Hunting Values of Various Deer Signs, Part II

Buck ground scrapes are the most misunderstood of deer signs. Very few are made or renewed while breeding is in progress. Dominant breeding bucks have little time for that then and they have run off most lesser, scrape-making bucks by the time breeding has begun in November. Made by all antlered bucks beginning after weather cools 2-3 weeks before breeding begins, most scrapes are simply visible, tarsal-musk-laden signposts of intended buck breeding ranges. They are not made to attract does.

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They are “no trespassing” signs intended to warn other bucks to stay away from intended breeding ranges. Scrapes of dominant breeding bucks, victors of battles with all other bucks in their ranges, are respected and feared by all other bucks. Does do not intentionally urinate on scrapes to inform bucks when they are in heat — buck-attracting airborne pheromone emitted from the urine of each doe in heat for 24-26 hours attracts bucks wherever does are located. Does in heat do not wait near scrapes for a buck to appear. If necessary, they search for the dominant buck, easy to find because they reek with musk and urine. Only 10-12% of does are in heat on any one day during the first two-week period of breeding (in November).

Unless whitetails are seen feeding somewhere, with the exception of farm fields and forest clearcuts most hunters find it difficult to identify whitetail feeding areas — hubs of whitetail activities and the most productive of stand sites. Whitetail feeding areas are areas where lots sunlight reaches the ground.

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Feeding areas will have lots of zigzagging tracks of unalarmed deer.

Deer signs that identify them are lots of zigzagging, close-together, off-trail tracks of walking deer, fresh and old, lots of droppings, fresh and old, and lots chewed off stems of various plants — green vegetation and acorns where available in early fall and stems of woody shrubs and suckers and saplings of trees in late fall and winter.

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Late fall & winter feeding areas will have evidence of browsing.

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Feeding areas will be littered with fresh doe, yearling, and fawn-sized droppings.

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Keep an eye out for beds.

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The size of clumped droppings in the feeding area will help you identify the class of the bucks that are keeping tabs on the estrus cycles of your does. (Be sure to get yourself a set of Doc’s Sign Guides.)

Being obvious deer signs, well-used deer trails are popular stand sites of hunters. Most are made by repeated passages of small deer herds — does trailed by their fawns and yearlings — becoming silent-to-use tunnels through cover. The odds of seeing mature bucks on such trails are relatively poor. Typically, doe trail openings are too narrow and low to allow silent passage of mature bucks with wide antlers and human hunters as well. Except where openings of trails are two or more feet wide and five feet high, while making or renewing ground scrapes along frequently used doe trails after mid-October or while trailing does in heat in November, older bucks travel off-trail up to 50% of the time. Add to this the fact that depending on wind direction, needed cover while returning crosswind or downwind on the way to downwind areas after feeding before turning toward their bedding areas and the fact that mature whitetails quickly discover trails and sites currently being used by hunters, whitetails therefore have at least a dozen different routes to use when travelling from one place to another.

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While unclumped, these are very large droppings made by a trophy-class buck on a trail within sight of an important feeding area.

The odds of seeing a mature buck on any trail far from hubs of whitetail activities such as feeding areas, watering spots or not-advisable-to-hunt bedding areas are poor. The closer a trail is to a currently favored feeding area, the better your odds for success will be whatever class of deer you hope to take.

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