The Mystery of Rubs -Part one


The Mystery of Rubs.

I am condensing this from almost 3,500 words. This is the bare bones. First, know this: I do not study rubs with the purpose of killing anything. That comes as a side benefit from the knowledge I gain. Second, open your mind. Forget all the things you have read or think. You may agree or disagree with the following. It doesn’t matter. I ask only that you read it with an open mind. This is, in a nutshell, what I have learned about rubs in 25-years of studying them. I shall post this in two or more segments. Know this-a large-antlered buck, may rub big trees and small trees. Size only matters in a secondary setting. The first segment will deal only with the categories of rubs.

1- Rubs fall into four basic categories: Incidental, aggressive, signpost and traditional. Signpost, traditional and aggressive, may at times, be on the same tree.

2- The incidental rub-That is one that first appears on small, green supple branches such as willow. This is where bucks finish polishing antlers, once the velvet is shed. They may appear anywhere and mean nothing other than, a buck was here.

3- The aggressive rub is the least common, the hardest to identify and probably most mysterious. This is a rub that appears in the middle of nowhere, usually in thick cover. The tree will be “worked” vigorously and it is usually a leaning tree. (Start thinking parallel rubs.) In the area of the rub, will be a small, pawed place-similar to a scrape-don’t be misled. It isn’t. The smart hunter, makes a note of the exact location of this rub. It is a challenge to every mature buck in the area. That is all it is. Remember, that.

4- The signpost rub, often combined with a traditional rub,. Is the most valuable to a hunter. It is just what a stop sign or other roadside sign is to us-information. It may designate a creek, road or fence crossing. It may be a good place for a buck to stop and scent-check a scrape or field. It provides information. Often, these rubs appear on the same tree, year after year. Therefore, they are traditional rubs. (I have a file of every one on the properties I hunt.) When I was guiding in the Midwest, these rubs were invaluable. Now, I just take notes. If you can find and identify a signpost rub, then, determine what it means, that is a huge step in hunting brand new land.
The biggest signpost rub I have ever seen. The buck was killed crossing a road, the night before I intended to hunt him.
Note the leaning tree. This IA buck was only seen, once.


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What Are Rubs?

A tree is rubbed. What does it mean? All deer rub trees. From yearling does to monster bucks, all deer rub. Why? For one reason only-to impart information. It is nothing more than a message board for deer.

In Louisiana, I saw a huge tree that had been rubbed for over nine-years. Never by a buck over 20-months of age. It was rubbed mostly by does and small bucks. Why? Simply to share information. At the bare bones, a rub has nothing to do with the rut. Yep, Hard for a hunter to buy. A rub is nothing more than a form of communication.

But a savvy hunter, can, if he is careful, use a rut to his advantage. But only if he knows what the rub is and why it is where it is. In terms of killing a mature buck, one 3.5-yrs or older, the rub is of minimal value unless you can solve the rest of the puzzle. Anyone who kills a mature buck, coming back to a rub or scrape, has done so by accident. Yes, it happens. No hunter can do so on purpose.

But the smart hunter, takes the information provided by the rub and forms a “strategy of travel.” (1) Why is the rub there? (2) What does the rub mean? (3) Where is the buck going? (4) When is he likely to travel? (5) What is the best stand location? (6) When do I hunt it?

Of all the rubs, by far, the signpost provides the most information. And the aggressive rub, is the one, most likely to produce mature buck activity…SOMETIMES. ((None of the knowledge of rubs can be gained from a trail camera, alone. That only provides two pieces of limited information.))

Pic#1- Two hours on the first morning I hunted 212 square miles of Canadian bush. Sunday afternoon, I spent four hours scouting. Found two signpost rubs. Made a plan.
#2- Based on last year's rubs, we caught him out early.


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Okay, I'm following the thread.
What are your thoughts on traditional rub lines? You know, the rub lines you find and follow and then realize there are many, old rubs along the line that are one-year rubs. Some of the old ones are no more than just an old scar and some are almost completely healed and grown over. 90% of them are ones most guys wouldn't even notice, but they are there, right along side of smoking hot fresh ones. Guys get locked-on seeing the new ones and never give the old ones a second notice. I realize its a part of the puzzle, but they show a perennial pattern. If I can find pieces of a puzzle which has perennial consistency, then the puzzle is easier to solve. Perennial rub lines make me think there is something about that corridor that bucks like. Around here, perennial rub lines are usually older than the older bucks of our herd structure, which means, as bucks come and go (with our terribly young age structure), the rub line exceeds them. Why is it that many generations of bucks want to travel that route? Is it a terrain/cover/bedding pattern or is it actually a learned pattern from bachelor groups where younger bucks follow and learn the patterns of older bucks and pass those movement pattern on to the next generation? IDK, but when I find a perennial rub line, I pay closer attention to it than I do to an annual rub line.

Another interesting rub behavior I've watched occurred in Iowa where there were a ton of cedar trees. Some of the rubs on these trees were ridiculously huge. Then I watched some of the smallest, scrawniest, yearling bucks in the herd, visiting them. They would rub, then eat the rub shreddings.
They would pick at the little fibers of the rub and eat them. So, on certain species, are rubs slightly less of a scent advertisement and more of a situation of deer just wanting to, (for lack of a better way of putting it) "get involved "with the smell or taste of that species?
(1) Traditional rubs are extremely important. They are proof deer follow the same travel paths year after year. But more than that, they indicate a travel path o for bucks that have never been there before. When bucks start traveling, looking for that first, receptive doe, they often venture into territory they have never seen. How do they know where to go? Through traditional rubs. The traveling buck is the vulnerable buck. This is especially true if we have a stand, pre-placed. If he has never seen it, how can he know it is there.

(2) Many very large rubs are never touched by a mature buck. Three basket-racked six-pointers can make a huge rub. Add int he chewing, often done by button bucks and does, and you get a huge, communal rub. All rubs, except incidental rubs, are forms of communications and may be used by does as well as bucks. In terms of killing a MATURE buck, one over 3.5, the understanding of rubs can easily be the key. A rub(s) can easily impart 10X the information a scrape does.

(3) Mock rubs-altering or creating a rub is fascinating once you learn what do. The key factors are location and type of tree. A little study will tell you what trees the deer prefer in a specific area. Here is an example. Where I live, bucks prefer to scrape under beech trees. Reason-the available overhanging branch for a licking branch. But the prefer to rub cedar trees. Reason soft resinous tree. In every habitat, there will be specific preferred trees. Some years ago, I made 23-mock rubs. Five were picked up. All five had two specific factors in common-location and tree type.


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Now, Tap-You are on the right track. You are thinking correctly. Let me add something to your thinking. A-you know about traditional rubs and rub lines. That means, you know where a buck is going to travel, before he does. The presence of the traditional rubs, tell you that. That also means, you know where to place a stand(s).B- If legal, why not place that stand a month or more before the buck(s) even know they are going to be there? Get it just the way you want it and then, STAY AWAY. Do not go near that stand until the bucks are starting to travel. When the bachelor groups break up and you begin to see fresh rubs appearing regularly, pick a clear cold morning, one with the right wind, slip in and just at good shooting light. do some light sparring. Not heavy rattling, just a little click and clack and don't overdo it.
When I was guiding and outfitting in IL, on just such a morning, I brought in six bucks in 15-minutes for a hunter. He put an arrow in the sixth. It scored just over 155. And two of my three biggest bucks were killed in just that way. Keep in mind-I no longer hunt antlers. IN fact, I specifically hunt does. So I don't do much in the way of hunting that way, anymore. But I still enjoy visiting a clients property and spending a day scouting and pointing out just what I would do if I WAS, trying to kill a mature buck. That to me, is the true joy of hunting. When I was "Trophy hunting" I frequently had six or more stands, hung in August, that I never went near until late October. Give that some thought.
Also, when I was serious, I used nothing but hang-on stands. Fortunately, I got them free. In any given year in four states, I might have as many as 15-stands in place, a month before bow season opened. Perhaps you have seen some posts from Wayne, commenting on Cheatham WMA. That is a 22,000 acre, public management area. Some years, I would have 4-6, stands hung by late August and never go near them until October. I don't work that hard, now. :)


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Since I own my property my stands are up year around. Many I may never hunt in a year and I have a few I have never sat but they are all in goods area. It is only 90 acres of deep woods surrounded by nothing but deep woods with an occasional small opening so I can pretty much cover the entire place. Most are ladder stands and I check the straps in July on them. I will only hunt our place with a N, E, NE, NW, or W wind with the latter being the least desirable. If a wind has any type of S in it I stay out...

There is no lack of big deer in any given year to pursue on this small property...
What is the meaning of a tree with a rub on it that also has a scrape in front of that same tree? I used to see them with rub and scrape all-in-one kind of deal but for the last several years I only see scrapes by themselves or rubs by themselves----WHY?