The Real Dirt On Buck Scrapes

Let’s say I was visiting my hometown and wanted to find a certain guy, my unrequited crush from high school. I wondered what he’d look like now, where he spent most of his time, and more importantly, was he with someone?

I grabbed a slice at a pizza place, where I didn’t see anyone I knew and had the same result the next evening at a Chinese restaurant. But the next morning, I took a counter seat at the neighborhood coffee shop, where I learned everything about everybody. In fact, I figured if I frequented that coffee shop, odds were that I’d soon see my crush. In fact, sooner or later I’d see everybody in town.

I hope you know where I’m going with this. The pizza place and the Chinese restaurant are akin to secondary scrapes. The local coffee shop, well, that’s the primary scrape, where everybody learns everybody else’s business. As you plan your strategy for hunting season, here’s a key thing to remember: the coffee shop is routinely visited. The pizza place and Chinese restaurant aren’t visited as often; in fact, a visit to those places may be a one-time deal.

In fact, studies show that a mature buck may make more than 200 scrapes a year, but will only consistently return to about a dozen of them. The other scrapes are random and are all but worthless to hunt.

How Deer Use Scrapes

The old belief that a primary scrape is “controlled” by the area’s dominant buck has been thrown out the window by lots of research. In fact, to sum up the research, scrapes are visited by all ages of deer and serve as a communal property – coffee shop – for a number of reasons.


Another common belief was that deer always scraped at the scrape, which is not true, according to research. In all of the research, game cameras are positioned at scrapes and deer identified. Their visits are noted and counted. At first glance, it would seem disheartening to those of us who are tempted to hunt scrapes – the majority of the older bucks never visited the scrape more than once or twice.

There’s a reason for that. The scenting ability of the whitetail is so amazingly good that those older bucks have learned they don’t need to bother with all that scraping and urination in the scrapes. In fact, they ARE “visiting” the scrape, by making a scent check at a distance.

Go back to the coffee shop analogy. You know how it is when you hit your local spot. You know who’s there from the vehicles in the parking lot. If you’re looking for a certain person, you don’t need to go inside. The buck that scent checks the scrape from a distance is “checking the vehicles in the parking lot.”

Research shows that although bucks may not scrape, they always use the overhanging branch. Bucks rub their pre-orbital (eye)/forehead gland on the overhanging branch. Does smell and/or lick the overhanging branch. The does do not rub the branch with their pre-orbital gland. The new thinking is that the does, by licking the branch, may be depositing or detecting pheromones on the overhanging limb.

What’s the bottom line? There will be no scrape without an overhanging branch. And more – if the branch is removed or just wears out to the point it is unusable, the scrape activity will be abandoned.

What about mock scrapes? In 1998, researchers Dr. James Kroll and Ben Koerth made four mock scrapes and set up game cameras on each of them. One scrape had no scent, one had rutting buck urine, one had doe-in-heat urine and the fourth had human urine. The scrapes with buck urine and human urine were visited the most frequently, but the scrapes with doe urine and no scent weren’t far behind. Bucks and does of all ages visited all the scrapes.

There are lots of things to learn from this study. Deer are visually attracted to scrapes by the sight of a bare spot on the forest floor. Deer aren’t spooked by human urine. Deer are curious about changes – the same researches did the study again, putting “new car scent” in one of the scrapes and deer visited that scrape just as often.

It is a good strategy to make a mock scrape every time we hunt a tree stand. In fact, you can really jazz up the game by making a mock scrape using dominant buck urine or estrous scent, near the primary scrape you’re hunting.

Scrape Dripper
Scrape Dripper

Thinking Outside the… Scrape

I hadn’t known that the “licking branches” are used year-round. Bucks don’t open up the scrape until their testosterone level rises. Since the branch is used all year, the deer “know” each other. When you introduce a new scent, deer go on alert to find the newcomer.

Hunters who target scrapes have to accept that it’s going to be a waiting game. You can hang felt wicks on the licking branch, but you have to be super vigilant about scent control. You may also have to abandon hunting too close to the scrape, and instead, choose a spot where a buck may come in and scent check. Although it will be a waiting game, hopefully, it will be worth the wait.

A successful hunting season starts at Sportsman’s Guide! Shop our wide selection of hunting gear >

Leave a Reply

Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.