Each year, at about the time our leaves change from summer greens to the splendor of fall, those of us who enjoy hunting with a bow and arrow get excited when we see patches of torn up turf and leaves in the woods.

These muddy patches are called scrapes, made by a buck’s front hoof, pawing the ground under a licking branch until there is a bare spot, free of leaves.

Every scrape has an overhanging branch that has been the repository and exchange of deer saliva and pheromones, not only by local deer, but also any traveler cruising through the area on an exploratory mission.

Ground scrapes have traditionally been considered as the sign of the whitetail buck along with rubs on saplings, made by antlers.

Until recently, the other half of the deer population, the females, does, have been overlooked as having anything to do with what we always considered as buck sign.

But with the advent of the trail camera, we are now able to record what actually happens at the scrape site, chronicling deer behavior there. And the scrape is much more complex that we had ever thought.

The olfactory world of pheromones and scents, so important to whitetails, is really one that we are excluded from.

In the past, our excitement upon seeing a hot scrape, showed us what we wanted to see in our imagination ... a big mature buck was there!

We are spectators to the world of the whitetail as they communicate in the subtlest ways with their scent posts and sign marking by making rubs, scrapes and the all-important licking, or overhanging branch.

At these points in the forest and field edges, whitetails tune each other to be ready to breed.

Whitetail breeding requires olfactory cues as humans need visual, sensual, and auditory stimulation.

Deer and other critters, what scientists call "short-day breeders" like sheep can not mate at just anytime of the year, even if they wanted to, as do many other species of mammals including man. Whitetails need to synchronize their bio-chemical systems with each other. And they do it through complex patterns of receiving and exuding pheromones ... like bio-chemical atomized emails and text messages.

Whitetails have an Internet, but it is an olfactory, scent-based Internet throughout the forest and fields.

When bucks and does scent-check a scrape, it is similar in the way we communicate now on Facebook or with our ubiquitous phones ... but amazingly through scent.

Scientists now know that each whitetail has its own microbiome, as does each person. A microbiome is an individual's scent trail of bacteria, microbes, and pheromones along with resultant gases and molecular reactions that spill and exude continually out of our bodies.

Deer hunters often go to the extreme to be as scent-free as possible. But we can never really fool a whitetail’s nose. We give it our best shot, but our best efforts are swimming against the current. The process of living creates continual floods and plumes of microbes, bacteria and their interactions as we walk, sit, and breathe.

Same with whitetails, only deer read these microbiome emissions with much greater sensitivity and reaction than we do.

At scrape sites with an overhanging branch especially, mature does leave their calling cards to prime the timing of the rut as do bucks, creating a macrobiome at what we call the community scrape.

Bucks may or may not initiate the scrape. Many scrapes begin as community licking branches, and are expanded and become the more visually obvious "ground pad" when hit by rutting bucks and many does standing under the branch, leaving their calling card or phone number.

Traditional hunting lore has always emphasized the notion that signpost marking was primarily, if not exclusively a buck thing. And we thought the track in the ground scrape must be a buck. But modern technology, our hidden cameras has shown us that the track in the mud under the licking branch is actually more likely to be the track of a doe rather than a buck.

Researchers have been able to prove that our individual structure of microbes and pheromones become similar in time with other individuals as we interact. Humans, like whitetails, trade bacteria and our own unique entourage of microbes, bacteria and constant plumes of pheromone gases.

But what is the primary vehicle for the most important whitetail microbiome emissions? Glands, urine, or something else?

The huge whitetail scent industry, creating doe in heat scents, with varying degrees of effectiveness and marketing, has focused primarily on what is termed estrus scents, and most are urine based.

This focus on reproductive glands and their secretions are, after all, logical because glandular secretions are obvious and easily marketable.

But when does and bucks visit a scrape with an overhanging branch, most of the time they do one thing ... they mouth or lick the overhanging branch. Once in a while, they urinate or defecate there. But they always mouth the branch.

Why deer scent companies do not focus on whitetail saliva, especially from a doe in estrus as the primary scent at the scrape is beyond me.

A few years back when I noticed the preponderance of digital camera evidence showing bucks and does at scrape sites mouthing and licking the overhanging limb, I decided to test my premise that the whitetail's saliva, especially the mature doe's is the primary scent trigger at the scrape site.

So I swabbed out the mouth of doe I harvested during the peak of the rut and tested the cotton swabs at scrape sites. (I used cotton swabs because they were easy to store in the freezer and convenient to transport in a zip-lock bag.) Doe saliva as a major transport vehicle for pheromone communication was immediate and at the least anecdotally conclusive.

Our photos show us that the vast majority of visits to a scrape by a whitetail, buck or doe, shows them depositing saliva there as they lick the overhanging branch on almost every visit, much more than any other fluid.

Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.