Whitetail Deer Buck Rubs
As a trophy whitetail deer hunter, I have always held much more merit to whitetail buck rubs than scrapes when in pursuit of a big whitetail deer. Whitetail deer rubs can often times tell you a little more about the whitetail deer and provide a more educated travel route of big whitetail buck movement. Whitetail deer rubs tend to mark certain territories of the core area of a whitetail buck if you know what you’re looking, while scrapes are usually hit by the entire area’s herd of whitetail deer and overtimes can be a “crap shoot”. Obviously scrapes almost never give the whitetail hunter a hint in regard to whether the whitetail buck using a certain scrape is of any size desired for harvest. I’ve killed many a whitetail buck by paying attention to whitetail deer rubs, and using them to locate the position of a trophy whitetail buck.
A tree that has been shredded by antlers is the most obvious sign that a whitetail buck has been in an area. But with some knowledge of whitetail deer behavior and a little scouting, a whitetail deer rub can tell you a lot more. You can determine when the whitetail buck rub was made, what the deer was doing when he made it, the direction the whitetail buck is traveling, and the buck's probable age. Buck rubs may be the best type of whitetail deer sign in determining where your next trophy whitetail deer is laid up.
Early Season Rubs
Mature whitetail bucks make two distinct types of rubs. One type of whitetail deer rub is the early-season rub. These whitetail buck rubs are in correspond to late-summer feeding patterns. To unravel a whitetail buck's routine as he progresses through the season, you must understand the difference types of rubs a whitetail buck makes.
Early season whitetail deer rubs are produced for several reasons. Scraping antlers on trees builds up neck and shoulder muscles. This is done so whitetail bucks will be muscled up and ready to fight when the rut rolls around. It allows whitetail bucks to release aggression caused by rising testosterone levels throughout the whitetail deer season. Markings designate a whitetail buck's territory, both visually and by scent deposited from the forehead glands. Other whitetail bucks may rub the same tree, adding their signature smells.
Mature whitetail bucks make their initial rubs in September and early October on stout trees, usually 2 to 4 inches in diameter (see sidebar). These mark a buck's primary home range. Clusters and lines of them usually indicate that they were created either as the whitetail buck traveled from food sources to thick bedding cover at dawn or on his way back to feed in the late afternoon. Hunting these spots may be your best chance to take a mature animal before the rut.
Start scouting in September and October. Many whitetail deer experts believe that most often times dominant bucks make the first whitetail buck rubs, getting out early will put you onto the oldest deer in the area. I disagree but will present the info in the event you find it valuable for early season whitetail deer hunting. This isn’t always the case but most times it is. Keep the locations of the buck rubs in a notebook or on a topo map and follow any trails to pinpoint likely bedding territory and early-season foods like alfalfa, clover fields, oak flats, or abandoned orchards. After you've found some rubs near the food sources, backtrack and look for potential stand sites such as funnels, ditches, benches, and saddles where the whitetail bucks more trees as he approached his bedding cover.
I must add that while I watch for early season whitetail buck rubs and experts swear the biggest whitetail bucks make the first whitetail deer rubs, I don’t pay much attention to early season rubs. They seldom mark “slam dunk” locations of trophy whitetail bucks. Sure they are neat to see, but most rubs early season usually don’t reveal the size of a buck, unless the rub is exceptionally large. You’ll do better on early season trophy whitetail hunting to simply scout your open agricultural fields prior to season in an effort to pinpoint record book bucks and hunt those locations rather than go scouting through the woods for early season whitetail deer rubs. While experts say the biggest bucks rub first, its not a fact that the biggest bucks shed earlier. Most early season rubs are made for velvet removal rather than high levels of tetestorone levels. Thus anything from a forkhorn from a 170 inch deer is rubbing something to remove velvet. Later in the year is when you can put the whitetail deer puzzle together in an effort to use whitetail deer rubs to locate the biggest bucks in your area.
Most of the time rubs made by a whitetail buck shedding his velvet are not very noticeable. Conflicting arguments would suggest Velvet-shedding rubs teach us several things. First, the larger the sapling that was rubbed and the more damage inflicted, the better the chances are that its maker was at least 3 1/2 years old. If the whitetail buck's only purpose was to peel velvet during his random traveling, he will probably not return to that particular spot. However, if the rub is on a travel corridor such as a logging road or trail where there is other old or fresh buck sign, you may be able to use a trail camera to get the maker's photograph!
Whitetail Rubs Made During the Rut or Rut Rubs
Many years ago my friend Brent Thomure and I gained access to a 150 acre piece of ground in Pike County, Illinois for whitetail deer hunting. As we meandered towards the back of the property where the timber was located we had to access a log road running through a pretty dense or thick area. After walking 20 yards down the log road surrounded by thick cover, Brent and I found ourselves surrounded by many whitetail deer rubs. In fact in a 100 yard radius we counted 83 rubs of all different sizes. We knew immediately we had discovered the core area of many whitetail bucks and quietly backed out to discuss where to place tree stands to take a trophy whitetail deer. We hung the tree stands alright and over the next 3 years of me being able to access this same small dense bed area I took a 153 inch buck, a 158 inch whitetail buck, and a 148 inch whitetail buck with a bow. All the bucks had split browe tines on the right side of the rack which was a direct indicator that all these deer had the same genetics or possibly the same father. While its tough to find a goldmine such as this, there are far less rubbed up areas a whitetail hunter can access to harvest trophy whitetail bucks if they properly read whitetail buck rubs, and use these rubs against the buck itself.
Toward the end of October when whitetail bucks' testosterone levels build up and does begin to release estrous scents. At this point, whitetail bucks will move out of their home ranges and into doe territory where they continue to rub trees and travel widely, searching for does in heat. Whitetail bucks make breeding rubs primarily to display their territorial dominance as well as deposit scent to alert other whitetail deer that they cruising the area, but these visual and olfactory signposts often psychologically and hormonally suppress small bucks to the point where their testosterone levels stay so low that they do not attempt to mate.
Whitetail hunters need to understand that scent-communication whitetail rubs may be the most complicated types of rubs to figure out, but they can also be the most useful. For quite some time now, these rubs have been called "sign-post rubs." However, since the scent that is placed on these rubs by deer is more significant to other deer than the visual significance, I believe the term "scent-post rubs" more accurately describes their purpose. I recall 9 years ago I found one of the largest rubs I’ve ever seen in my entire life on a huge cedar tree in Missouri while on a deer hunt. I set up a tree stand determined to take the very deer that was visiting what I thought was rub that was meaningful only to one particular monster whitetail buck. Over the course of three days I watched 14 different bucks rub on this tree. All but one of the whitetail bucks were less than 60 inches gross score. Thus I learned that often sign post rubs serve as communication centers for a lot of deer. Whitetail buck rubs like these are referred to as sign post rubs or scent post rubs but I will explain later that the two are totally different.
This location also held a nearby "community whitetail scrape" located close to the large monster whitetail buck rub. Some whitetail biologists believe that the scent deposited by whitetail bucks comes primarily from secretions in their forehead glands. They also believe this gland secretion is the source of the dark streaks on their foreheads. You will see whitetail bucks rubbing their heads on their tarsal glands. This action transfers the same scent to a deer's forehead that is deposited in scrapes when a buck rub-urinates.
When a whitetail deer interacts with a scent-post rub, it will not only rub its forehead on the tree, the buck will also smell and lick the spot. Thus, the scent that is placed on scent-post rubs comes from, it definitely has a purpose in the breeding ritual of white-tailed deer.
Whitetail Biologists have long believed that scent-communication rubs suppress the breeding urge of younger bucks. This makes sense. Of course, a fresh scent-post rub with the rank smell of a dominant old whitetail buck would suppress the breeding urge of a younger buck! That youngster would quickly realize that a mature whitetail buck was in the area, and he would be afraid to chase any local does. If a 1 1/2- or 2 1/2-year-old whitetail buck showed any aggression whatsoever toward the older, dominant buck in the area, it could be a danger to the inferior whitetail buck.
BIG RUBS AND BIG BUCKS
Any whitetail buck might rub a tree of any size. I've seen 5-year-old bucks demolish finger-size saplings and yearlings rub 5-inch trunks. However, as a general rule you can often estimate a whitetail buck’s size by the size of the whitetail deer rub.
•Small saplings and thick-stemmed brush, such as autumn olives, attract all sizes of bucks that like to fight with the flexible brush and thrash it to a pulp.
•One- to 2-inch-diameter trees attract yearlings and 2-year-olds.
•Two- to 4-inch-thick trunks draw 3- and 4-year-olds.
•The rare rubs you may find on 4- to 8-inch trunks are typically the hallmark of mature bucks, 5 to 7 years old.
How to Read Whitetail Buck Rubs in Order to Harvest a Record Book Whitetail Buck
The most effective way to use whitetail buck rubs in an effort to harvest trophy whitetail bucks is by being able to recognize mature rub lines, or simply being able to recognize the amount of mature whitetail deer rubs in a given area.
As in the aforementioned example wherein my hunt buddy and I found 83 rubs in a small area we knew full well we were literally standing in either a bed area or a breeding zone belonging to several record book bucks. When the hunter finds around 20 whitetail buck rubs in a radius of less than 75 yards, you are into an area where you might as well set up a tree stand and get ready for some action. It’s either an area where one whitetail buck is visiting daily or you’re in an area where a breeding zone exists. A breeding zone is an area where whitetail deer simply for some reason or another like to meet up and mate. Of course it is best to make sure some of the rubs are made on 3 to 8 inch diameter trees. That assures you that something worthy of shooting is using the area.
When you get right into the heart of a whitetail buck’s bed area you should find many whitetail buck rubs. The problem is that these areas won’t allow the whitetail hunter to place much hunt pressure on them. They are morning hunts only. Don’t try and sneak into a bed area for an afternoon hunt when in pursuit of a trophy whitetail buck, I don’t care how excited you are about the rubs. Be cautious with whitetail deer bed areas.
For your evening whitetail deer hunts, you need to stay downwind of these bed areas and find the rub lines leading from the bed areas to the food sources, and hopefully place your stand to the side of these rub lines in a topographical advantage like a “funnel”.
Whitetail Deer Rub Lines
What I call a rub line is more than a half dozen trees that have been rubbed within a 75 yard distance leading in a distinct direction with intent to specific area. This indicates to me the buck has been thru the area more than once. You should also make a note of the rubs and monitor for new activity.
What direction will he come from? After you locate a rub line take a close look at all the rubs. The majority of the rubs will on one side of the tree. He will be coming from that direction most of the time, however let me say I’ve been caught looking the wrong direction several times in belief of this theory.
Whitetail deer rub lines will tell you more than individual rubs. They reveal a travel route rather than just a location where a buck stopped once. Look for fresh rubs, and focus on rub lines.
My belief is that reading whitetail deer rub lines are probably easier in the Midwest. It could be Midwestern whitetail deer hunting is just easier, however normally terrain is broken up into about 50% timber and 50% fields. Thus aerial maps will reveal patches of timber where whitetail deer are traveling. It’s pretty easy to locate rub lines in a specific small patch of timber or draw and get your ambush site set up. Still while my strategy for archery hunting whitetail deer in the Midwest is setting up in topographical advantages, I have left the confines of many a good funnel or topographical advantage in an effort to go hunt a draw full of big buck rubs.
If nothing else, when the whitetail deer hunter finds big rubs you can bet your on a big whitetail buck. Your odds of success increase when you can find a line of these big rubs and set up on the bucks travel route. Further if you can set up on the rub line in a topographical advantage then you’ve even increased your odds more. However don’t simply find a rub line and take it for granted that all you have to do is sit there and your whitetail deer harvest will occur. I have now harvested 15 Pope and Young Record Book Deer. Of those 15 bucks I have killed half of them by finding an area as described above but had to move in closer for the kill by doing some advanced scouting. Sometimes you can be close to being in his kill zone, but often times you have to make a move closer in order to find yourself within range of your next trophy whitetail buck.