John's Journal...

The Challenges of Hunting End-of-the-Season Big Bucks

Study Scrapes to Locate Trophy Bucks and Use Moultrie Trail Cameras

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Hunters already have harvested many of the young bucks before January arrives. But the older, trophy-sized bucks have holed-up and moved only after dark to dodge hunting pressure. However, with the onset of the rut, which takes place at various times from October – February across the United States, even the dominant bucks will move during daylight hours at this time and become vulnerable to hunters.

Although many outdoorsmen understand that scrapes pay buck dividends during the rut, how do they know the best time to hunt a scrape line or an individual scrape? Then, how do they determine the best method for hunting these buck signposts? A good friend of mine, Larry Norton of Butler, Alabama, a longtime hunter and guide at The Shed Hunting Lodge, has developed a scrape-hunting technique that consistently produces bucks for him during the rut. "The buck uses the scrape to lure in estrous does, to let other bucks know there's a dominant buck in the area and to mark his Click to enlargeterritory," Norton explains.

Composed of visual markings, including pawed-up earth, an over-hanging branch and rubs made on trees by the deer's antlers, a scrape also contains the odor of the buck. Some scientists speculate that the scent a buck leaves at a scrape may enable other deer to tell that buck's physical characteristics as well as his place in the dominance order. Biologists believe a buck leaves information for other deer at his scrape through odors from his eyes, his nose, his mouth and his urine. Any time the buck leaves no odor at a scrape, he's not communicating his message to other deer in the area. If you hunt the scrape when it holds the least amount of odor, you reasonably can assume the buck will return in a short time to put down fresh odor to express his dominance. According to Norton, "The least amount of odor is present at an active scrape after a rain, since the rain washes the odor out of the scrape and dilutes any buck odor at the scrape. During the rut, the most-effective time to take a buck at scrape in the late deer season is to go to the scrape during the rain and wait until the rain stops. I've often seen bucks show up at a scrape 15 or 20 minutes after the rain quits."

Donald Spence of Monticello, Mississippi, an avid deer hunter for many years, has studied deer and their behavior carefully Click to enlargefor a number of years. Spence reports that, "Most hunters spook the deer they're trying to take when they hunt a scrape because the average hunter will go to a scrape at first light, a time when usually a buck will be there. A more-productive tactic is to move to the scrape an hour before daylight, get in your tree stand or your ground blind on the downwind side of the scrape to keep the buck from smelling you when he comes in, and wait for enough light to see. Often as the woods change from black dark to daylight, you'll spot the buck standing in the scrape."

Too, many hunters spoil the scrapes they're attempting to hunt over. For years the gurus of deer hunting have taught us to walk up to a scrape, pick up the earth in the scrape and smell that earth to determine if it has a strong urine smell. If you do smell urine, then you'll identify an active scrape and know a buck has worked it recently. However, if you follow this procedure, you also have to realize the buck probably won't return to that scrape because you've left your human odor in his scrape.
Consider buck scrapes holy ground that you don't enter. Once you see the scrape, use your binoculars to determine activity at the scrape. If you see freshly-pawed ground and an overhanging branch in the area, then set up a ground blind or a tree stand as far away as your aim and accuracy will allow. The farther away from the scrape you stay, the less chance you'll have to spook the buck.Click to enlarge

For more information on The Shed Hunting Lodge, visit, call Larry Norton at (334) 247-2444, or email him at

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Tomorrow: Realize the Potential of Clear-Cuts

Check back each day this week for more about "The Challenges of Hunting End-of-the-Season Big Bucks"

Day 1: Searching for Those End-of-the-Season Big Bucks and Using Code Blue
Day 2: Hunt the Does and Hunt the Varmints with Remington Rifles
Day 3: Study Scrapes to Locate Trophy Bucks and Use Moultrie Trail Cameras
Day 4: Realize the Potential of Clear-Cuts
Day 5: Remember Trophy Bucks Pattern Hunters at the End of Deer Season


Entry 545, Day 3