Easy there, partner. Understanding deer scrapes is more complicated than it may seem. I’m no expert, but I’ve spent a lifetime trying to decode deer language. And one thing I’ve learned is whitetail deer speak louder with their body language than any other way.
It’s essential to understand what a deer is trying to say and do when they scrape to decipher their rutting behavior.
You may be trying to figure out what a deer scrape is or want to learn how to make a mock deer scrape yourself. Either way, my friend, you’ve come to the right place.
I created this post to help you better understand what deer are trying to tell you with their scrapes, how to tell the difference between a deer scrape and a rub, and how to mimic this behavior to try and attract big bucks into your range next season.
I’ve included some pictures of what a deer scrape looks like so you can quickly identify one next time you’re headed into your deer hunting area. And, after reading this, you can use this peculiar deer behavior to your advantage and (hopefully) put a big rutting buck on the ground this fall.
So buckle up, partner, and let’s get started!
What Is A Deer Scrape?
A deer scrape is an area on the ground where a male deer rubs its antlers and preorbital glands against overhead tree branches (often called licking branches) or other objects. Scrapes are usually made during the rut but are often used year-round.
Bucks, does, and even fawns will rub their antlers on trees and scrape (rough up) dirt to mark their territory and attract mates.
Deer scrapes have a very distinct smell. This is because bucks utilize scrapes to urinate and defecate into. The urine and feces help to spread the deer’s scent and attract other deer.
Deer scrapes are often found near game trails, food sources, and bedding areas. Torn-up bark, broken branches, freshly scraped dirt, and deer urine can help you identify them. Scrapes are usually active for a few weeks during the rut but can sometimes be found year-round.
If you’ve ever seen a buck acting funny, pounding his hooves against the ground and rubbing his antlers in the trees overhead, you’ve seen a deer scrape in the wild.
Why Do Deer Make Scrapes on the Ground & Trees (What Does They Mean?)
Trying to figure out deer behavior is like trying to understand my wife. It can be challenging to figure out what is happening in their heads and what I gotta do to make them feel comfortable and happy. I know I don’t speak for myself when I say how frustrating this can be.
Sometimes (often), I feel like it’s a fool’s errand, and there is no rhyme or reason for what they do and how they feel. Other times (with my wife and deer), I can read their body language and behavior and use that to my advantage.
When it comes to deer scrapes, understanding WHY they make scrapes on the ground can go a long way in determining what they want. (I can’t say I’ve figured this out at home yet.)
The simple answer is that deer make scrapes in the ground and on trees because they do their best to mark their territory and attract a mate. But let’s dive into these concepts a little further:
Marking Their Territory
Take one sniff of an active deer scrape, and you’ll quickly realize that Mother Nature is metal AF. If a deer scrape smells like hot piss and sh*t, it’s because full of hot piss and sh*t.
Bucks prance around while scraping their hooves on the ground. They are digging up the dirt and simultaneously scrape their antlers on branches above them, the tree bark, or any surrounding object.
They then apparently love to pee and poo in the freshly scraped mud, which lets nearby bucks know that this is their area.
Attracting a Mate
A buck is sending a loud and clear signal by urinating on the ground and roughing up the nearby foliage: this dude is ready to get it on.
But alas, it takes two to tango. This means that the more stench they leave behind, the higher the likelihood that the scrape will attract the attention of a nearby doe. When a doe in heat notices an impressive scrape, they’ll often follow it until they find the guilty buck who left it there.
What Does A Deer Scrape Look Like? (With Pictures)
Here is a used deer scrape with tracks in the mud. Overhead (not pictured is a large branch. The entire area smells like pee and has deer droppings in and around the scrape.
Here is what a buck (or any deer) may look like when getting frisky with a branch and tearing up the ground with its hooves. It’s a very common rutting behavior. The overhead branch is often called the licking branch because it will smell, lick, and rub its pre-orbital gland on it. This leaves its scent and lets other deer know if their presence.
How to Make A Mock Deer Scrape
Mock deer scrapes are fabricated imitations of natural markings strategically placed to attract and deceive deer during hunts.
Set in heavily trafficked areas, these mock scrapes use a hanging branch, raked soil, and ammonia scent to simulate actual deer activity, enticing deer to use and linger near the decoy.
First and foremost, it’s essential to set up your mock scrape in an area that historically holds deer or has plenty of signs to tell you they use that route frequently. I like setting up this decoy between their transit areas, watering holes, food plots, and bedding areas.
Once you set up a scrape, moving it is unnecessary (it’ll last for years.) Place a trail camera near the scrape and monitor it regularly. Heck, set up several of these in your hunting area to give yourself an idea of what routes are used more often.
When you see a scrape that gets a lot of action on cam, plan on setting up your stand or blind downwind 25 yards away. Some will place their stand even further along their trail, but I prefer to be set up right on top of that sucker.
Using these fake deer scrapes puts you at a considerable advantage over the deer. Once a scrape is established, the whitetail in the area will visit it regularly.
Deer Scrape vs. Rub
We already know that a deer scrape is a ground-level marking where deer paw the earth while depositing their scent using their hooves, urine, and forehead glands.
On the other hand, a deer rub is an entirely different animal. They’re visual signs that deer have rubbed their antlers against trees to remove the velvet from early-season growth.
It is easy to tell these two deer behaviors apart visually. A rub won’t be located on an overhead branch and will typically be made on a small tree sapling, which allows the buck to rub up and down with their antlers.
Similarly to a scrape, a rub helps a buck establish its territory by showcasing its dominance, placing its scent, and leaving distinct hair and markings behind.
How to Find Deer Scrapes
You’ll want to focus on areas where deer activity is concentrated to locate a scrape. This includes known game trails, bedding areas, and the edges of feeding and watering areas. Finding transition areas is crucial to discovering how deer in the area are moving.
Keep a keen eye for anything out of the ordinary. Look for freshly cleared patches of soil with broken twigs or branches. Often, you’ll find an overhanging branch that bears signs of scent marking.
Speaking of scent, one of the best ways to find a deer scrape is to use your nose. A heavily used licking branch is often accompanied by the smell of deer scat and urine (particularly ammonia.
How Often Do Deer Check Scrapes?
Deer tend to check scrapes most frequently during the pre-rut and rut seasons. This time of year is when their hormonal activity is most active, making them very curious about other signs of deer in the area.
Bucks, in particular, may visit a scrape every 24 hours to assess the scent markings and the presence of a potential rival or doe in heat that’s nearby during peak rut times.
Will This Deer Language Help You Hunt Big Whitetail Bucks?
Understanding deer scrapes is more intricate than it seems. While I’m no expert, my lifelong pursuit of deciphering deer language has taught me that their body language speaks volumes. Comprehending what a deer conveys through scraping is essential to decoding and using rutting behavior to your advantage.
Whether you’re unraveling the concept of a deer scrape or learning to craft mock ones, you came to the right place. This post clarifies the message deer convey with their scrapes. It also helps distinguish scrapes from rubs, and guides you in luring big bucks into your territory next season.
With included images for quick identification and newfound knowledge, you can use this behavior to your advantage and perhaps harvest a prime buck this fall.
In essence, deer scrapes reveal nuanced communication. Interpreting their body language through these scrapes provides insights into breeding behavior and territory dynamics.
With this understanding, you can differentiate scrapes from rubs and strategically employ mock scrapes. These subtleties can amplify your hunting success, enabling you to interpret habitat and deer language and elevate your hunting pursuits.
More Hunting Info & Resources
- Do Deer Hibernate? (And How Do They Survive the Winter?)
- Are Deer Nocturnal? Habits, Weather & Pressure Hold the Key
- What are the Four R’s of an Ethical Hunter? [Hunter’s Ed]
- Elk Sounds: Decoding Bugles, Barks, Chuckles & More
- Elk vs Deer Comparison: Size, Habitat, Meat & Main Differences
Last Updated on February 10, 2024
Josh Riley lives in Colorado with his wife, Mary, and their three wild and crazy children. He’s an avid hunter, fisherman, backpacker, elk meat connoisseur, and international traveler.