Deer use scrapes and licking branches year-around, and this rut-hunting trick is a great way to get off-season trail camera photos
Many hunters believe bucks only use scrapes during the rut. There are definitely more scrapes in the woods at that time of year, and they're easier to see. But deer actually use scrapes and licking branches as communication tools throughout the year, and so making mock scrapes can be a great way to get trail camera photos in the summer.
Matt Ross, assistant director of conservation for the QDMA and a certified biologist, said, Scrapes are one of a few signpost behaviors that an individual deer may partake in to communicate with other deer in the area. Deer will leave their unique scent in the scrape (think of it like a driver's license or ID) through depositing an elixir of smells and secretions which creates their very own individual signature. These come from their interdigital glands when pawing away the leaves, their tarsal gland when rub-urinating, and from their pre-orbital and forehead glands, as well as their saliva, if they make a licking branch."
All deer, even fawns, make and use scrapes, Ross said. Bucks use scrapes more than others, and they use them the most in the fall — but they use them during the summer ahead of the rut, too, to alert other deer to their presence and of their dominance status. During the late summer, deer aren't necessarily fighting and maintaining the testosterone levels that they will in the fall, but they're still figuring out pecking orders.
This helps sort out some of the levels of hierarchy and who fits where well before the breeding season, Ross said. Bucks will fight if they have to, but determining their place before the rut helps ensure survivability to the individual. Out of curiosity, many deer will check out mock scrapes, even in the summertime.
I've seen this firsthand through trail camera photos of bucks either creating their own scrapes or hitting mock scrapes throughout all times of the year. If you want to get pre-season inventory of deer on your hunting property and you're not able to use any kind of bait, mineral or attractant, consider making a mock scrape and getting a trail camera over it.
In the summer it's just as important to establish a good licking branch as it is to paw at the ground. There are many scent products you can use, but I'd recommend against using any rutting scent. Some general buck or doe scent placed on the licking branch above the scrape works just fine. Make your mock scrapes on the edges of fields or where multiple trails intersect. Spartan cellular cameras allow you to make a scrape and then monitor it through the summer without disturbing things.
Even if you have a hunting property where you can use bait or some type of mineral to get photos, consider trying a mock scrape, too, just to see how deer use and react to it. The big buck you get on camera might be pretty eye-opening.
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