Author: James L. Bruner
Years ago I took a promising look at a small log cabin with 40 acres of property in the hopes of purchasing the real estate. As I inspected the cabin it was obvious that it would suit my needs but what really caught my attention was the rub on a small poplar tree at the edge of the yard. My inspection quickly turned into a scouting trip as I wandered the property in search of deer sign. After all, the hunting was one of the main reasons I was here. A friend and I kept a tally of the sign as we split up and ventured further into the property that had just been cut a couple years earlier. No more than a half hour later we had counted 162 rubs on a small section of the parcel! I was smiles ear to ear and ready to visit the bank in the morning. Could I ask for a much better combination? Probably so but this was heaven to me and has provided many years of deer observation throughout the year.
What Is A Rub?
Rubs take on many roles throughout different times of the year. Early in the season rubs are made primarily to remove velvet from their antlers. As the season progresses bucks continue to rub mainly on smaller trees and begin to feel the effects of growing testosterone levels. The building aggression is taken out on trees by making rubs, sometimes a very numerous amount of rubs, while at the same time the activity helps to strengthen neck muscles. The double-duty of rubbing trees and strengthening muscles will all be necessary for the upcoming rut both visually and physically. As the season begins to reach a fevered pitch bucks making more demanding rubs on larger trees.
A rub doesn’t only present a visual sign but also a social hierarchy amongst the herd by leaving scent on each rub. Dominant bucks release a stronger scent than younger bucks and therefore leaver their rank or social status on each rub through way of the Forehead Gland. More can be read about this attribute of a rub by visiting our Deer Glands And Functions section.
A debate of sort has always rumored that big bucks rub big trees and small buck rub smaller trees. Although I would agree that the majority of bucks rubbing on bigger trees are actually larger, more dominant deer, I have witnessed these same big bucks rub smaller trees. Some of these were saplings as small as a broom handle. On that same note I have encountered only several small bucks rubbing on larger trees. Years ago I found a rub on a cedar tree the size of my thigh in diameter. Of course I envisioned a huge buck to go along with that rub that was right out in the open for the subordinate bucks in the area to plainly view from a distance. A typical signpost that bore visible signs of previous years rubbing activity revealed by deep scarring but never did give up it’s source in 3 years that I hunted the area even though a new rub would appear each season.
We have all noticed many times that rubs can appear very concentrated in areas while at other times seemingly scarce. A few terms used for identifying cluster rubs, signposts, and rublines. Although a large grouping of rubs will catch your eye, most hunters seem to put most of their faith in a rubline while clusters are generally regarding as from smaller bucks and given less attention by most hunters.
The first thing I look for in a rub, besides the size of the tree it was made on, is if the surrounding trees also show signs of rubbing. In particular if there is a cluster of trees, check the trees behind the main initial rub. Carefully inspect them for tine marks. Larger bucks with tall tines will often leave evidence on the trees behind the main rub giving you an idea of the rack he is carrying.
As mentioned earlier the main emphasis is usually related to rublines and with good reason. Finding a rubline will routinely mark the preferred travel of a buck between bedding and feeding and most times, appear on a well used trail. This provides a lot of opportunities for lesser bucks to view and scent the dominant bucks presence. A travel corridor with repeated rubs popping up is a good place to hang a stand. Typically you can gain an advantage if the majority of rubs appear on one side of the trees along the rubline. This gives you a definite direction of travel.
If I had to put my money on any source of rubs it would be clusters of concentrated rubs. As smaller bucks make fewer rubs you can judge, by the number of rubs, whether or not more than one small buck, or possibly one dominant buck is frequenting the area. Older bucks tend to make more rubs in an area where they prefer to bed and generally feel more relaxed. A line or swath of clustered rubs dictates a high percentage area for connecting with a buck and a good place to hang a stand.
The Tree Debate
I wont go much into which trees deer rub on because a deer will rub on any tree or even fences, telephone poles, or simply tear through a small brush pile. After all, most people aren’t targeting a specific type of tree when searching for rubs. You are searching for the rubs themselves. Most deer in the northern regions prefer the thinner bark of trees such as aspens, poplars, and young maples. Typically they try to avoid trees with many low hanging branches. Further to the south it has been noted that bucks tend to rub more aromatic trees such as cedars, junipers, and cherry. One attribute that most rubs share is the type of tree used for the rub usually has a light colored inner skin or woody area. This makes for a more striking contrast which is easily spotted by both humans and other deer.
When searching directly for rubs a good area to target is a recent clear-cut area where the saplings have risen from the ground once again. These young saplings have a lot of spring to them while their bark is tender and easily stripped. Consequently these areas also provide a lot of new legume growth and attract a lot of deer into the area. You will more than likely find the dominant buck of the area frequenting the clear-cut staking claim to this new buffet of easily accessible food source. An area like this will typically hold deer for several years to come until the trees begin to choke out the undergrowth. Check the area for previous years of rubbing activity by looking for scarring on trees and any type of repeated concentrations. This may well be all the evidence you need to confirm that a big buck has once again survived the hunting season due to other hunters inability to read the signs of a rub.