Late October is an exciting time of year for any bowhunter. The pre-rut is well under way and the visible signs of whitetail signpost behavior—scrapes and rubs—are showing up in their usual places.
This time of year also reignites the age-old debate surrounding the hunting over natural or mock scrapes and whether bucks will use these scrapes during daylight hours. But before you reject the thought of hanging a stand near a well-used scrape, here are a few details you may want to consider.
Pre-Rut Scrapes And Daylight Bucks
If you’ve spent any amount of time researching why and when whitetail use scrapes, you’ve undoubtedly found most biologists agree that bucks will visit scrapes primarily under the cover of darkness.
Biologists form these opinions through monitoring numerous scrapes over an extended period of time. These studies place trail cameras directly overlooking several scrapes and monitor the buck activity at these various scrape sites. What these studies do not take into consideration are the bucks that checked the scrapes from a distance.
Bernie Barringer recently wrote an article in which he addressed this very issue. Barringer penned, “I have two issues with these studies. First off, they did not add any attraction to their “sample” scrapes, which can completely change the dynamics of a scrape’s activity patterns, and secondly, they only recorded photos of the bucks that actually stepped into the range of the motion-detecting camera. That’s a big issue that few people have talked about.”
Hats off to Barringer for offering a (very uncommon) common sense approach to hunting near scrapes.
First, I’m not a wildlife biologist, (I wish) so all the evidence I’m asking you to consider is empirical. The opinions I’m going to share with you were formed by glassing whitetail through a spotting scope for countless hours.
From over 400-yards away and over 200-feet above a primary scrape, I’ve watched how a variety of bucks (and does) have used a ‘primary’ scrape during daylight hours. Furthermore, I’ve harvested several mature bucks within the general vicinity of the same primary scrape.
A Peculiar Place
It’s important to understand that not all scrapes are created equal. And while there are a variety of titles used in an attempt to describe scrapes and their purpose; such as secondary scrapes, territorial scrapes, boundary scrapes and so forth, the ‘primary’ scrape or hub scrape is what we’ll focus on. A primary scrape is used by several different bucks, and will also be used by does throughout the breeding season. Furthermore, a primary scrape will generally be in the same location year after year.
In their book Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails, John and Chris Eberhart write, “Primary scrape areas are my top priority because they have been my most productive hunting locations for dominate bucks. These areas are perennial unless there is a severe change in habitat such as occur due to crop rotation, logging, or property development. A stand in an active primary scrape area should be one of your best when hunted properly.”
I couldn’t agree more.
While biologists are still baffled at what all information whitetail communicate through a primary scrape, we do know these scrapes play a part during the breeding cycle. Through urine, saliva, tarsal glands, and preorbital and interdigital gland secretions, whitetail are able to establish a very detailed social network.
Pictured below is a primary scrape at which we have seen a variety of 1 ½ to 5 ½ year old bucks visit on a regular basis. And it was at this particular scape where we watched how mature whitetail use a primary scrape during daylight hours.
There is a caveat.
The majority of mature bucks that visited this particular primary scrape during daylight hours always checked the scrape from a downwind vantage point and never up close. Sometimes it was checked from up to 50-60 yards away or farther.
As either a doe or buck approached the scrape, they would make a semi-circle until directly downwind of the scrape. Once directly downwind they would stop momentarily, scent check the scrape and move on.
Numerous times we have watched a doe travel to the exact location a buck had visited just moments before and mimic the bucks behavior. The doe would stop where he stopped, check the wind and move on.
Again Barrie Barringer concurs with my observations. Barringer says, “The temptation may be to put a stand up right over the scrapes, and sometimes that works. But remember what I said earlier about the bucks scent-checking them from downwind—once they smell something of interest, they will make a J-hook and approach the scrape from an angle that quarters them into the wind if the terrain and cover allows it. Keep this in mind as you choose your stand location.”
So do whitetails use primary scrapes during daylight hours? It depends on the definition of ‘use.’
I believe mature bucks will ‘check’ primary scrapes during daylight hours. This is based upon several years of watching the same primary scrape and how numerous bucks behaved when in its vicinity. (Such as the unusual event pictured below where a young buck came in to the scape and actually laid beside it for some time.)
My personal belief is a primary scrape is definitely a good place to hunt ‘near.’ Depending on how the wind carries the scent from the scrape will determine how a buck will approach it. And understanding how a buck will approach the scrape from a downwind location is of paramount importance when choosing your stand location.
For those who hang scent drippers over mock or natural scrapes, this is another element that will increase the chances of success. Fresh urine in the scrape will undoubtedly increase curiosity, odor and throw confusion into the pecking order.
Again, I’m not a wildlife biologist. These opinions are from a passionate whitetail hunter who has tried to spend time watching whitetail in their natural environment. Hunting near scrapes has worked very well in the past and I firmly believe they attract mature bucks during daylight hours.
So, if you know of a primary scrape in your hunting area, I sure wouldn’t ignore it. You may want to hang a stand downwind of it and see if you can intercept a pre-rut buck.