There are so many whitetail deer nowadays that signs made in the woods by them are plentiful and should be of interest to any fan of wildlife. Anyone from a beginning hunter to the interested non-hunter can find and enjoy visual and scent signs practically in the back yard. During the fall and winter, deer mark territory with scrapes and rubs. Much of the activity occurs during the “rut” or mating period which occurs during November, December and January in the South, typically showing most activity in December in this area.

A scrape is the name we give a pawed place on the ground made by a buck to mark territory, attract does and probably to establish dominance over other bucks. Anywhere deer exist in the South, scrapes can be found with a little exploring. They are found anywhere in the woods, but commonly occur along old logging roads or trails. They are recognized by marks scratched with the points of the buck’s hoof, usually a few inches to two feet long. Leaves or grass will be pawed away from an area the size of a hat to as large as a bathtub.

Why are scrapes so interesting? The buck almost always leaves a distinct footprint in the freshly scratched soil as if it were made by a rubber stamp. This probably is done to ensure that the scent from a gland between the toes is deposited. The buck urinates in the scraped area to further identify it as his own.

But the most interesting of all is the sign left by an intriguing habit of deer making scrapes. Most scrapes will be found directly under an overhanging limb from three to six feet off the ground. A close look at the limb will reveal its tip to be broken. The buck reaches up and chews the end of the limb to cover it with his saliva and scent from glands near his eyes.

Meeting Place

Bucks may make many scrapes and they check them and rework them regularly. Does stopping at a scrape leave their scent and are trailed up by the buck if they are ready for breeding. Other bucks that visit usually see the scrape as a no trespassing sign, however on occasion more than one buck will work and utilize a scrape.

Rubs are what we call markings on saplings and trees where buck deer polish their antlers or conduct mock fights using the trunk of the plant as the enemy. Whitetails usually prefer resinous trees such as pines and cedars for rubbing, but may rub any species in the woods. These signs are easily spotted in deer country as the lighter colored inner bark is exposed where the outer bark is scraped away from a few inches off the ground to perhaps a height of three feet. Rubbed trees will average about an inch in diameter but with wide variation. Big bucks often rub saplings that are several inches through.

A lesser discussed sign left by bucks is what I call the fighting bush. It results from the buck attacking the bush in a mock fight as mentioned above, but may or may not show signs of actual rubbing. The small bush will be mangled and will have one distinct feature; the main vertical stem will be broken and its top flopped sideways. This broken top may have been long misunderstood by deer behavior observers.

For years I would see these fighting bushes and wonder how a buck could twist its antlers far enough to the side to pop the plant’s main beam. Picture it. It ain’t easy. Take an intact set of deer antlers and, by twisting side to side as would a fighting buck, try to snap off a green top to a chest high bush such as a sweet gum sprout. A buck just can’t turn his head far enough. This puzzled me terribly.

Then one day near the Trinity River in East Texas I was fortunate to see a buck accomplish this. A spike buck approached my tree stand, walking as if he was going no place in particular. A small limb merely touched his face and he seemed to take offense and swatted at the limb half heartedly. Then he focused on the limb and began to thrash it with his antlers and obvious anger began to take over. His mood gradually grew to rage and he was now spinning about and tearing the bush to ribbons.

Final Blow

Suddenly the buck stopped dead still while pressed against the bush; his hair raised on his back, ears laid low and body stiff. Then he did something shocking and solved the mystery that had perplexed me. He jumped straight up into the air and crashed his body down on the bush, snapping its delicate tip top.

Instantly he took off the way he had come as fast as a deer can run and flew out of sight, leaving me to catch my breath. I don’t know what occurred if he found another deer right away, but my guess is whether he found a buck or a doe there was some action. Something had obviously set off his hormones. He left behind that shredded sapling with the dangling tip, just like I had seen many times. I was grateful for the education.

These signs are not hard to find in deer country in December. If you are not hunting deer for the freezer, look in areas near town which harbor deer that are not hunted. And take a kid along. Be sure to have hunter orange clothes or vest for yourself and the youngster as an extra precaution until deer season ends.

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