As we travel around woods or on water or just walk or bicycle down a country road, some nature observations may leave us baffled. Our parents, relatives or acquaintances had never given us an explanation for what we’re scrutinizing, so we scratch our heads in bewilderment.

These sightings and the unanswered questions they prompt may stick in our minds. Then, years or even decades later, a nature or hunting book might explain the puzzling behavior, creating an ah-ha moment.

First, we learn basics from people close to us, and then, experience and books with the accumulated wisdom of the ages add to our expertise.

Here’s a perfect example:

In my preteens, my father taught me buck-scrape basics, interesting to hunters and amateur naturalists alike. He said bucks pawed the ground, making a 3-foot circle beneath a limb 41/2 to 5 feet above the ground. The buck urinated into the freshly exposed soil to attract breeding does that responded by peeing there, too.

A competing buck may paw a scrape next to the first one, making veteran hunters glad because two bucks instead of one will visit the sight.

At age 11, my second year of hunting, I noticed that bucks made scrapes in the exact location where they had pawed the fall before. Decades later, I have seen scrapes in the precise spot they chose a half century before.

A buck breaks twigs and scrapes bark on the overhanging limb to leave scent, particularly from the preorbital glands on the inside corner of each eye. They also hook the branch with the antlers, which often breaks twigs.

In some instances, the growing tree moves the limb much higher than 5 feet off the ground, so bucks may stand on their hind legs to reach it. In fact, I once photographed a standing 8-pointer doing just that.

The scrape spot has several consistent features that attract deer, which my father pointed out to me so many decades ago:

Scrape choices begin with soft earth, although on rare occasions, the spot may have rocks and roots, tough pawing.

Bucks prefer a balsam-fir limb because of the soft needles that make a flat pattern sticking out from two sides of the twigs rather than a stiff, circular one like spruce species. (Clutch a fir limb in your hand and then do the same with prickly spruce to see why bucks prefer fir.)

When no firs grow in an area, deer might choose hemlock or spruce as the overhanging limb, particularly hemlock because this species has soft, flat needles, too.

On hardwood ridges with no conifers, the scrape often occurs below a beech limb.

Nature and hunting books added plenty to the above observations that my father had emphasized, and here’s one:

In my youth, I often sat within sight of a buck scrape, as my father did, hoping for a shot at a visiting buck or doe. I did shoot one 6-pointer this way, but my setup had a huge flaw. Through millennia, humans, coyotes and until two centuries ago wolves have taught bucks to be ultra-wary around scrapes.

Bucks make scrapes within sight of a thicket that lies downwind to prevailing breezes, giving bucks and does the advantage of silently approaching the scrape through a dense thicket where they cannot be seen. From a concealed position, wily whitetails scrutinize the scrape area, where they will usually smell or spot a predator.

Naturally, male and female urine creates a powerful scent. More than one doe may squirt on the ground, too, and the buck holds his back legs tightly together so the tarsal glands on the inside of each one are touching. Then, the buck urinates through the glands, adding powerful odor to the already potent urine.

Naturally, predators also smell all the pungent odors, which keep them checking the spot.

Knowing the above, particularly the part about deer sneaking through a thicket, leads to a better hunting plan around scrapes.

I now sit within sight of the backside of the thicket well beyond view of the scrape and catch deer before they enter the thicket. This plan works far more consistently than sitting within sight of the scrape.

It’s common to hear people say that folks cannot learn nature facts from a book. They like to claim experience is the best teacher, but don’t make this an either-or debate. A well-researched book and experience create a more competent hunter or amateur naturalist.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]