As generally accepted, they did not revisit most of those. Also, our “hunters’ observation” that scrapes aren’t used much during the peak of the rut is absolutely true. Once does reached estrus and the chase phase of the rut kicked in, scrape visits dropped to nearly none. So much for the doe leaving her invitation at the post office.

One valuable tip implied by these scrape studies is that hunters can improve their success by focusing on their shooting skills instead of scrapes. An opportunity to tag your deer can come at any time in any habitat and any weather condition. Are you geared up and ready to take advantage of that? Can you get your firearm leveled, loaded, sighted and fired quickly and accurately enough to strike your quarry a mortal blow at any reasonable distance, in wind and calm, uphill or down?

Basic shooting skills may not be as fascinating as the mysterious world of whitetail behavior, but they’re much more real and in your control. Invest as much time and dollars in practice ammo and practice shooting as you do on scents, lures, stands, licking branches and camouflage and you could be dragging home a buck instead of just trying to scrape by for another season.