If you hunt anywhere except the deep South and Texas, staking out scrapes is generally a waste of time after peak mating season arrives in November. Once the rut phase moves from seek-and-chase to full scale breeding, there is no need for bucks to visit these calling cards. There are plenty of willing females available and no need to go searching.
But after peak mating (November 7-28 for most of the country), things change. Most does have been bred. Many bucks are worn out and simply want to hide in thick cover and recuperate. They weigh 20 percent less than before the rut, have dozens of scars from fighting and simply want to hunker in a sheltered thicket and rest.
But there’s another group of bucks that still want to seek out the last few does that haven’t bred. These are often the oldest, biggest whitetails. No matter how tired, thin and weakened with wounds, they want to push on and find that one last doe to spread their genes through.
They’ll do this by traveling between doe bedding areas, checking out feed sites late in the day, and re-freshening old scrapes and creating new ones.
Once peak mating is finished, as it is now, scrapes once again become major meeting points for late-breeding deer. And they’re not just important for bucks, but does as well.
Visiting these sites is the best way for a late-cycling, un-bred doe to let bucks know they are ready and willing to mate. By checking out scrapes they distinguish themselves from the majority of does that have already been bred and simply want to be left alone.
This makes scrapes even more productive spots than they were during the pre-rut. It lets bucks sort through the ladies quickly and find the small percentage of them that are still interested in mating.
Look for these newly-created or re-freshened scrapes on the edges of doe loafing areas and along transition corridors where they travel from bedding areas to fields in the evening. Also check out staging areas just off from these late-season feeding areas. Isolated clusters of brush near fallow fields and clearings in forests are other good spots to find a late active scrape.
You’ll know the difference when you see them. Old ones will be dried out looking, often with leaves or sticks in them. The licking branch overhead will be graying instead of freshly bent, chewed and twisted.
Active, fresh scrapes aren’t as common now as during the pre-rut, since only a limited number of bucks are still in the game. But those you find are usually made by older animals.
The smaller number also enhances your odds for success. To increase your chances further, search for especially large scrapes or a cluster of several close together. Also look for those with fresh rubs nearby, often right next to the scrape.
Hang a stand or erect a blind downwind and wait. Use a doe bleat or occasional contact grunt to entice nearby bucks hanging back in cover.
Action typically comes right at dark. If you can get in without being detected before dawn, the first hour of daylight can also be productive.
If the scrape is in a semi-open area, try to find a buck’s approach route to it. Look for scuffled leaves and large sets of tracks in the direction of his bedding cover and backtrack 75- to 100 yards. He may only visit the scrape during the night, but by setting up on his approach route, you can ambush him while there’s still shooting light.
Whether real or one you make, late scrapes offer a great setup for a blockbuster finish to the season.
Shop Sportsman’s Guide NOW for a great selection of Hunting Gear!