There has never been a hotter topic about deer hunting than whether it is better to hunt scrapes or hunt rub lines. Anyone who has killed a respectable buck near a fresh rub or rub line is likely to prefer hunting rubs. Likewise, anyone who has killed a big buck near, or on, a scrape is likely to choose hunting scrapes. It’s that simple.
For most, deer hunting is about experience coupled with success. I have killed deer hunting scrapes and mock scrapes. I have also killed deer hunting rub lines. While completing some thorough research to determine what the latest trends and thoughts have been regarding this topic, I discovered information that was all over the place, especially with statistics. While numbers are important, we must note that most studies are performed on captive whitetails in enclosures.
Other problems with common data collection include population density and buck-to-doe ratios. These are important factors in determining breeding behavior. These factors vary greatly from county to county and state to state. So, for this reason, we will not focus on statistics. Instead, let’s stick with facts learned through trial and error, actual experience, and the wisdom of a few gents I refer to as the “deer whisperers.” I’m sure you know guys like these. Every year, somehow, someway, they manage to pull a decent buck from the woods. I put a lot of faith into what they say, because they haven’t steered me wrong yet.
Rubs and scrapes are signs of the beginning of breeding for whitetail deer. Deer sign such as this gets our motors running, but bigger and more frequent sign is the key to really getting our blood pumping when we find it in our hunting area. Here are six facts to consider when determining your deer hunting strategy.
Fact #1. Rubs and scrapes are both scent and signposts for both bucks and does. Bucks make them, and does see and use them.
Fact #2. Smaller bucks make rubs on smaller trees. Big bucks make rubs on both small and large trees.
Fact #3. You cannot judge the size of the buck by the size of the scrape.
Fact #4. The density of rubs and scrapes is relative to the buck-to-doe ratio—meaning more bucks in the area competing for does equates to more scrapes and rubs you’ll be able to find in you hunting area.
Fact #5. Bucks will revisit and freshen their own scrapes, as well as scrapes not of their own making.
Fact #6. 99.9% of the time, you will find an overhanging limb above a scrape (licking branch). This is where the buck will leave forehead and preorbital gland scent.
These facts are some of the basic truths of buck breeding behavior. So, how are you supposed to choose what, where, and how to hunt a mature buck? This is where experience comes into focus.
When it comes to rubs, I like to look at history. Is there significant rub activity from years past? If so, this is a great sign that for some reason, bucks like this area, and are likely to continue to rub up this area.
Are there locations where you can bet there will be a scrape because one was there last year and in years past? Again, there are locations that for reasons known or unknown, bucks love to use to make a scrape. This is by far my favorite. Why? A doe in estrus will visit these scrapes and leave urine or pellets in them. Other bucks will visit this scrape and do their own housekeeping, and then try to track down the doe. Before long, you will have what hunters call a “hot scrape.” Again, the buck-to-doe ratio plays an important part in the intensity of what sign appears in your hunting area.
Timing the Rut
The timing of the rut also plays an important part in the decision of when and where to hunt. It has always seemed to me that as pre-rut begins, and the number and intensity of the rubs increase, I may focus on placing a stand on the rub line or trail along the rubs. Then, as scrape activity begins and I am lucky enough to find a “hot scrape,” this is where I will focus the majority of my energy.
A good thing to remember is that older, smarter bucks will scent check a scrape from a distance. As a result, when choosing a stand location on a hot scrape, you must consider the prevailing wind direction and place your stand accordingly. Estrus scents can be deadly at this point. Also, adding fresh deer pellets from another location, you can encourage visits to the scrape. However, you’ll need to be careful not to leave your own scent behind at the same time.
Seldom will real life deer hunting experiences mimic the textbook scenarios we write about. Trails and rub lines vary year to year, as will scrapes. My opinion on hunting buck sign goes something like this, let the sign tell you where to place your stand. Often times, all you’ll find are rubs with only one scrape. Don’t focus solely on the scrape. Hunt the active rub area. Likewise, should you find a large active scrape or multiple scrapes in close proximity, that is where I would place my stand.
As always, take a kid hunting. They are the future of our sport. The more you share and teach them, the better it will be for the sport and those of us who enjoy it.