Lies Scrapes Can Tell You
The scraping behavior of whitetails is one of the most extensively studied and discussed aspects of deer. And often also the most misunderstood. The scrape marks the heart of a buck's territory, a buck makes scrapes to attract does, only whitetailed deer bucks make scrapes, bucks visit scrapes often, the track in a scrape indicates the size of the buck it belongs to and the number of scrapes are a gauge of the buck population in the immediate area. The list of fantasies and fallacies is a long one.
Actually, both bucks and does make scrapes, although those of the doe are usually less well-defined than the pronounced, meticulously clean primary buck scrapes. Furthermore, mule deer make scrapes that can easily be mistaken for whitetail scrapes in their location and appearance.
Contrary to what some hunters believe, the size of the brush a buck rubs is no indication of its size.
Whitetailed deer typically start to lay out a chain of scrapes approximately three weeks prior to the peak of the mating period. Notice that I say the mating period which is the 72 hour period when the majority of the females are receptive. This differs from the rutting period which actually starts soon after the velvet sloughs off their antlers and ends three to four months later when the bond that holds the antler to the bony base starts to deteriorate.
The first scrapes are usually tentative and haphazardly located or may be
triggered by the presence of another buck.
The first of the scrapes are usually secondary scrapes which are made on the spur of the moment in reaction to stimuli such as doe spoor, the presence of a subordinate buck or might even have been made by a doe. About two weeks ahead of the mating period, primary scrapes are established and these are usually larger and carefully cleaned of vegetation down to the raw earth. Bucks will visit primary scrapes on a regular basis to clean them of debris, to freshen them with scent and to check for visitors. However, the buck that made a particular primary scrape is not necessarily the one that cleans and freshens it. Does often perform that task as well and I've seen spikes usurp bigger bucks for ownership.
Primary scrapes, on the other hand, are meticulously cleaned of debris and freshened almost daily.
That's why the tracks in a scrape are no true indication of the buck that might be monitoring it. Nor does the number of scrapes in an area indicate a strong population of bucks. Quite the opposite is true. When the deer are sparse, the bucks tend to be more zealous about establishing a patchwork of primary scrapes within an area.
What's The Rub?
Here's one of my favorite myths. The size of the bush or tree is a firm indication of the size of the buck that rubbed it. A thrashed sapling is hardly worth a second look because the buck responsible was likely a little forkhorn, but a four inch diameter tree, well that's a different story. Right?
This deer has taken a liking to rubbing its antlers against a tree.
Well, actually the size of the tree or bush has very little to do with the antler development of the deer that rubbed it. I've watched young buck horn and gouge a beech as big around as my forearm and I've also seen big prairie whitetails duke it out with willows the size of my little finger even though heavier alternatives were close at hand. I really believe they take out their exuberance on whatever is close at hand when the mood takes them.
However, there is a smattering of value to inspecting rubs to determine the size of the buck that was responsible. I look for what I call collateral damage, that is, damage to adjacent stalks or branches which were not directly targeted by the buck. On closer inspection, this will often tell me how wide the rack might have been and also give me an indication of the length of the tines.
At the same time, I like to study the fibers that fall to the ground as a result of the buck's rubbing since the freshness is an indication of how long ago it was made. Why? Well, mostly because I get excited knowing that a heavy antlered whitetail has come this way only an hour earlier and we might well have crossed paths had I taken this trail just a bit earlier.
Coming up in the last article of this series, we'll look at rattling antlers to attract deer and the dominanat buck theory.
George Gruenefeld has been hunting big game for over four decades and his travels have taken him to several continents. Most of the time, though, he concentrates his efforts on the Prairies and mountains of Western Canada.