Building Scrape Lines (Mock Scrapes) and Using Licking Branches with Pre-Orbital Scents

Kenny Miller

A close up of a tree

Description automatically generated

Using mock scrapes with licking branches and pre-orbital scents to attract deer, especially mature bucks, is underutilized in the hunting industry.

A scrape is a bare area on the ground the deer have worked up by pawing the ground. A licking branch is an overhead branch the deer use to spread their scent via the pre-orbital and forehead glands on their head. You will very seldom find scrapes without a licking branch, but you will find licking branches without a scrape beneath it.

A mature buck will spend seventy percent or more of his daylight hours bedded down (once the rut heats up, this can change obviously.) This makes it very difficult for us to have encounters with these bucks during legal shooting hours in the early season.

Making scrape lines is one of the most effective ways to make a mature buck change his daylight habits. If he knows he has scrapes in his territory that might be getting used by other bucks, he will be motivated to keep his scent at those scrapes. He wants all the other bucks to know this is his territory.

If you want to add these deadly tools to your arsenal, good news, you can do so very easily in most cases.

How deer use scrapes.

I will begin by discussing how deer use scrapes.

There are certain scrapes that all deer, from fawns to mature bucks, will visit to leave their own scent and to find out who else in the area is using the scrape. This is one of the ways whitetail deer use to communicate with other deer.

A lot of folks are under the impression; a deer will leave scent at the scrape primarily by rubbing their tarsal glands on the back legs together and urinating through them, carrying that oily scent to the ground. It is true, deer do rub-urinate, especially mature bucks during the rut, but that is not the primary way deer leave their scent to communicate.

The licking branches above the scrape are an essential part of this scrape area.

Deer leave most of their scent on an overhead (licking) branch, via their pre-orbital gland located below their eyes. They do this by rubbing their face on the licking branches, leaving behind traces of the oily pre-orbital scent. Deer seem to enjoy rubbing their heads in the branches, and if the branches are stout enough, they will thrash their heads about quite a bit.

A tree in a forest Description automatically generated
This old logging road leading from a bedding area to a food source is an ideal location for building a scrape line. The overhead branches will need to be brought down to the correct height.

Studies have shown, deer spend almost sixty percent of their time at a scrape site, applying their pre-orbital scent to the licking branches. Deer will smell and chew on those branches to identify other deer that left their scent behind.

 Bucks two years old and older will most likely be the ones that paw the ground, making a   scrape. This behavior is seen year-round, but it picks up prior to the rut and through the rut.

 You will very seldom see does and yearling bucks paw the ground at a scrape site. They will, however, use the licking branches overhead to leave their scent.

Building mock scrape sites.

Where to make your mock scrapes.

There are different types of scrapes a mature buck will use, and you want to keep these in mind when deciding where you want to build mock scrapes on your property.

Random scrapes are just that, random. They are made when a buck is traveling through an area and finds an ideal licking branch and decides to make a scrape. This scrape will not likely be used by that buck again and are not ideal for hunting over.

Boundary scrapes are made as the buck travels through his territory. You will likely find these along field edges, fence lines, and wood lines. The buck will travel through these areas mostly at night, so these scrapes are not as ideal for hunting over.

Primary scrapes are what you want your focus to be on. These are often a series of scrapes located in a buck’s core area. Primary scrapes can be located in a ridgeline close to bedding areas are, or on a well-worn path leading from bedding areas to a food source. If you can identify these areas and build scrape lines, you will have bucks start using most of them. A lot of my early season success has been hunting these types of scrapes.

Keep the entry point to your stand location, and the prevailing winds in mind when making your scrape lines.

When you have identified the area you want to make your scrape lines in, make sure the scrapes will stay mostly dry throughout the year.

Making Licking Branches

You can use existing overhead branches and vines wherever you have them as licking branches. Trim any low-hanging branches or vines, so they are about 4-5 feet (armpit height) off the ground. You want your licking branch to stand out, so make sure you find branches that are hanging out well over the area you wish your scrape to be.

The ideal size for the end of your branches is around pencil size in diameter. This provides adequate pushback for the deer.  You also want to clear the leaves from the end of the branch.

There are benefits to using artificial licking branches attached to your branches. There are several licking branch products with wick inserts on the market. Some of the advantages quality licking branch products will have over natural branches are, they can hold the pre-orbital scent longer in the scent wicks, they are the size deer like to use, and they provide the amount of pushback deer prefer. You can attach them to an existing branch or post. (I will share the licking branch product that is taking the industry by storm later on in the article!)

The more pushback your branches can give the deer when they are rubbing their head around in them, the more they will thrash their head about in them.

If you don’t have existing overhead branches above your scrape site, or they are higher than shoulder height, there are methods you can use to bring them to the correct height.

A close up of some grass

Description automatically generated A close up of a tree Description automatically generated When the overhead branches you want to use as a licking branch are more than shoulder height, you can use this method. Take long-lasting parachute cord and tie it towards the end of the overhanging branch, then pull down the branch until it is the correct height before you tie off the other end at the base of the tree from where the branch is growing. This method is one of the simplest ways to get branches to the correct height. Be sure to trim back the branches to the correct pencil size or bigger.

Here’s an excellent method you can use when you can’t bring down an existing overhead branch to the correct height for licking branches by tying it down to the base of the tree.

Pound trap anchor cables into the ground and use the loop on that cable to tie your parachute cord, which is attached to the end of the branch so that you can bring them down to the correct height. Place your anchor cable close to the base of the tree, so you obstruct as little area the deer are traveling through as possible.

Next, use a steel rod or an oversized screwdriver and then use a hammer to pound the anchor cables into the ground. You will A close up of a tree Description automatically generated want to drive them about six or seven inches into the ground so they will have a secure hold, then take your rod or screwdriver and put it through the loop, giving you a handle to pull on. Give that handle a quick tug until the anchor turns horizontally, and you aren’t able to pull it out. In some looser soils, you will need to pound the anchor down deeper to have it take hold. If this doesn’t work, you may need to move it around a little until you find a suitable spot.

Once the anchor is in place, tie one end of the parachute cord around the end of the branch you want to pull down. Take the other end of the cord and pull through the loop of the anchor, pulling on it until you have the branch at the desired height, tie it off, and cut off any excess cord. Doing this can be done alone, but it is often easier if you have someone to help you.

The parachute cords and anchors will last a long time. We have had some of ours in use for six or seven years, without a lot of problems. Occasionally you will need to make a change or make an adjustment to the cord depending on the branch and tree growth.

Hinge cutting is a method to consider when you don’t have any overhanging branches in the area you want to establish some mock scrapes.

You can hinge cut a tree by cutting fifty to seventy-five percent of the way through a tree, causing it to fall in the opposite direction of your cut. Doing this will allow the tree to stay alive, and you can trim the treetops to work perfectly as licking branches.

Keep in mind; you want to use low-value trees for hinge cutting whenever possible. Save as much valuable timber for future harvesting as you can.

If you want to establish a mock scrape in fields or any open areas, you can consider digging a hole about three feet deep in the area you wish to your scrape to be. Place a small tree or branch you cut off, into the hole. Make sure you pack the dirt back in the hole as well as you can after you place the tree or branch, to ensure it is as stable as it can be.

You can put a post into the hole as well, instead of a small tree or branch, and then tie or nail a branch onto it horizontally about five feet above the ground.

Making the scrape

When you’re done creating the licking branches, clear an area about twenty-four inches in diameter on the ground below them, for your scrape.

Although not all scrapes will be cleaned out and used year-round, scraping open the dirt when you first make a new scrape will help attract attention from the deer and will help them find your scrape site and licking branch.

You will find that most bucks will paw at the ground and use the scrape. They do this year-round, but you will see this activity increase prior to the rut.

I use a garden hoe or rake to clear my scrapes, but you can use any tool that can scrape open dirt. I’ve used the heel of my boots in a pinch.

Using Pre-Orbital Scents

A deer in the grassDescription automatically generated
This five-year-old buck was taken when he came in to the 4-Buck Gland Lure by Hightower Products

You will want to pay attention to this next section if you wish to increase your odds of encountering mature bucks. I will share a tool you can use that is changing the hunting industry!

Scrape lines do a great job of getting more bucks on their feet during daylight hours.

What if I told you there is one more thing you could add to these scrape lines, which will absolutely drive mature bucks crazy!?

Previously in this article, I mentioned most of the deer’s scent communications at scrapes are spread with their pre-orbital scent glands. So why not introduce the pre-orbital scent of a new buck at a scrape site?

Any mature buck in the area will instantly try to figure out who the new buck in the area is, and you will see an increase in his visits to the scrape sites, giving you more chances of having encounters!

A picture containing sitting, green, displayDescription automatically generated
Hightower Products offers the Licking Branch Kit and it will give you the edge you are looking for this Fall!

You will also be able to get an inventory of the mature bucks on your property if you place a trail camera at a site where you’re using pre-orbital scents.

Using a quality pre-orbital scent along with a licking branch that fits into the natural environment of the deer is crucial. Make sure you use only pre-orbital scents from real deer. Quality pre-orbital scents will contain no synthetic scents and are stored in glass bottles, not plastic bottles.

Paul Miller at HighTower Products took this concept even a step further when he created the Hightower Licking Branch Kit First, he created a natural-looking licking branch with scent wick inserts that provides the solid pushback that deer like when rubbing their head about it. You will find, mature bucks will get very aggressive with these licking branches as the rut heats up!

The next phase in developing the kit was finding a non-synthetic four buck pre-orbital formula. Boy did he find it! The Smokey’s 4buck Pre-Orbital Scent used in the kit is cutting edge in the industry.

This pre-orbital product is the only non-synthetic four buck pre-orbital on the market, and it is sold exclusively by HighTower products.

If one new buck’s scent in his territory drives a mature buck mad, you can imagine what the scent of four new bucks in his territory will do!

A close up of a tree Description automatically generated
A Hightower Licking Branch at work in the field. The 3 wick insert design fits perfectly into the natural environment.
TIP: When applying Pre-orbital scents make sure to wear scent-free gloves so you are leaving as little scent behind as possible.

Bringing this to a close. Whitetails (especially mature bucks) are hard to pattern and figure out.

Implementing scrape lines and adding scents to licking branches are just a piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating more opportunities for encounters with deer; however, they might be the piece that puts you over the top this Fall.

I enjoy sharing the tips and methods we use with you guys, and I appreciate you taking the time to see what I have to share. “Happy hunting this year and every year!”

Frequently asked questions

Will making scrape lines hurt my wallet?

You can make scrape lines for almost no cost if you choose the right overhead branches. It will be easier to make them if you can use pruning shears and a garden rake or hoe, but you don’t need any equipment if you’re in a pinch.

If you want to use parachute cord and trap anchor cables, you will spend a little more. You can get 250 feet of parachute cord for around $20, and trap anchor cables sell for about a dollar per anchor.

When should I start making scrapes?

You can start making scrapes as soon as the season is over, just make sure you clean them out if you get debris in them before the deer find and start using them.

We typically start making ours in the spring and go through until early summer. We want to let the property settle down and also let the deer find and begin using the scrapes well before the hunting season.

When should I start using pre-orbital scents on my licking branches?

Make sure you’re using your pre-orbital scents a couple of months in advance of the rut and through the end of the hunting season.

You can also use pre-orbitals effectively in the summer to take inventory of the bucks on your property.

I highly recommend using Hightower Product’s Licking Branch in conjunction with your Pre-orbital scents. They fit into the natural environment of the deer and are perfect for holding the pre-orbital scents and attracting mature bucks.

How far apart should I make the mock scrapes?

You don’t have to worry that you will overdo it and make too many scrapes. I try to make sure when the buck is at a scrape site, he will always be able to see at least one other scrape in the distance.