For certain these days every savvy deer hunter recognizes the significance of an active scrape when one is identified, and is always excited by the propositions it could present.

If nothing else is ever known at all about precisely what a scrape reveals, first and foremost this piece of pawed ground below some broken branches at least proves that a buck was at some point standing there. That fact alone is what stirs the deer hunter's imagination into high gear.

Now the trick is to find the scrapes, interpret the type and purpose and then figure out how best to hunt them.


In search of scrapes

"A month or so before the peak rut dates kick in, all you have to do is a little scouting around prime whitetail territory, and you're very likely to smack into any number of active scrapes," said trophy hunter John Cockrell. "Those are the obvious ones, but deeper into the habitat there are plenty of other pawed-out, turned-over soil that often smells to high heaven of musky buck urine. Find the easy ones first, and then search in other places."

The obvious places are the ones in plain view. These spots include along the edges of woods next to a field, pasture, overgrown CRP land or cutover where tree branches overhang. Drooping branches are essential for bucks to start the scraping process, so make sure you scout in areas with these features.

Other scrapes can often be found virtually right out in the open along forest trails, ATV pathways, old logging roads and other points of access to food plots, forest harvest decks and other kinds of roads through the hunting property.

Along the way, always be on the lookout for deer trails emerging from the side habitats, crossing roads and trails or popping out of high grass hideouts or thickets. These trails can be followed up later to check deeper into deer territory for rub lines and more scrapes.

Next, investigate worn-down deer paths along creeks, small rivers, streams and other water sources. A creek cutting through prime habitat is an excellent place to scout for deer sign. Keep an eye out on both sides of the path looking for fresh rubs that will eventually lead to scrapes in the area. All this activity is proof that bucks are working the area.

Once these more-or-less easy scrape hotspots have been verified, then probe deeper into wooded terrain. Many times, I have just been cutting through a section of woods hiking to another location, and bumped right into a huge scrape out in the middle of the woods.

My initial reaction is usually "why here?" Then with a little closer inspection, I find a hot trail coming in from another direction, a favored food source where does hang out or thick bedding or hideout thickets. Then all the puzzle pieces come together.

Now, here are two things to consider at this point. You obviously can't begin to hunt over every scrape you find, and that would be a gross waste of time anyway. So, you have to narrow the field considerably.

Pick the scrapes showing the most active use. Once you settle on just a few of the best scrapes, then plan to sneak back in for a quick assessment every so often, but don't compromise the area with excess human contamination.


Hunting over scrapes

The best advice I have ever gotten about how to hunt over a scrape is "don't." Too close is way too uncomfortable for any buck likely to visit the scrape to check it or refresh it. So, first and foremost, do not set up a hunting stand within eyesight of an active scrape.

Ironically anyway, since about 85 percent of scrape activity is conducted at night, the likelihood of a hunter actually witnessing a buck at or working a scrape is pretty darn remote to start with. So time spent either setting up a good vantage point or sitting in that stand hoping to catch a buck tending that scrape is not time well spent.

Instead, the best tactic is to scout for viable trails leading to and from the scrape site. If possible, determine the prevailing winds and always set up downwind. Ideally two stands should be used so one position can be swapped for the other depending on the wind.

The tough part is deciding how far away to set up. The common recommendation is around 50 yards. All this stand setting up is going to have to be done discretely, quietly and with minimal scent residue. Slipping in and out of the area is going to require extreme finesse.

Finally, all scrapes are going to go cold. This happens when the doe population goes into estrus. Then the chase is on, and bucks only have breeding on their minds not the scrapes. When you note bucks chasing does, tending does or other obvious rutting behaviors, then abandon the scrapes and move on to hunting rut activity.

A scrape is a sure sign of bucks working the area. But scrapes are tricky to hunt and certainly are not the end-all opportunity to bag a trophy buck. Scout thoroughly, narrow the choices, hunt the wind and you just might get lucky.