What to Look for When Scouting Your Deer Woods

photo by MD Doit, DDH Forums

by Daniel E. Schmidt, D&DH Editor

Researchers have taught us much about deer behavior over the years, and these insights
have made us all better hunters. In fact, D&DH’s John Ozoga has probably educated
more hunters than any other research biologist in North America. His keen insights
on the rubbing and scraping behavior of mature bucks has allowed hunters from North
to South to understand such complex topics as home range travel, core area selection
and primary scrape location.

Spring and early summer deer behavior regarding scrapes and licking branches are one
of the most often overlooked topics hunters address when scouting. Throughout the
years, Ozoga has emphasized the importance of knowing how, when and why deer work
scrapes in these so-called “off seasons.”

According to Ozoga, mature bucks scent-mark branches in spring and summer without
pawing the soil or urinating beneath the limb. They probably mark dozens, if not hundreds,
of branches across their summering grounds. Some of these sites later become active
scrapes. Researchers speculate that scent-marking overhead branches serves as the
primary mode of communication among bucks year-round. These marks probably relay critical
information on the identity of bucks and their social status. During summer, hunters
should carefully examine tree branches over previously used scrapes. You might even
clear away a small target area directly beneath the scrape-limb’s tips and examine
the earth for deer tracks. Branches marked frequently by bucks acquire a greased appearance,
and deer hair often adheres to the frayed limb tips. Because a buck’s summer range
will often only cover about 200 acres, evidence of scent-marking in May, June and
early July will generally put you close to a mature buck’s core area. By late July,
however, bucks begin to wander and scent-mark more extensively.

When pressured, even during the rut, mature bucks often retreat to the sanctuary of
core areas within their summer range. Areas beneath summertime scent-marked branches
that become active scrapes during the rut will invariably be on a major travel route
used by bucks to reach their core areas.

For an exclusive look inside the mind of a white-tailed deer, checking out our Whitetail
Behavior DVD by clicking HERE.