Understanding Scrapes
By T R Michels

Understanding Whitetail Scrapes

As early as 1974 Larry Marchinton and Karl Miller began to research the role of whitetail rubs and scrapes during the rutting season. While much of the research on scrapes centered around the mechanics of scrape making (chewing on the overhead branch and marking it with the forehead, pawing the ground, and urinating into the scrape), the researchers also studied the type of habitat where scrapes were found; the size of the scrapes; the mutilation of the overhanging branch; how many scrapes there were in a given area; when scraping began, peaked and ended; and how scraping corresponded to rubbing and breeding.

Since that time many other researchers have studied scrape activity to determine the possible visual and olfactory functions of a scrape; and how age and dominance affect scraping activity. While some of this information has been passed on to hunters through articles and seminars, a lot of it is unknown to the hunting public, because it may be difficult for the average hunter to understand due to the scientific nature of the information, and because it has more to do with whitetail biology and management than it does to hunting. However, some of this relatively unknown research on scraping behavior can help hunters, because it can tell them which scrapes to hunt, where to hunt, what time of day to hunt, what rut phase to hunt, whether more than one buck is using a scrape, and whether or not there is a dominant buck in the area.

After reading several of the research papers sent to me by Larry Marchinton, and because I wanted to find out when fall scraping began and peaked in my area, I began monitoring the scrapes on the properties I hunt on a daily basis. As a hunter and a guide I wanted to find out which scrapes were most likely to be used during the day; which scrapes were used during the different phases of the rut; how often individual scrapes would be used; which scrapes would be used most frequently; which scrapes were most likely to be used by trophy class bucks; and most importantly, to try to determine if there was a way to predict which scrapes would be used, and when they would be used.

In the years since 1994 I have monitored scrape activity on six different deer herds in three widely separated locations. In that time I have checked over 200 scrapes, and documented over 300 uses at those scrapes. Because I wanted to find out what makes deer tick, particularly dominant bucks, I kept track of anything that might affect deer activity; weather conditions, lunar factors, hunting pressure, breeding activity, and particularly the progression of the rut.

Every day I would get up before dawn, check the weather conditions for temperature, humidity, dewpoint, wind speed and direction, wind-chill, barometric pressure, cloud cover and precipitation. I would also consult all of the known game predictor tables I could find; Solunar Table, Feeding and Fishing Times, Vektor Fish and Game Activity Tables, Moon Guide, Deer Activity Index and the Rut Guide. I would then place all this data on graphs. For the first three years I watched the deer from an hour before sunrise to three to four hours after, and from three hours before sunset until I could no longer see. I wrote down everything I saw; what time I saw the deer, where they were, how many deer there were, what age and sex class they were, what they were doing, which way they moved, how they reacted to each other, and when rubbing, scraping and breeding occurred. Between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM I would check every scrape I could find, and write down its location, the type of terrain it was in, the type of tree it was under, which days it was used, during which rut phase it was used, and how often it was used.

As a result of my research I realized that I could predict when and where to find deer, and predict when rubbing and scraping would occur, based on the current weather conditions. I found that the timing of the rut, and breeding, has a lot to do with scraping activity. I also found that the current meteorological conditions could affect whether or not bucks are likely to scrape on any particular day. (That information is included in the Daily Deer Movement Indicator in the Trinity Mountain Outdoors catalog.) I also found that scraping in different habitats occurred at particular times of the day, and that most scraping occurred just prior to peak breeding. But, I found no way to accurately predict which scrapes would be used at any particular time, which was what I really wanted to do.

For the next three years I limited my research to scrape activity only. The results of my research showed that scraping begins a lot earlier than most hunters realize; that most scrapes are used at night; that scraping falls off significantly during certain phases of the rut; that the areas where bucks scrape change during the rut; that some scrapes are used only once and others up to twenty or more times; that some scrapes are used so infrequently that they are probably not good hunting sites; that scrapes maybe able to tell you whether or not there is a dominant buck in the area; and that scraping can help you predict when peak breeding is occurring in your area.

During the last two years of my research I found a way to predict which scrapes are most likely to be used during the different phases; and, in many areas, which scrapes are most likely to be used during the different phases of the rut. But, I still did not find a way to predict which scrapes would be used on any particular day. However, I believe I did find a way to predict when peak scraping should occur.

Scrape Basics

Before we go further let's go over some scrape basics. A scrape is a combination visual (sight) and olfactory (scent) sign left primarily for other deer. Other deer can see the mutilated overhanging branch, and the bareness of the ground,, and the complex set of scents at a scrape are easily smelled by all deer. The scents at scrapes help does identify the social status and health of the bucks using the scrape, and which bucks that are using the scrape. These scents are also a signal to other bucks in the area.


Scrape making by dominant bucks involves two different signposts and four different actions: 1. the overhanging branch; a. rubbing the branch with antlers and forehead and, b. rubbing and licking or chewing the branch with the nose and mouth. 2. the scrape, a. pawing the ground and, b. urinating or rub urinating into or behind the pawed area. The usual sequence of scrape making is; 1a. the buck rubs a low hanging branch over an open area with its' antlers and forehead, leaving forehead scent from its' sudoriferous glands on the branch. It may also rub the area near its' eyes on the branch, possibly leaving scent from the preorbital gland. 1b. it usually rubs the branch with its' nose and mouth and licks or pulls on the branch with its' mouth. Because the buck may have previously rub-urinated, then licked its' own tarsal, it may leave urine, testosterone and tarsal scent on the branch. It may also leave scent from the nasal glands, and saliva on the branch. 2a. the buck then paws the ground with both hooves, using three to five strokes with each hoof, leaving interdigital scent on the torn up ground litter and dirt. 2b. the buck then urinates or rub-urinates, leaving urine, testosterone and tarsal scent in or behind the scrape.


When bucks rub a tree or overhanging branch with their antlers and forehead they leave behind chemical compounds produced by their forehead (sudoriferous) glands, and possibly compounds from their pre-orbital glands. When they lick, chew or rub an overhanging branch, they leave behind chemical compounds from their salivary glands, and possibly from their nasal glands. When bucks rub-urinate they leave behind chemical compounds from their urine, testosterone and their tarsal glands on the ground. These actions create a complex set of scent signals for other deer in the area. Some deer researchers believe that these chemical compounds may serve as priming pheromones that are used to bring does into estrous, and are also used to help synchronize breeding behavior between the bucks and does. These pheromones may also tell subdominants that a dominant is using the area.

Scrape Location

In a study conducted by Larry Marchinton et al. scrapes were associated with game trails, old roads and small openings. In my own studies I found that scrapes often occur along fence lines; along ridges, benches and river bottoms; and at the edges between wooded areas and openings, such as fields and meadows. These are all high use areas where whitetails normally travel, and where frequently used or "primary" scrapes are often found. When clusters of rubs and scrapes occur in one area, hunters often refer to the area as a buck "dominance area."

Dominance Areas

Dominance areas are often found near staging areas, downwind of food sources and also within individual doe use areas. Staging areas are places where deer gather (usually in the evening) before entering feeding areas at duck. If bucks want to attract does then staging areas are one of the best places to leave signposts. This suggests that a scrape found in a doe use area was probably made by a dominant buck, and that there should be a rub route nearby. If the rub route is near a trail, road, stream or river bottom, it may be in a travel corridor. If there is a nearby food source the rub route and scrape may be in a staging area. If other signs confirm that the scrape is in a high use area you should see deer on a regular basis, provided there is still nearby food.

Travel Direction

The hoof marks in the scrape; direction of the scrape marks; and where the dirt, snow or leaves are piled, tell you the direction the buck was facing when it made the scrape. However, these signs will not tell you the direction the buck came from, because it may have had to face a different direction than it was traveling in order to use a particular scrape. The direction of the rub route helps you determine which way the buck is traveling.

Tree Preference

In Georgia, Marchinton et al. found that bucks use sweet gum, loblolly pine, greenbriar and dogwood as scrape sites. In the Midwest bucks use pine, cedar, apple, plum, ash, red and white oak, cottonwood, box elder and maple. Many of these trees have few lower limbs, but often have one of suitable height to use as a licking branch. Individual bucks often have a preference for particular trees; a 12 point buck on one of my study sites used red oak, mulberry, ash and pine; a big 10 point used red oak almost exclusively; and one 8 point preferred apple and plum trees.


Hunters often find several scrapes in a fairly small area. I have found as many as eight scrapes under two trees that were within ten yards of each other. During my research I found that numerous scrapes in the same area could be caused by different circumstances. There may be more than one buck using the area, but using several different trees, or even different branches on the same tree being used. Several scrapes may occur in a small area when a buck uses the same tree, but not always under the same branch. These scrapes may eventually be connected, creating what looks like one very large scrape. Several fresh scrapes together may only be the result of rutting urge, and they may never be used again. One of my hunters watched a buck make five scrapes in a half and hour; those scrapes were never used again. One or more dominant bucks may make several small scrapes as a threat to subdominant bucks, especially if the dominants are with a doe. Several frequently used scrapes indicate a high use area, often in a staging area near a food source, or along travel corridor.

If you are interested in more deer hunting tips click on T.R.'s Hunting Tips. If you have questions about whitetails log on to the T.R.'s Hunting Tips message board. To find out when the rut begins, peaks and ends in your area click on Whitetail Rut Dates Chart.





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