There’s never a time when I see the first newly opened scrape of the year and don’t get excited. It’s just one more sign of fall and one more sign of life. At the very least, that scrape means that a revved-up buck happened to pass through the area. It may or may not mean much more than that. While scrapes all serve a purpose as a form of communication, they are not all equally weighted in their significance. Twenty years ago, a moderately sized scrape got a scrape scent bag-dripper and a tree-stand hung within shooting distance. Ten years ago, hunting scrapes fell out of favor with the belief that bucks use scrapes almost exclusively at night. In today’s day, we know that scrapes are important components in patterning deer movement and can, in fact, have many different meanings. Finding the right meaning and setting might just be the ticket to putting a daylight bruiser in the back of your pickup.
- Scrape Patterns: The scrape you found in the middle of open hardwoods, during your spring scouting missions, may be one of those that lacks significance, or it might be an important piece of that big buck puzzle. It’s your job to figure out which one it is. If it appears random and all alone, maybe it is. Or maybe you need to walk a circle with that scrape as the center point. Is there another scrape that seems to be related? If so, continue trying to connect the dots (scrapes) together. When your circle leads to thicker cover, you’re on the track to a more meaningful and productive scrape. Get as close as you think you can to where typical deer travel originates (hint: keep an eye out for beds). It’s not necessary to hunt directly over a single scrape, as a pattern targets a travel route. Make your ambush between scrapes in an area that provides the best available cover.
- First Scrape Zone: The first scrapes that tend to show up on tractor lanes and field edges usually don’t hold much weight. They were probably made by a buck just letting off some steam due to increasing testosterone levels. But, what if you find new scrapes in a patch of thick beech or hickory trees and some kind of less attractive understory? Is there a stand of white oaks across the street that a buck is heading for next? Knowledge of where first scrapes pop up is useable information. They’re likely not what you think and are probably more related to the food that’s available early on. Match the two and you could have a spot that yields productive sits.
- Buck Bedding Scrapes: Buck bedding scrapes are most often found in the big woods. The key to discovering a scrape like this is to find a buck bed above its location. Generally, a single-destination deer trail will lead from the bed to the scrape. More often than not, that scrape will be in view of the buck’s bed. Focus your efforts here during last few days of October and the first few days of November. Ideally, you’ll want to position yourself for a shot in 1 of 3 places: within shooting distance of the scrape, above the elevation of the bed, or within shooting distance of the trail that leads from the bed to the scrape. Choosing a spot should be determined by wind direction. A wind blowing perpendicular, away from the trail, is the easiest to hunt. It provides the most shot opportunities and potentially allows for shooting to the bed as well as the scrape (pending distance, of course). Bucks use these scrapes in their downtime in the early part of the pre-rut to rest and catch traveling does at the same time. Another hot timeframe is during the heat of the rut, revolving around that mid-day period.
- Ditch Hopping Scrapes: When a ridge bends, it typically creates folds in the terrain that form a series of secondary points. The more difficult these points are to see via topo maps, the better they will be to hunt, as it will attract less traffic from other hunters. If you’ve taken the time to walk the bends in ridges during the off season, you’ll realize how pronounced these points can be without being immediately apparent. Of course, bucks use the series of points for bedding from time-to-time. But, a series of points like this provides battle-like concealment, an easy escape route, and all the while bucks can scent check the route for hot does. The bottom of each ditch between points is a good place to keep your eyes peeled for these scrapes. Ditch scrapes are traveling scrapes, so you shouldn’t expect a buck to stop for a long period of time on one. However, if you miss your opportunity on a buck’s first pass, don’t be surprised to find him back at that same scrape a few hours later.
- Hillside Bench Scrapes: Hillside bench scrapes are the toughest to hunt due to the fact that winds are generally inconsistent in these areas. They are perfect locations for cameras, as you’re likely to get the biggest buck in the woods on a secluded bench, but hunting them may cost you. If it’s a spot you’re thinking of throwing a hunt at, then be as aggressive as possible. Timing should be a consideration. Less foliage with wind paralleling the ridge is the best bet, but every piece of country is different. Make sure you know what a specific wind will do in your target spot. Scrapes tend to lose a little bit of luster in the peak of the rut, but often during the post rut time frame they may get pretty popular again. This is a very good time to hunt the hillside bench scrape. Bucks will be responding to the increased hunting pressure and looking for the most bulletproof seclusion they can find. Tie this into your late season plans and it could mean a full year of hunting scrapes exclusively.