October 23, 2020
It seems too easy.
I’m just two mornings into what is supposed to be a full week of hunting an area I’ve never been before, and a tall-tined buck is marching directly to my stand location. It takes all of 10 seconds to know this is a mature buck and one I want very badly to shoot. It’s also abundantly clear that my prior day’s decision to target this cluster of active scrapes was a good one.
Long story short, it was easy indeed. The buck passed the base of my tree at a scant six steps and tipped over stone-dead about 30 seconds later. Chalk up another successful hunt near scrapes.
I hunt a lot of different places each fall. Sometimes that means I’m hunting new areas in different states, other times it means I’m bouncing around parcels close to home. I do very little preseason scouting because I don’t find it to be all that beneficial and because I don’t have the time to do a thorough job of it (there are too many scrappy smallmouth bass to chase during the summer). Thus, I rely heavily on in-season scouting to put me on bucks, and scrapes play a large role in my setups.
Scouting isn’t a form of wizardry, even when it’s done during the season. I simply look for sign of deer activity. I classify deer sign in two ways: active and passive.
Passive sign includes trails and rubs. That type of sign tells me deer have been in an area but doesn’t guarantee if or when they’ll return. Trails indicate direction of travel and provide some clue of frequency, but not much else can be gleaned from them.
Scrapes, on the other hand, tell me more information. For starters, I know that bucks are leaving the sign. I also know, in most instances, multiple bucks are using that scrape and are likely doing so on a regular basis. Hence, scrapes are active sign that tell me bucks are in the area and will likely return.
The time of year will determine, to some degree, the scrape locations I’ll choose to hunt. A couple of years back, I had access to a honey hole of a property on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio. It was suburb hunting in its purest form. The land I had permission to hunt was 20 acres in size, about 12 of which were planted in soybeans. There were three active scrapes under oak trees along the edge of the bean field that connected to timberland flowing behind rows of million-dollar homes.
It was an ideal early October location, and I very nearly killed a solid buck the very first night I hunted. The buck entered the field, nibbled on some bean tops and then beelined to those scrapes. I never could get a suitable shot angle, and the buck eventually wandered off. For the next two weeks, my trail cameras showed hot and heavy activity on those field-edge scrapes. Then the rut started to draw near and they fizzled.
This is a pattern I’ve seen repeated often. In September and early October, when food is the name of the game for most deer, field-edge scrapes can be dynamite. But they fade fast as the rut draws near, and if the deer are being heavily pressured the vast majority of scrape action will occur under the cover of darkness.
For late October and early November, I look for clusters of scrapes in or near cover. That’s the exact situation I had with the buck described in the opening. I was hunting a small patch of trees in the middle of miles of open prairie. There were dozens of active scrapes in a row cutting through the timber. It was a no-brainer setup.
The consensus among hunters is that bucks will abandon scrapes once peak breeding arrives. I have found that to be somewhat true, but only for a period of time. When a buck has a hot doe, he’s obviously not checking scrapes. But what happens when his run with that doe is done? He’s on the prowl again, and I believe he will return to the same route and pattern that landed him that doe. He’s going to be back in his home area, which happens to be right where the scrapes he’s worked are located.
With this in mind, I still focus on scrapes during the prime of the rut but I do so with more of an eye on travel funnels. I don’t expect to see quite as much active scraping taking place, but locations with scrapes, particularly areas with multiple scrapes in cover, aren’t happenstance. Those scraping areas were used because bucks prefer to travel there, and they lay down scrapes knowing other deer are traveling there as well.
This is exactly what I was doing when I killed the biggest 8-pointer I’ll likely ever see. I was tucked into a bushy tree that was a mess of limbs and leaves in Kansas. It wasn’t an ideal setup, but it was in an ideal location. There were a dozen active scrapes along the edge of a creek bank and, while I knew the rut was in full swing, I figured it was only a matter of time before a buck was in between does and would be looking for love again around this area of scraping activity.
Target Travel Routes
It’s important to note that you don’t have to set up directly over top of a scrape to enjoy its benefits. The key is to understand that the scrapes are the destination. They are the active sign that tells you bucks are around and they’re coming back soon. Bucks will use terrain features and funnels to get to the scrape area, and setting up on that route is the goal.
Scrapes that are located in or very near heavy security cover can be dynamite throughout the day. So long as you’re able to enter such areas without alerting deer in the pre-dawn hours, they can be some of the best morning locations you’ll find. Bucks seem to have a habit of checking scrapes prior to bedding down for the day. And, of course, these areas can be highly productive during evening sits as bucks will target scrapes when getting up for their evening prowl.
I love hunting scrapes. Like, seriously love it. As I’m sure is the case with most of you reading this, I don’t have unlimited time to hunt. I have to make the most of my time on stand, and for my money, nothing beats time spent hunting near active scrapes.