Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on October 11, 2011


October Column

Editor’s note: One week
each month we will run the, Ask The Deer Tracker post. Anyone wishing to send a
question for future posts can e-mail it to,

Q. – I have read many contradictory assessments as to why bucks make scrapes.  In your opinion could you tell me why male deer scrape, the significance of this activity and on average, how many scrapes will an individual buck make?

                                                                                        P. R. – Prince Frederick, MD

A. – You are exactly right
with regards to the vast amount of conflicting text that has been bandied about
when it comes to scrapes. It seems that anyone writing about this behavior has
a different viewpoint. Mine is based solely on personal observations, common
sense and what I have learned from more than 40 years of studying this animal.

A scrape is a pawed out area of
ground where all leaf litter and forest debris is forcibly removed by a buck.
These oval shaped areas are usually, but not always, located under an overhead
licking branch. They can be as small as one-to-two feet in diameter to as large
as four feet across. It all depends on the animal that is making it, his mood
at the time and how many other bucks may be depositing their scent there as

Scrapes are made exclusively by
male deer for the express purpose of depositing their individual scent, which
in turn officially notifies all other males of this bucks presence. In human
terms a scrape would be like having a business or calling card and using that
card as an advertisement. When competition increases, the card distribution
must increase as well if the buck wants to remain viable. A buck will scrape
when either he comes into contact with a doe’s scent, another buck, and
basically, whenever he darn well pleases. I have seen enormous scrapes appear
just prior to breeding when two or more dominant bucks are living in close proximity
to each other. This type of scrape is made more out of aggression and
frustration than for any other reason. On average an individual buck may have
two-to-four to four dozen scrapes within his territory.

Q. – I would like to attempt hunting the wilderness of Northern Maine. What are the main ingredients to look for in selecting a hunting location?

                                                                           B. M. – Salem, NH


A. – Get as far away from any town or other
settlement where other hunters tend to gravitate. The closer you are to any
town, the more hunters you will encounter. Secondly, realize that the deer in
Northern Maine are not evenly distributed; they are in pockets. A person could
spend a considerable amount of unproductive time hunting what they perceive to
be good ground that has no deer residing anywhere nearby. When I begin to
search out hunting grounds, and yes, even after all these years I still look
for new opportunities, my list of criteria is comprised of the following four
elements: food, water, elevation and cover.

I first look for where a cutting has taken place that is
from one-to-five years old. This provides whitetails with a forest opening and
a good supply of nutritious food for most of the year. Secondly, I then check
if there is any significant standing softwood timber in close proximity to the
cut to offer the deer the protective cover needed. Once those two requirements
have been met, I visualize the height of any surrounding ridges or mountains, as
bucks have a great propensity to course the ridgelines in their travels. The
last ingredient is water and not for the reason you may think. Although
whitetails do indeed require water, they are drawn to streams and river bottoms
because the habitat there gives them a feeling of security. The vegetation is
usually much thicker around water sources. When these four components are all
met within a given area, I begin looking along the road edges for deer tracks
to ensure they are indeed living there.

Q. – I know that you hunt whitetails in some very
remote locations.  What would you say is
the most important piece of equipment that you carry with you into the woods?

                                                                   T. M. – Casco, ME


A. – If that piece of equipment didn’t necessarily
have to be tangible, I would say, hands down my knowledge. Without that it
would be quite difficult to locate, track close enough to, and shoot the animal
I am after. But if I had to select one physical piece of equipment it would be
my compass. It has never lied to me, always been accurate and has never led me
astray. Some may argue and say your weapon, but the weapon needs ammunition to
be functional. Others may state that food is more important, but what about
when that runs out? Like the Visa card, I never leave camp without my compass.

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