Outdoors Column: Scouting the Pre-Rut

The cool mornings followed by warm afternoons signal the move into autumn. As the weather changes, so do the activities of wildlife. A person can tell, the cooler weather is starting to move the deer into the rutting season. Deer in southern Iowa breed primarily during the last two weeks in October and the first two or three weeks of November. Just before the rut starts, deer activity and routines change from their normal routine. Bucks, that have been hanging around in bachelor groups are becoming more solitary and ready to pick a fight with any other buck they see. During this pre-rut, their fights are not as aggressive as they will be in a couple of weeks. Now, when they spare, it is more like play fighting. There is a bit of pushing and shoving, but mostly just posturing. Two weeks from now, the fighting will be real. On a calm morning, a person can hear antlers crashing together a mile away as the bucks fight for dominance.


A drive through the timber show signs the deer are getting ready for the breeding season. Antlers are being polished on just about every willow tree around. Bucks also like to use young hickory trees and cedars. Many times, a person will see a cedar tree with every branch broken off up to about five feet high where antlers have been rubbed and polished. These rubs act as signposts as well to let other deer in the area know who is about.



Bucks are just starting to make scrapes. A scrape is a patch of ground that is scraped bare of all vegetation under an over-hanging branch. The overhanging branch is five to six feet off the ground. The tree of choice for a scrape is the shingle oak, but any tree with the right height of over-hanging branch will do. Both bucks and does will lick the branch and rub their eye glands on it. They will also urinate on the bare patch of ground. The scrape serves as a bulletin board of information for the deer. Rather than just a sign of who is in the area, it also tells when they were there, and if they are ready to breed. As the rut draws nearer, more scrapes will be made. The scrapes are checked frequently by both bucks and does all through the rutting season. At the peak of the rut, there will be deer walking up and checking their “bulletin board” 24 hours per day.


At one place on the farm, a major deer trail intersects one of the paths we cleared for the Ranger. A cedar tree, with just the right height branch is located at this intersection. One of the earliest and largest scrapes on the farm is at this cedar tree. Deer come up the Ranger trail or across on the deer trail and meet at the scrape. A fresh scrape has been made here every year since we made the Ranger trail. It makes a great place to hang a trail camera, so I can know about every deer in the area. I also think it will be a good location to hang a tree stand in two or three weeks for bow hunting.