Whitetail Hunting photo

One of the greatest–and most commonly held–misconceptions about the rut is that scraping doesn’t get serious until breeding is about to happen. In truth, scraping has been going on all fall, and some of the most consistent and exciting action occurs from about the 10th of October through just about Halloween. Indeed, the power of scrapes is so strong that whitetail expert Barry Wensel once told me “if you want to get photos of 85% of the bucks on a property, hang a camera on a mock scrape right near connecting covers the third week of October.”

I’ve come to believe Wensel’s advice, and I’m already making a bunch of mocks and hanging cameras nearby, trying to take a roll call of the area bucks. Granted, some of these deer I may never see, but I don’t care; I just like knowing what’s in the neighborhood, and having a bunch of fun with cameras. And since having fun is one of the main reasons I hunt, this is one of my favorite times of the fall.

Indiana outfitter Ben Reynolds (BBT Outfitters, French Lick; 812-653-1290) sent this great photo the other day of a dandy 8-point hitting a licking branch, during daylight, within easy bow range of an unmanned ladder stand. If you haven’t enjoyed the fun of getting deer to hit a mock scrape, the biggest piece of advice I can offer is to worry less about what you create on the ground than what’s hanging over that bare patch of dirt. I have hundreds of photos of bucks working scrapes, and 80% of their attention is devoted to the licking branch. They’ll sniff it, work it with their antlers, foreheads, eyes and mouth…Even standing on their hind legs to deposit whatever cues (even biologists aren’t certain of all the functions of a licking branch) they’re delivering to other deer when they work a branch.

So here’s the deal. Most hunters in the region are focused on the much-discussed October lull. I don’t argue that daylight buck activity can be spotty right now. But if you’re taking a break from scouting or camera work, you’re making a huge mistake. Because bucks are priming the pump for Scrape Time, and it’s going to be here before most of us are ready for it.