Using Scrapes in the Deep South
Scrapes are one of the most widely discussed subjects in the world of deer hunting today. Mock scrapes, community scrapes, scrape lines, we hear about these things year after year! Some say there aren't worth hunting while other people hunt them religiously. Like most other things in the world of whitetails, I find that when I'm reading about scrapes most of the material out there is centered towards the midwest. I feel like the information a guy is getting in Ohio on a soybean farm may not be the same information I would get in the swamps of Lower Alabama. The constant stream of information coming out about scrapes had me scratching my head, so I'm attempting to figure them out on my own.
I've been very drawn to scrapes lately for the simple fact that they can give me a great inventory of the deer, specifically bucks, in my neck of the woods. I hunt public land so I'd be breaking the law if I poured out any kind of attractant in front of my camera. Left with no way to congregate deer in front of my camera I always hung all my cameras in the best bottlenecks I could find in the woods. I love that strategy because it provides real information on what the deer are naturally doing with no human alteration like bait sites. The downside is that I'm only seeing a small portion of the land, and I'm probably not seeing the majority of the deer in the area unless the camera is in that one spot for a long period of time. Scrapes are the perfect thing to add into my trail camera mix because they are a small defined area that deer from all over the area travel to. That being said, not all scrapes are created equal.
Deer use scrapes year round, but they don't use all scrapes year round. The ones that are used year round are the "community scrapes" we hear so much about. It took me a while to find community scrapes and to learn what they look like, but once I had them figured out it got much easier to locate and recognize them.
The easiest way to identify a community scrape is the size. They are usually huge, I have found scrapes that are wider than I am tall (5'9 to be exact). During and after the rut they are extremely noticeable after weeks of the deer using them almost every day. They are a little harder to spot in the summer and early fall since the deer tend to only use the licking branch for that portion of the year. Although the scrape itself may not be pawed out throughout the summer, they usually don't get completely covered up by debris so there should be some bare dirt visible.
Another dead giveaway of a community scrape is two or more licking branches. If I find a scrape that's 2 feet wide or bigger, and its got 3 or 4 licking branches, its a safe bet that I've located a community scrape. The licking branches also tend to be tore up from lots of use and abuse over time. Scrapes like these require no freshening up because the deer are already using them, but scraping the dirt or putting some urine down probably wont hurt.
Can't find a community scrape? make one!
Mock scrapes are something that I just started doing last year, and from the results I've seen I wish I had started using them sooner! Getting a good scrape going takes some trial and error, but when used correctly they are a great tool to have, especially in a big woods setting where deer are not very visible.
Location is everything for a mock scrape. My first attempts at making mock scrapes were in places I thought deer were often feeding. Places like white oak filled hollows proved to be bad locations. They saw some activity, but certainly not the amount of activity I was looking for. Since those failed first attempts I've shifted my focus from major feeding areas to any kind of edge or change in habitat I could find, the closer to bedding areas the better.
I'll use my most recent setup as an example. The parcel I've been hunting is almost entirely pines on hilltops, and swampy hardwood bottoms in the lower elevations. The flat hardwood bottoms are huge without much edge and not much ground cover. While exploring one of theses areas I ran across a small area, maybe one or two acres, that was noticeably thicker than the surrounding forest. The area wasn't think enough to be bedding cover, but it was an anomaly in an otherwise wide open hardwood forest. The edges of the area were very thick but 30 yards in there was a small opening with young pines every few yards. I noticed that many of those small pines had been rubbed last year so I knew that this was an area that deer at least passed through. I found three small trees that are pretty close together and made scrapes under all of them and placed my camera twelve feet up a tree with a clear view of all the scrapes.
To make the scrapes I just pawed out the ground with a limb and poured some Code Blue buck urine that I had leftover from last season in them. Some people use their own urine to make scrapes, and yes that does work too! If your scrape is in a good enough location you may not even need to put down any scent, as the smell of fresh earth can be enough to peak a deer's curiosity to come investigate and ultimately use the scrape.
Removing all other possible licking branches in the area is another important step in making a mock scrape. The goal is making the deer use the scrape that is in front of your camera instead of making their own fifteen feet away and out of frame.
Scrapes are just one more detail I have began focusing on this season. Time will tell if it helps me get an opportunity on one of my target bucks. I like how they have worked for me so far, maybe they can give you a better understanding of your local deer herd too.