Scrape Hunting Bucks:
Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area
Rickey Butch Walker
Nearly 100 years ago, northern whitetail deer were stocked in the Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area of Bankhead National Forest in Winston and Lawrence Counties of Alabama. They were trapped and shipped from Iron Mountain, Michigan. Stocking efforts came after most of the last Alabama deer in the Bankhead Forest were killed out in 1903. Today, the deer in the Black Warrior Management Area are a combination of a northern subspecies and a southern subspecies that were stocked some years ago from south Alabama; however, the rutting activities still appear to be earlier than other deer in Alabama.
I killed my first whitetail deer with a bow in the Black Warrior Management Area in 1969 on the old Bunyan Hill Road that is now a part of the Sipsey Wilderness Area. I still love to bow hunt the management area and the surrounding forest property. For the last few years, I have been able to take a deer on opening day of bow season around acorn trees; however, hunting a hot scrape is still the most exciting time to be up a tree waiting for a big buck to make his visit.
Two weeks ago in the middle of August, I found a huge territorial scrape with fresh droppings and a small twig over the scrape that was blackened with hormones. However, the period of rut in the Black Warrior still begins by mid-October, which is usually the opening of archery season. The first cold mornings stimulate the buck deer to begin increased rutting activity. Scrapes and rubs in close proximity are a sure sign the rut is well under way. The first good frost in Bankhead greatly increases scrape making and visitation which continues through the second week of November. The rutting and scraping activity appear to be at its peak on Veterans Day (November 11) and makes a decline by the third week of November and appears to be about over by Thanksgiving. Therefore, the best time to hunt scrapes in the Black Warrior is between October 15 and November 15. After mid November, Black Warrior’s bucks forget scrape making and visitation and move more randomly in search of unserved does. In late November, the scrape hunting method is no longer of great value because the buck becomes inconsistent in scrape visitation.
From mid-October to mid-November, buck deer in Black Warrior will consistently visit a major scrape three to four times a week. The best time to hunt a major scrape is very early in the morning especially after a rain. Bucks usually visit scrapes during the first and last hours of daylight. When hunting a scrape, it is important for the hunter to be settled into his tree stand at least 30 minutes before first light. Access to the scrape you plan to hunt should be direct as possible. The hunter should avoid walking in or crossing the route which the buck is most likely using. Human scent which is two hours old can spook even a rutting buck and cause him to leave the area and/or change his daily pattern.
When climbing near a scrape early in the morning, the hunter should be extremely quiet. I have had several nice bucks attracted to the noise of the tree stand rubbing against the tree while climbing. This puts the hunter at a great disadvantage especially when your bow is on the ground, and the buck is under your tree looking up at you.
Bucks in Black Warrior like to visit a major scrape shortly after a rain in order to fresh their scent markings. During rainy weather, scrapes close to heavy cover are an ideal situation for an all-day hunt especially during the peak of rut. Major scrapes located along creek banks seem to be attended later in the morning than those on the ridge tops. However, the scrape hunter should remain in the tree stand until lunch time or later, especially during the peak of rut. I have left major scrapes around lunch and run off some nice bucks that were waiting near the scrape.
Major rutting scrapes in Black Warrior are sometime used for several years by the same buck. The major scrapes will usually be four to six feet in diameter and will have signs of urine, dropping, and tine marks of the antlers. Bucks will also bite, fight and entangle their antlers into low hanging limbs. They usually have a twig over the scrape that is used as a sent marker, and the twig will be discolored from the hormones.
Dogwood and beech trees seem to be the most preferred trees under which bucks make their major scrapes. Beech trees used by bucks for making major scrapes are found along flat valleys or creek banks. These beech trees are usually young and have many low hanging limbs. Young beech trees are highly desired by bucks and the same tree may be used for several years. Most dogwood trees which have a major buck scrape are located on ridges which have some cover nearby. Both trees provide excellent areas for major scrapes, especially when their low-hanging limbs spread across an old abandoned log road.
For the best hunting results, major scrapes should meet the following requirements:
1. The pawed area of the scrape should be large, some four to six feet in diameter.
2. The scrape should have signs of urine, droppings, tine marks, and a signature hoof print.
3. Limbs over the scrape should be twisted, broken, and/or bitten off.
4. One twig hanging over the scrape should be blackened with hormones.
5. Be sure to look for a bed near the scrape where the buck or a doe has waited for a visitor.
6. Many major scrapes are located along an old abandoned log road.
7. Major scrapes are usually located close to acorns or food with cover and water nearby.
8. To be a successful hunter, the scrape should be well isolated from human activity.
In conclusion, scrape hunting in the Black Warrior can be an interesting and exciting experience for the hunter. However, carefully and thoroughly scout the buck’s territory one time, make mental notes of his scrape line, select the hottest scrape using the criteria above, and then stay out of the buck’s area several days before planning your hunt. I hope that over 40 years of my bow hunting Black Warrior will help you harvest that trophy whitetail buck of a lifetime.