Scent, Scrapes Provide Keys For Deer's Messaging System

Knowing deer's messaging system of scents and scrapes can be a big benefit in the woods.
Scent, Scrapes Provide Keys For Deer's Messaging System

I have spent as much time in the woods or on the water as possible over the last 50 years. As I’ve gotten older, I have devoted several years to just observing wildlife, specifically the behavior patterns of bucks and does pre-rut and during the rut. While watching behaviors, one of the mysteries that has perplexed me is why a buck would rub his pre-orbital gland on the overhanging branch of the scrape.

One reason this behavior interests me is because I have accidently stuck a stick in my eye, and it hurts like heck. The pre-orbital gland is huge compared to a human’s glands, and the deer would be taking a huge chance of getting trash from the limb in its eye. The deer may get scent matter on its cheek near the pre-orbital gland — much like a human’s sleep matter — and could be trying to wipe it off on the tree or tree branch. He may even use his hoof to knock off the matter.

Hunters have been told for years that the limb overhanging the scrape is used only for the buck to rub his pre-orbital gland. If so, there would be no use for the limb to be hanging dead center over the scrape. The overhanging limb could be anywhere near the scrape if that was its sole purpose, and the buck would only need one scrape.

I’ve spent the last two years filming and observing every move and expression deer make. I refrained from even shooting a doe for meat — and I love deer meat. I even asked a few neighbors to share some backstrap with me, and believe me, it is hard to get them to give it up.

After compiling all the scientific information and observations, the mysteries of the scrape were revealed. We discovered why the scrape is perfectly round, totally clean and why the overhanging branch is dead-center of the scrape.

The major topic in the industry for years has been scent and smell — the way a deer smells and what he uses smell for. A deer does smell, but they don’t trust that smell until they can taste it. We have to remember all scents are in the air as a liquid form. Perspiration floats off us and goes through the woods for all animals to taste. It is just like how steam travels through the air when we urinate outside on a cold morning. It’s the same principle when a deer urinates. A deer’s normal body temperature is 104 degrees, but when a doe is about 112 degrees on her private parts when she comes in estrus. Even if it is 100 degrees outside, the steam will still rise off her and float down through the woods. That’s why this is called “in heat.” The noses of animals are wet to assure the scent particles from the doe float through the woods and stick to the nose of the buck, which can taste where in its cycle the doe is. We believe God created this process to ensure that animals would reproduce.

An important part of the mating process is the scrape. When the buck makes a scrape, he always ensures that there is an overhanging branch positioned dead center of the scrape. If you’ve seen this process, you know the buck puts all four legs together and looks straight up to the limb. He will adjust himself until he is dead center under the limb. I have even witnessed does doing this.

For the past several years, I have been intrigued as to why the overhanging limb was dead center of the scrape. I came to the conclusion that when a doe comes into the scrape and urinates, the steam will go straight up and stick to the bottom of the overhanging branch for all deer to know it has been there and to let them know what stage it is in its cycle.

The scrape acts like a buck’s message center. If it gets three or four does frequenting the scrapes and leaving “messages” then testosterone level is will rise. A buck most likely won’t even check a scrape on a windy or stormy night because he knows there won’t be any scent messages there.

We believe the scrape plays a major role in getting the deer ready for the rut and bringing the rut in. If you wanted to make the buck think the rut is getting close, simply spray the bottom of the overhanging limb with a doe-in-estrus urine, which should contain urine from no more than two does. If the scent contains urine from more than two or three does, the buck will know it’s fake, since a deer can break down seven different scents. If we walked into the house and beef stew was cooking on the stoves, we’d say “I smell beef stew.” A deer would say, “I smell carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, beef, and so on.”

There is a belief throughout the industry that urine is supposed to be placed on the ground, but our research shows urine on the ground isn’t effective. Deer urinate between eight and 12 times a day, peeing about 8 ounces of urine at a time and leaving urine all over the woods. We believe the PH in the soil kills the pheromones in the urine making it nearly impossible for deer to get a good “message” from the urine deposits. We poured doe-in-estrus urine on a clean spot on the ground and it drastically changed the look and smell of the urine. We actually urinated in the middle of a scrape 10 minutes before a mature buck came in. He literally sat down in the scrape for about 30 minutes.

Why does the scrape need to be round and kept clean all the time? We believe it’s so when a doe comes in to leave its “message” it will help to make sure it is dead center of the scrap, ensuring the “message” goes straight up and sticks to the overhanging branch for the buck to taste and read.

This knowledge about the scrape being a deer’s message center can be extremely beneficial to the hunter. This information, if used correctly, can be used to make bucks do what we want them to do — what an advantage that would be! The key is to spray scent on the bottom of the overhanging branches. For most of my 40-plus years hunting, I’ve killed only two bucks on a scrape because I didn’t understand “the messaging system” of deer. We also have to remember that bucks have more than one message center — or scrape — so multiple does can leave messages.


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