As we turn the page of the calendar on a new year, I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone.

I have been killing bucks over their breeding scrapes for almost half a century. But my obsession, fascination, and determination to plumb the essence, timing, and meaning of whitetail breeding sign has hardly waned one bit.

I am addicted to fooling around with what deer hunters call mock scrapes, those patches in the woods that bucks make and frequent.

Trail cameras ... now a dozen of them record whitetail behavior on video clips and stills positioned at scrapes on five separate hunting properties. Storage and accessible cataloging of the info is a problem, with half of a terabyte of video and photos of wild whitetails (as opposed to research animals in a pen or an enclosure) in just one season.

These newest videos, and shots at mock scrapes, added to a trail cam library that was started in 2008.

A few years ago, I launched an experiment to see if I could create not just a mock scrape, but actually initiate what I call an Alpha scrape, one that would be freshened over and over again on a daily and nightly basis throughout the entire span of the rut and beyond.

Last season, two mock scrapes turned into Alpha scrapes…two others were cannibalized to augment the two Alpha scrapes by continually pulling the zip-tied overhanging branches. This has an effect of dampening the action from where they are pulled, but proportionately heightens and ramps up the activity at the prime spots.

In mid-October a bouquet of field scrape overhanging branches from two other locations, miles away were zip-tied to the Alpha branch. I prefer to use inch or so diameter grape vines. The bucks seem to enjoy the swinging aspect for some reason, and they hold up well. The other branches are clipped to them or on an adjacent twig so their scent permeates the scrape.

I repeated the process at two other locations, swapping field scrape overhanging branches randomly from location to location.

The premise was that I would introduce to the resident whitetails at each location by zip-tying a few overhanging branches, complete with saliva from other unknown bucks and does from hot scrapes, causing an even greater amount of deer activity there.

I was not disappointed. On the contrary, amazed at the number of bucks and does that were brought in, and all recorded. I did not use any urine-based, or attraction lures on those scrapes. (Though on some, I had experimented a few years ago with saliva from harvested deer.)

Cotton swabs were used once the scrapes became Alpha (determined by the multitude of visits.) But I found more saliva on the overhanging branches only seemed to be redundant.

I was very surprised to see the number of does that visited the scrapes in proportion to bucks, as common scrape lore has it that scrapes are "a buck thing." However, video cameras don't lie and while bucks certainly outnumbered does, there was a high ratio of doe to buck visits.

Both bucks and does lick the overhanging branch, spending 75% more time depositing scent there than smelling the ground where the obvious scrape is located.

Where I hunt in Western NY, we possess a superb deer density, about five bucks per square mile according to the New York state statistics. But at my two Alpha scrape sites I recorded many more than that, especially during the peak of the rut, which was late October and early November this past season (2019.) I think this shows that bucks will travel a long ways to reach an Alpha scrape site.

Doe saliva at the scrape is as important as buck saliva, as both sexes exchange pheromones and biochemical messages there, all enabling the rut to synchronize and unfold. I had many does show up, but few could be chronicled as repeat visitors unless they had unique markings. Antlers of course differentiate bucks.

Action was hottest at the scrapes beginning in mid-October 2019 and ramped up again in mid-November as the regular gun season started here in New York State’s southern zone.

Actual daytime rutting appeared to be most active in late October, around Halloween, spilling into the first couple days of November.

Nighttime and even some daytime action continued at the scrapes during the opening week of the New York state gun season, even though "we lost a lot of soldiers."

One of the bucks on my "buck-et list" was at my prime Alpha scrape site on the Opening Day weekend of the New York rifle season at 8 a.m. trailing a doe. The big high and wide eight-point walked near my tree stand just 20 yards away. I got his picture, but that was it. I should have been there.

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