Of Australia’s six deer species, four (sambar, rusa, red and fallow deer) make what are called ‘rutting scrapes’ during their respective breeding seasons. Hog deer and chital as far as I am aware never make scrapes – their breeding strategies are different to the others.
Rutting scrapes are made by male deer using their front hooves to rake through the soil under overhanging vegetation. Scent is then deposited in the scrape and on the thrashed or rubbed vegetation to advertise the buck or stag’s presence and hopefully to attract the ladies to the site so that mating can occur.
As I am most familiar with the rutting scrapes made by sambar and fallow deer, I will restrict myself to describing them.
Fallow deer originated in temperate areas of Europe and western Asia and, along with other temperate species have a well-defined breeding season with a peak in activity in late March, April and early May. For this reason, fallow deer rutting scrapes will start to become active as the breeding season approaches.
As fallow deer are a species of more open grazing country, scrapes are usually located on the fringes of patches of bush or scrub and below over-hanging vegetation that has been thoroughly thrashed by the resident buck. The actual scrape can vary from just a shallow bowl in hard ground to a very pronounced hole in more easily worked soil.
Bucks urinate on themselves and into their scrapes while rutting and then deposit this scent as well as scent from their pre-orbital glands on the branches above the scrape and around their territory. Mud is not a feature of fallow deer scrapes as this species never makes mud wallows, unlike sambar, rusa and red deer.
Rutting scrapes are a very prominent feature in sambar country – usually in close association with wallows and generally linked to other features by prominent game trails. Scrapes are almost invariably on a gentle slope below a single over-hanging tree or tree fern. Unlike a fallow buck’s rut, sambar rut scrapes are invariably quite shallow and unlikely to form a dish and mud will inevitably feature on the scarred trunk of the overhanging tree.
As sambar stags are on the lookout for hinds in oestrus whenever they are carrying hard antlers, and a small percentage of stags are always out of sync with the rest, their rutting scrapes can be active at any time of year.
An active sambar rut scrape will have fresh mud on the overhanging tree (and often splattered or smeared on nearby vegetation, logs and ground), parallel scrapes made by the raking toes of the stag’s front feet, and both front and back hoof prints of the stag and any females that have paid the site a visit.
Sambar stags are well-known for ‘preaching’, an activity that is also associated with rut scrapes. Conventional wisdom is that preaching, where stags balance on the hind legs and reach high into the over-hanging vegetation, is done in order the smear their scent as high as possible so that that it disperses widely in the breeze.
Everything sexual with sambar is based on scent as they don’t vocalise like most other deer species during breeding. The stags urinate in both wallows and scrapes, rub their pre-orbital glands on vegetation and generally do everything they can to spread their scent as widely as possible to advertise their availability and their place in the pecking order.
Fallow deer rut scrapes are central to hunting this species during the March to May period and the buck’s grunting during this period makes for a very exciting hunting experience.
Sambar are a much more cryptic species, but again, focussing on active wallows and rut scrapes over the winter and spring months is one key to a successful hunt as these features attract both stags and hinds and all age classes of animals.