In no time, the two are moseying along the old logging trail.
Finally, he finishes off his handiwork by depositing alittle more urine on the scrape (notice the wide stance with the back legs, a typical urination posture).
What is the rut?
The rut is the period of time when male white-tailed deer seek out females for breeding. In the upper Midwest, the "rut" typically occurs from late October through early/mid November. Typically they follow pheromones (scents) produced by female deer who are in estrous.
Why do bucks make "scrapes" in the woods?
Male white-tailed deer use a variety of methods to "mark" their territories prior to the breeding season. They will rub their antlers on trees (depositing dominant male scent in the process), and they will make a "scrape" in the woods. This scrape is usually an area selected by the buck to leave his mark and signal to other potential rival bucks in the area that this is his turf for chasing females, and also tells females of his presence. The buck making the scrape will kick away the leaves from a patch of ground, exposing the dirt beneath. The male will then urinate on the scrape, allowing the urine to flow over a tarsal gland on the legs (depositing pheromones which are meant to be a signal of his status). Scrapes will be revisited by the creator to "freshen" them with new scent and to see if any other males or females have passed by.
Often times the scrape is located below a low-hanging tree limb or branch, where the male will rub his forehead, and lick/mouth the branch. This is because white-tailed deer also have scent producing glands on their foreheads (called preorbital glands). Between the preorbital glands and the scent in their saliva, they are depositing more cues of their status to other deer in the area.
Please excuse my ham-fisted attempts at photo editing, but here are two scrapes I found behind the house yesterday. I've circled the scraped up dirt and the over-hanging branch for both of the scrapes.
If scrapes and rubs don't work, and there's still more than one male in the area hoping to get in on some action, it may result in direct male-male combat. During these bouts, males will spar with their antlers to determine who is actually the big dog on the block.
Scrapes are not only created by mature bucks, however....and mature bucks do not prevent sub-dominant males from scraping (although their scent on scrapes may cause sub-dominant bucks to seek greener pastures). Yet, less mature bucks will create scrapes near those of mature bucks and will even mark with urine on-top of the mature buck scrape. Females will also visit already made scrapes and rub their forehead glands on over-hanging branches or urinate on the scrape. This is presumeably to advertise their presence/receptivity to the resident males when they return to check their scrape.
Also, to identify a deer scrape (as opposed to turkey activity...seeing that turkeys will scrape back leaf litter to peck at bugs, etc. while feeding), look for the drag marks in the scrape left by the cloven hooves of the deer.....a branch hanging over the scrape is another clue that it's a deer, as is the time of year when the scrape was found (turkeys feed year round...but bucks *mostly* scrape in the fall).
For more general information on scrapes, see this article from Quality Deer Management magazine. Becuase deer are a favored game species alot of research has been conducted on their ecology and behavior. That's good news, even for people who don't hunt, but are interested in ecology. I just wish all critters could garner the type of research attention and money that game species do!
Addendum: after posting this, I started getting caught up on past posts I missed from the blogs I read, and noticed that JVN at Backyard Beasts also posted recently about scrape activity. Check it out here!