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Comprehending Rubs

By Todd Amenrud

The mark of an adult buck, the so called "rub," is one of the best scouting aids a hunter has to learn about their habits. In late summer very increased amounts of testosterone start flowing through a buck’s body – antler bone hardens, his velvet dries, and they all start on their way to making rubs.

First, one must understand "why a buck rubs?" When the buck’s velvet dries, they start to rub on brush, trees, saplings, tall weeds, even fences. Some think that initially this is to help peel the velvet from their crown. I believe they’re just testing out their new hard antlers. In fact, they don’t need to rub it off at all. It may fall off, or I’ve seen birds or other deer eat it off of their crown. Usually within a couple hours their rack is velvet-free.

The rub, scraping or gouging on a tree or sapling, everybody knows, is made for possibly several different reasons. One reason, and probably the most important, is to mark territory – not only visually, but by scent as well. While making a rub a buck will rub his forehead or preorbital gland on the tree. This tells the other deer in the area exactly which buck made the rub. The first visible rubs in an area are usually made by the more mature bucks in the region. Bucks make these types of rubs from the time they have hard antlers all the way through the hunting season on up until a short time before they shed their antlers.

Sometimes, I think they rub out of frustration. With all that sexual energy penned inside, you might take up rubbing trees too. I’ve seen bucks make rubs in the presence of other bucks. A kind of aggressive act – "You don’t want to mess with me! See what I can do to this tree."

This feat also helps build up the neck muscles on the bucks. 

Probably the most important reason a buck makes rubs is to mark territory – not only visually, but by scent as well. While making a rub a buck will rub his forehead and preorbital gland on the tree. This tells the other deer in the area exactly which buck made the rub.

It’s nature’s way of seeing that, for the most part, only the strong survive and perpetuate. Sure some year-and-a-half old bucks will breed; but with a fairly balanced herd, the more dominant, breeding-class bucks do the majority of the breeding.

For whatever reason the rub is made, it’s an excellent way to learn their travel patterns. Following their daily movements and then ambushing them along one of these paths is a proven tactic for harvesting trophy bucks.

When you come across a good density of rubs it usually means you’ve found an area where that buck is spending a good majority of his time. Called a "hub," "core area" or "secure area," it’s definitely a spot we’re trying to find. Whitetail will often have a number of different secure areas and many travel routes to and from them. They choose which bedding site or which trail to use, depending on where the elements can give them the best safety. They also may change secure areas and travel routes depending on time of year, the availability of cover, pressure and food changes during the course of the season.

Once located, a buck’s hub or "bedroom" is a reliable origin to begin the hunt. Food sources, travel routes and other factors are not as dependable as their bedrooms. They pick these spots for a reason. If not spooked, or if the conditions don’t change drastically, usually they’ll go back to these spots day after day.

Different deer have different personalities. Some deer seem to love to rub on tees and others don’t. The number of rubs somewhat correlates with the age and breeding status of a buck, as well as the buck to doe ratio in the area. Sometimes the amount of rubs can also depend on the type or size of the trees in an area. If there aren’t many trees of the right size or type, obviously you won’t see as many rubs.

Direction of travel should be easy to tell. If a buck is traveling north, he’s facing the south side of the tree, so the rubs should be on the south side of the tree. Size of the buck can be told too. You’ve all heard, big deer rub on big trees, small deer rub on small trees. For the most part that’s true. However, big deer will also rub on small trees, but small deer seldom rub on big trees. If the rub is on a small tree, how high it is off the ground is a good indication – the higher off the ground, typically the bigger the buck, unless the tree was so skinny a smaller buck could have pushed the tree over and worked up the tree that way.

As far as where to intercept a buck along a rub line, I like to work from his core area. I don’t mean bust right into his bedding area; I mean use it as a starting point. Use it in conjunction with other things in their domain.

Once I’ve found out where a buck is spending the majority of his time, I try to put very little pressure on that spot. If you spook him from his secure spot, you may have to start all over again. Some bucks will tolerate very little before vacating the area.

You’ll have to determine when and where is he going to give you a shot during legal hunting hours. Is he going to dawdle on his way back to his bedding site in the morning? Does he like to get up mid-day and take a stroll around his perimeter? Some deer seem to be totally nocturnal. If he’s one of those bucks you never see mornings or evenings, and you think he’s totally nocturnal, mid-day is my favorite time to try for a buck like that.

Rubs are one of the best scouting aids available. Aside from an actual animal sighting, you can gather more information from it then any other form of physical sign. Searching out rubs in your hunting area just might lead you to a buck this season.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.



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Date Last Updated January, 2006