White-tailed bucks make scrapes to communicate by scent. Scrapes help bucks announce their presence, define their territory, and show they’re ready to breed. Hunters often hunt near scrapes and make mock scrapes during the pre-rut to increase their odds of seeing and arrowing bucks.
Josh Knight, host of the Genesis Archer Show on Facebook and YouTube, hunts scrapes each fall and often arrows mature bucks. Knight, 31, started bowhunting at age 9. As of October 2020, he has shot 20 bucks in Georgia, four of which made the Pope and Young Club’s record book. He arrowed over half of those 20 bucks over scrapes he made or doctored.
“Hunting scrapes is my go-to strategy in October,” Knight said. “I love hunting early-season paw marks. I’ve killed nice bucks using this strategy, so I’m definitely going to keep using it.”
When Knight finds a scrape, he clears leaves and debris with a stick, applies a deer-attractant scent, and sets up nearby to catch bucks refreshing or investigating the scrape. When bucks find their scrapes disturbed, they likely think another buck intruded. That possibly agitates the bucks, making them return more regularly, often in daylight, to recheck the scrape.
Knight said trapping taught him how to hunt big deer. He uses scents to attract coyotes and bobcats to his trap sets. “Attractants lure animals to specific spots,” Knight said. “Why not use that same tactic to kill big deer?”
Knight encourages beginning hunters to try hunting scrapes. “You want to stack the odds in your favor when you’re going after a big buck,” he said. “If you don’t put scent out and you don’t do mock scrapes, your chances of seeing a buck go way down.”
Knight scouts to find fresh scrapes from late September through October. Active scrapes appear moist, smell musky, and hold deer tracks. Large, well-used scrapes usually mean several active deer are nearby.
Knight carries trail cameras and urine-based deer-attractants when scouting. When he finds a fresh scrape, he rakes the ground with a stick and applies scent. He hangs trail cameras nearby and later checks the images by phone to identify which deer make and check the scrape. If he sees a buck he wants to pursue, he starts hunting the area.
What if you don’t have trail cameras? Knight suggests analyzing nearby deer sign to determine what size deer are present. Larger, more mature bucks usually have bigger hoofs and rub bigger trees. Just realize some old, mature bucks have small antlers and normal size hoofs. Likewise, some forkhorns can’t resist rubbing active rubs and pawing active scrapes.
It’s a buck’s instinct to defend its territory after intruders mess with its scrapes and other signposts. Therefore, bucks often check and refresh scrapes after other deer visit and scent-mark them.
Knight recommends setting up 30 to 40 yards downwind of scrapes. He said bucks normally approach scrapes from downwind to scent-check them from a distance before approaching closer. Hang your stand far enough away from the scrape so the buck doesn’t get downwind from your setup, but close enough so you can make a good shot. The setup distance varies by terrain, cover and trail systems. Knight said downwind setups don’t work every time, and he has been busted more than once when setting up too close. But when it works, it’s priceless.
Knight refreshes scrapes once or twice weekly when he’s hunting. He’s also careful about scent control. He uses rubber boots and rubber gloves when making mock scrapes, and wears clothes washed in scent-free laundry detergent. He also cleanses himself with body wash before entering the woods. He said he’s never 100% scent-free, but he does everything possible to reduce odors to ensure close encounters.
Knight uses grunt calls and rattling antlers to entice bucks to leave their beds and inspect their scrapes. Much like turkey hunting, try to get your prey to come to you.
“Doing all this stuff (grunting, rattling and mock scrapes) tells the buck there’s another deer in the area, which makes it want to get up from his bed to see what’s going on,” Knight said.
As the rut picks up in early November, bucks stop checking scrapes and start chasing does. Unused scrapes lose their odor and get covered by leaves, pine needles and other debris. Knight uses a climbing treestand to hunt active scrapes throughout October, but uses different strategies in November when bucks are chasing does. Read Bowhunting 360’s article “10 Tips for Hunting the Rut” or “Rut Tactics that Really Work” to learn more about those strategies.