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Rubs of the Whitetail Deer


The trophy whitetail buck is without a doubt one of North America’s most elusive big game animals. The popularity of the sport of whitetail deer hunting has risen much over the last 10 years with an emphasis of harvest of trophy whitetail deer. Every whitetail hunter dreams of taking trophy bucks and continues to educate themselves on strategies and tactics which will increase their odds at harvest of a trophy whitetail buck. The hunt industry continues to produce high tech products for hunters. Whitetail Outfitters are on the rise which when utilizing the proper outfitting service may be your best odds at harvesting trophy whitetail bucks annually. While many high tech options exist for the harvest of trophy whitetails lets not forget the basic or fundamental strategies in the taking of a trophy.

One of the most important fundamental tactic is the proper reading of deersign. One thing for certain whitetails are gonna leave deersign wherever they travel, and when this sign is read correctly by the hunter, one is gonna see successful results. One of the most important types of deersign to interpret are rubs. The following narrative will attempt to lay forth tactics for hunting rubs, and strategies for reading rubs successfully. Different types of rubs exist which are presented at different times of the hunting season. Learn to read rub deersign and your one step ahead of your next trophy whitetail buck.

Here in the Midwest as an Hunt Outfitter we pursue trophy whitetail deer in Pike County, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas. Currently I own argumentably the most qualitative whitetail hunt outfitting service for whitetail deer in the nation. After having been an outfitter full time for over 10 years it is customary for my guides and myself to discover early season rubs in September. Guides take long, slow walks in the timber and along field edges to discover miscellaneous rubs which are usually present simply as a result of bucks rubbing to remove velvet in the late summer months. These rubs normally present deersign that simply tell us whitetail bucks are in a specific area and that bucks are beginning to remove velvet and mark some territory as their own. These rubs are normally not made by bucks to show dominance as much as just to remove velvet, improve sparring skills, and let other bucks know they are in the core area.
Whitetail bucks make their initial rubs of the season to remove the velvet from their antlers. The behavior typically starts in late August or early September when vegetation is still green and thick. These relatively few rubs are so difficult to find that a lot of hunters don’t even bother looking for them. But there are two good reasons to do so.
First, in some areas, waiting until the immediate pre-rut to scout for rubs can lead to sensory overload. You may find, as I often have, that there is too much sign for you to decipher the exact travel route of any particular buck. Moreover, if you put off hunting rubs, pressure might already have altered deer movements by the time you get down to serious business. The fewer marked trees of the preseason or early season may actually tell you more about an individual animal, allowing you to set your stand up precisely where it needs to be in order to score.
The earliest rubs of the season are typically the work of the biggest deer. Dominant bucks begin rubbing before smaller bucks and will continue the activity throughout the year. Deer biologists have found that individual bucks make from 69 to 538 rubs each year, with dominant bucks averaging 300 rubs or more. Smaller males exhibit a slower rise in testosterone levels; they seldom begin the behavior until late in October and also do not make as many rubs. What does all this mean…….? If you can find a concentration of sign early on, and chances are you’ve found the haunt of a buck worthy of harvest.
Early rubs are often clustered around the perimeters of feeding areas, where other deer are most likely to see them. You may also find them in numbers around a buck’s bedding area. Most often times when one finds a bunch of rubs in one spot your close to the bucks bed or core area. Hunters shouldn’t put your stand too close to either of these spots. Instead, seek out rubs along a travel route connecting the foodsource and the bed area. Too much pressure of a bed or core area will most often times force the deer to seek out a new core area. Don’t expect to find obvious sign every 10 or 20 yards. You’re more likely to discover only a rub or two that will nonetheless help identify the trail or funnel that a buck is using.
Set up two stands along this travel route, situating your one stand closer to the bedding area for morning hunts, and set up one stand closer to the feeding area in an effort to harvest the buck on evening hunts. This increases the likelihood of your seeing the buck during legal shooting light. Hang it well before the season opens to give deer time to adjust to its presence. Then, during an early bow or muzzleloader season, or even the opening day of regular firearms season, sneak in and fill your tag. Don’t overhunt either stand as my studies show that the 3rd time you hunt a stand in a row you decrease your odds of seeing deer by over 68%. Don’t overhunt.
Many debates regarding trophy bucks in comparision to the size of rubs exist. One thing I know is that all bucks make rubs. Big bucks make both small and big rubs, however only big bucks make big rubs.
The earliest rubs of the season are typically the work of the biggest deer. Dominant bucks begin rubbing first and continue the activity throughout September, even though it may be another two months before does come into estrus. Deer biologists have found that individual bucks make from 69 to 538 rubs each year, with dominant bucks averaging 300 rubs or more. Smaller males exhibit a slower rise in testosterone levels; they seldom begin the behavior until late in October and also do not make as many rubs. In other words, find a concentration of sign early on, and chances are you’ve found a big buck.
A rub can tell you which direction the buck was or commonly is traveling.
Hunters may not be able to identify individual bucks by the rubs they make, as other deer can, however close examination most often gives clues to whether or not the animal is of trophy size, dominance role, and direction of travel. Here’s what to look for:
• Both dominant and subordinate bucks mark small trees of ½ to 2 inches in diameter, but rubs on larger trees are the work of larger antlers. In layman’s terms big sloppy rubs on everygreens that are 5 inches in diameter are not the work of a spike or a forkhorn. In 1998 I discovered a rub that literally was on a tree the size of a telephone pole. As a result I set a stand within shooting distance of the rub as well as set an infrared camera to take images of its maker. Believe it or not while the initial maker of the rub was undoubtedly a monster buck, throughout the course of the season over 15 different bucks ranging in size from 40 inches to 160 inches took the time to rub this signpost rub. I would suggest that some huge rubs become community rubs for all bucks in the area, however its original maker was undoubtedly the 150 inch monster 8 point I arrowed as a result of hunting the rub itself.
• Dominant bucks tend to hit the same trees over and over, a trait seldom observed with smaller deer. Find a rubline of big rubs and I’ll show you a big deer. Find miscellaneous smaller rubs in a given area and I’ll show you a forhorn or a small six point that has an attitude about him.
• Broken branches and bent or broken tree trunks are left by deer driven by high testosterone levels—in other words, trophy bucks.
• Gouges in a rub are made by antler points, especially the nubs near the antler bases, and can signify that the sign was made by a big buck. For example I have viewed rubs on trees 3 inches in diameter. 1o inches behind the rub is a mature tree with gouges in it. This would suggest that the buck who made the initial rub had long enough tines to damage the tree 10 inches away.
• Rubs on only one side of a tree show that the buck approached from that direction. Marks on both sides are a better indication of a rub line along a buck’s route to and from a particular location.
• Damaged brush adjacent to a rub tree is typically the work of a buck with wide-set antlers.

One of the most important facts regarding the hunting of rubs is to find an area that contains a dozen or more rubs within a perimeter of 50 yards. When you find this type of area you can bet one of many things.
a. You have found the bucks bed area.
b. You have found a location where a particular buck spends a lot of time.
c. You have found an area where many bucks are present.

A trophy signpost rub is a rub that is of special sentimental value to a particular buck. A signpost rub is most often times found on a cedar tree that is more than 6 inches in diameter. This type of rub believe it or not is of sentimental value to the particular trophy buck that made it. It’s a rub that actually means something or is a calling card of the trophy buck that has made it. Signpost rubs generally always have shavings of bark under the rub itself as the signpost rub is one that is being reworked frequently throughout the hunt season. The hunting of signpost rubs is worthwhile. Generally you don’t want to hang an infrared camera next to a signpost rub as you don’t’ want the deer to associate danger with the care and revisiting of the signpost rub. In my opinion a signpost rub is as of much value to hunt as an active scrape. Only the Native American side of you can feel that such rubs as these the trophy bucks cherishes and loves to revisit. As mentioned before often times signposts rubs of this size can become communities rubs for many bucks which increases your opportunity for harvest when hunting them.
The only thing of more value regarding rubs than a signpost rub is a number or high quantity of signpost rubs in perimeter of less than 80 yards. Give me multiple signposts rubs in a small area and I’ll give you a filled deertag if you can make the shot on him when the moment presents itself.
In short, huge signposts rubs on cedar trees with perimeters greater than 6 inches simply shout to you the hunter, “There is a trophy buck present in this area, hunt here!”

A rub line is a series of rubs which leads down a travel corridor or deer trail giving hint to the fact that a buck is traveling a given area. Remember you don’t have to be hunting huge rubs. Big bucks make small rubs also. When one finds a rub line it will be a series of rubs leading from the bed area to the feeding area or through a topographical advantage wherein every 50 to 100 yards the hunter finds a rub. Most often times if it’s a big buck running the rub line you will discover some of the rubs in the rub line are of substantial size but all the rubs don’t have to be of substantial size for its maker to be a monster whitetail buck. Hunting rub lines are worthy of your time in the woods. Be patient and wait on him. Don’t just go in and hunt a rub line, view a small buck, and then move on to another area because you don’t see a trophy buck. Remember rubs are hit by different bucks. Give it some time on a particular rub line before calling it “quits”.
Calling card rubs are those rubs which are made in such obviously visible places and on such huge trees that the buck is stating nothing but, “This is my area. I am king. Beware.” Not to be confused with a signpost rub but they are relative in nature. These rubs are normally found one of two places. Near the trophies bed or core area, or at the food source. These types of rubs normally appear closer to the rut and are given as warnings to inferior bucks.
I have heard of hunters or manufacturers who attempt to sell product which initiate the hunter to make fake rubs and then hunt over them thinking that these mock rubs will attract trophy bucks like your favorite bass lure in the tackle box. Like it or not the hunt industry has lied to some of us in an attempt to sell us product that doesn’t work. Don’t waste your time making mock rubs. Most often times it only spooks deer when they smell human scent on them and never attracts trophy deer in like a bass lure at your favorite lake.
Rest assured if a hunter learns to read and hunt rubs and rub lines appropriately you will vastly improve your odds at taking a trophy whitetail buck. Do you homework, don’t overhunt, and always play the wind. A formula for success.
By Darrin Bradley, IMB Outfittters

Darrin Bradley

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