Just after daylight on a recent morning, I was sitting in a blind on Bobby Parker’s Camp Verde Ranch when a really nice buck with 13 typical points and beams that turn down on the ends walked down the road in front of me.
He walked toward a feeder where two small bucks were hanging out. The three greeted one another, and then everybody turned to look off to the north. I soon spotted a rather ordinary-looking eight-pointer coming toward the same feeder.
I was there shooting does so I had plenty of time just to watch through binoculars and observe their behavior. The multitined deer suddenly buzzed out his hair so he looked larger to the other deer and started walking stiff-legged in a macho display.
He didn’t like the eight-pointer and was making that plain. He walked a few yards to a small persimmon and proceeded to tear it almost apart with his antlers, rubbing them vigorously against the bush. This was rubbing with a purpose — not just getting rid of velvet or building up neck muscles, but one of the two major pre-rut activities that hunters in Texas have a chance to witness.
With nods to differences of geography, Texas whitetails from Texarkana to Laredo, from Brownsville to Amarillo, all have these in common: breeding, the rut, making babies, protecting their territories.
They do it at different times in different parts of the state — late October to Thanksgiving in the Hill Country and East Texas, late November to Christmas in South Texas — but they all do it.
Right now, they are beginning scraping activity in the Hill Country and especially at our lease out near Buchanan Dam. That signals that the rut is just around the corner, and that’s a prime time to go hunting.
Bucks already have marked trees with rubs, pushing against them in order to get rid of velvet and also to leave their scent and marks around the edges of the area they consider their own.
Things kick off with bucks working scrapes on the edges of roads and clearings, scraping out places on the ground where they have overhanging limbs they can nibble and mark with scent glands on their foreheads and by urinating down their back legs to soak the tarsal glands that all deer have on their rear legs.
The urine picks up scent from the glands and carries it down to the cleared ground of the scrape, where other deer can pick it up and leave their own identifying marks.
Bucks also rub a pre-orbital gland just below each eye on small twigs on overhanging limbs that leave a scent there. The scent on the limbs above them is thought to tell other deer visiting the scrape something about the social standing of different bucks.
And other bucks will use those same scrapes. They never know when that visit is going to pay off for them. Some scrapes get used for years and years and become communal locations for a number of bucks and does, not just the most dominant buck in an area.
I saw one in Webb County once that was 3 feet wide and close to 6 feet across. It had been used for so many years that it was nearly 2 feet deep, an amazing testament to the habits of whitetails.
I have a bow blind in a small clearing just off a dirt road on our lease that I placed there four years ago because of two scrapes I found very early on. One scrape is about 40 yards away and just under a mesquite tree on the far side of the road.
The second scrape is just in front of my blind, about 10 yards away. The blind has never seemed to be a problem for any bucks using the scrape, though they haven’t been using it this year. The far scrape is active and being marked almost every night.
Just Thursday afternoon, I was sitting in that blind when a very mature nine-pointer walked to the scrape to mark that spot and then came into the clearing to push away a young eight-pointer that had been feeding there.
The larger buck would have been a candidate for a management buck, but he never presented me with a shot from the side. He kept his head or his rear end pointed at me the entire time he was there. He eventually walked away about 75 yards and stood looking back at the blind and waiting for who knows what.
Scrapes are exciting to find on your lease, and they can be great places to hunt if you choose your location carefully. However, they aren’t any panacea for hunting failures.
You have to know that multiple deer might use a scrape and that the scrapes are usually worked at night and can only indicate that there’s an active buck in the area, not that he’s going to come to you for a shot.
Rubs on trees are less predictive of deer in the area because they only tell you a buck came through there at some point, not that he’ll be back.
But for hunters who use terrain and cover to their advantage, scrapes can be great tools to keep yourself close to the deer. I’ve killed only one buck that was actually working a scrape, and that was 40 years ago on a small place in East Texas I hunted with my brother.
I never knew he or the scrape was 40 yards away behind my tree stand but the sounds of his hooves moving leaves off his scrape gave him away.