Written by: FRED EICHLER
It seems everyone has an opinion on hunting whitetail scrapes. I am no different. After having guided both archery and rifle hunters on whitetails and personally harvesting whitetails in 16 states, I also have an opinion on hunting scrapes. Mine is pretty basic, but it works for me. Be forewarned though that opinions on scrape hunting are like noses, everyone has one and they all smell….. Or something like that. Read on and you will find my scrape hunting opinion, it is up to you to give it the sniff test.
When I first started whitetail hunting with my dad I was about nine years old. What I knew about hunting whitetail deer I learned from him. As I grew up and had my own encounters and experiences I formed some of my own opinions on whitetail hunting.
One of the first things I learned is that not every method of hunting whitetails works all the time. Like a lot of hunters, I was looking for that magic whitetail trick that would work every time.
It took me a while, but I learned there is no “magic formula”. There is just really no substitute for good old-fashioned scouting.
Now let’s revisit scrape hunting. Since in most states' whitetail scrapes don’t start showing up until mid-October that is when I start looking for them. If I am in an area I have hunted before I first check old scrape locations to see if they are being used again.
If you remember earlier in this article, I mentioned there are many different opinions on scrape hunting. Here are some of the most common. Some say they are only worth hunting before does hit estrous because after that bucks ignore them. Others say most bucks only hit them at night. Others say most scrapes are rarely ever revisited. I even read once that it makes no sense to hunt scrapes because deer just circle downwind, and scent check them from a distance.
Kinda makes a hunter scratch their head. Do I agree a little bit with all these? Sure. Do I also disagree? Yup. Before I start sounding like a waffling politician, let me explain. Do I think bucks can stop working a scrape line to chase, breed and tend a hot doe for a while? Sure, I do. I also feel that a buck will come back to hit his scrapes when that doe is done with her cycle or if another buck steals his doe. I would also agree that some bucks tend to hit scrapes at night. That may be because that scrape is farther from his bedding area, is in an area that the buck only goes to at night because of where it is located, or it may just be that the buck is mostly nocturnal all the time.
In my opinion do bucks make scrapes that they never revisit? Yes, I would say a percentage of scrapes are not revisited. It may be because the buck gets shot, was covering new country and just marked his passing or in his rutted-up fervor, just made a few extras. Do bucks ever scent check scrapes from downwind? Yes, in my opinion and in my experience this does happen occasionally. However, as hunters we should be set up downwind of the scrape anyways.
Scrape Hunting- My Break Down
When I am scouting for scrapes and find one, I am learning where bucks are traveling. That is important because, sometimes it’s not where they were traveling before the rut kicked in. Usually bucks make scrapes where other bucks and does will see and smell them. So, when I find a scrape odds are a buck considers it a good travel route and that’s good enough for me. Trail cameras have been an amazing tool for watching scrapes. I set up a Stealth Cam on video mode and catch some amazing footage at scrapes. Probably one of the most interesting things I have learned is how some scrapes become what I call “community scrapes” because it seems every buck and a lot of does come by to check them out. It is these frequently visited scrapes that I like to set up on. When I am picking scrapes to hunt, I look for scrapes that are frequently updated. Some scrapes are rarely if ever revisited where as others became community scrapes and are commonly, checked out by any buck or doe that wonders by. These are the ones I try and target. Sometimes a trail camera can show you what deer are checking the scrape and other times I just look at the size and shape of tracks to determine if different deer are visiting the scrape.
A few years ago, while Illinois hunting whitetails and filming for an episode of Easton Bowhunting TV. I was hunting with my recurve and wanted a 25 yard or under shot. I set up near a trail in a large tree the first few days and watched as three different bucks in three days hit a scrape about a hundred and fifty yards away. I decided to move a stand 20 yards downwind of the scrape and wait for the right wind. The day I set the stand we got a pretty good rain, and the scrape was washed out. The next afternoon I had a perfect wind that put the stand directly downwind of the scrape. My cameraman and I set up on this “community scrape” early in the middle of the day. When we climbed in the tree, we noticed the scrape had been freshened up with fresh hoof tracks and urine in the past twelve hours. Not long after we were in the stand a great 5 x 4 or 9 point by eastern count came running into the scrape. He licked the overhead branches and started pawing the scrape. My pink fletched arrow flew across the distance separating us and the buck dropped. My arrow had struck a few inches high severing the buck’s spinal cord, dropping him in the scrape. This was the 4th different buck we had seen hit the scrape in two and a half days.
I like hunting scrapes when conditions are perfect. I like a scrape that is near a good tree to set a stand in. I also like a scrape that is in some brush or cover where deer feel safe coming by during all times of the day. A scrape that is in the wide open or without close access to cover is probably one that won’t get hit during daylight hours.
Does scrape hunting work all the time? Of course not, but it works often enough for me that I will continue to hunt scrapes that are frequently visited and are in good locations to set up an ambush. I like to think I am good at scouting out a good deer stand location, but if a buck makes a scrape in a location, odds are he is more of an expert in travel routes than I am. So, I say, trust the buck.
Always have fun…. Fred.