Rubs can tell you a lot about a buck's behavior. Pay attention to them all season — and scout to find them after season closes, too
“Look at this rub!” Alicia shouted. I know that my wife has seen more than her fair share of buck rubs, but the nature of her reaction proved that what she’d just found was very, very special. As I hurried over to where she was standing, my jaw dropped. Right there, staring us back in the face, was the biggest rub either of us had ever laid eyes on. The buck that took the liberty to work it over had done the exact same thing to several bigger trees in the immediate vicinity. This was definitely the handiwork of a mature buck, and apparently he enjoyed working with big lumber! When all was said and done on that cold January day, we had followed that buck’s rubs over a half along a newly discovered travel route.
I’ve often talked about taking advantage of every ounce of buck sign that is left behind in your hunting areas. As elusive as mature bucks are, you can’t afford to take a single thing for granted. Rubs and rub lines are no exception. I feel that with a little observation and common sense, you can get a basic idea of what a buck is doing. The hard part is connecting the dots to the puzzle and narrowing it down to specific lines of travel. But rest assured, as there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The rubs serve as those dots, and we can connect them together fairly easily to gain a better perspective on a buck’s travel routes. While anybody can go out and find rubs, there are certain techniques one can use to become more successful in understanding what they mean. Let’s take the time to discuss some of those techniques.
I try to do the majority of my scouting soon after the season closes. All of the sign is still super-fresh and by snooping around during the post-season, any worries about scent or disturbing the place are negated. I’m free to move about at my own pace, and can walk through bedding, feeding, and staging areas at will. When I scout out my hunting areas, I try to find as many rubs as I can. The more rubs I can find, the more information I have tucked away in my log book and in my memory bank. I’ll try to walk every trail, and find every tree a buck has worked over.
I’ve always been a big fan of walking out my entire hunting area(s) during the off-season, and noting anything and everything that stands out in my mind. The more rubs I find, the better. It may get overwhelming at times with abundant sign, but there are ways to reduce the load as you narrow rubs down into certain groups and / or patterns. I prefer to start with the overall picture of rubs and then work my way down in a specific manner until I’ve got the information I’m looking for. Listed below are four things I take into consideration when scouting out these fantastic travel markers.
Tree Size Is Critical
I always try to find and key on the biggest rubs on the property. The bigger the sign, the bigger the smile grows on my face. Why? Because I know that the larger sign is usually made by the bigger, more dominant bucks in a given area. Remember the huge rubs mentioned at the beginning of this article? Those rubs were on trees 15 inches in diameter. I don’t feel that many 2- or 3-year-old bucks would take on wood that size. There’s just something about seeing a huge tree ripped to the core with shreds blowing gently with the wind that gets me going. And if I find a series of them, I really take notice.
Rubs: New and Old
If you don’t have the time to do extensive post-season scouting (or even if you do), or if you’ve just found a new farm a month before the season, try looking for specific trees that have been rubbed over the course of several years. If you can find a line of trees that show damage like this, you’d better be hanging a stand or three in that vicinity because I’ll about guarantee you’ll see a buck working it every year. It proves they’re those magnets bucks have some magical fascination with, perennial favorites they love to tear up. Those are the trees I key in on each and every season.
I also look to see what side of the tree the majority of the rubs are located on. If you can find a rub line with rubs facing a bedding area, it’s safe to say the buck is using that route on an evening feeding pattern, hitting the tree on his way to the food source. If the rub is facing the field, he most likely tore it up on his way back to his bed in the morning hours. With a little bit of critical thinking and planning, you could very well put yourself in the right place at the right time. I also recommend the use of trail cameras on rub lines. The fact is that we simply can’t scout 24/7, but trail cameras can. Using one trail camera on a single route last season, I managed to capture multiple images of a big 185-class, 14-point hog. The buck was strictly nocturnal, so I wasn’t lucky enough to harvest him, but his pattern of following one rub line to a specific food source made him very predictable in his movements — even if they were at night!! Using these tools takes all the guesswork out of when a certain buck walked down that trail, and what buck made the damage.
With a variety of rubs to look at, it can be tough matching a particular buck with a particular rub, unless you’ve either seen him make it or have a photo of him doing so. If I can match certain deer to certain trees, then I feel I’ve cracked a major code with respect to that deer’s movements.
Connecting specific bucks to specific trees is NOT an exact science by any means, but it’s worth considering and giving a shot. I’m not sure how many of you have done this, but I recommend sitting down and looking a little deeper into what information certain rubs contain. Particularly, look at the series of grooves and scratches in the exposed wood. If you find trees with similar telltale markings, that deer may have particular abnormal points or antler features that link those markings to one buck. I have found shed antlers close to certain rub lines and have been able to match the sheds up against certain rubs like a jigsaw puzzle-piece, with their abnormal points fitting perfectly in the same grooves found on multiple trees. I feel this is much more than a coincidence. Several years ago, my good friend Lee Lakosky was hunting on his Kansas farm and had noticed trees that had been ripped up, each with a set of characteristic deep grooves etched into them. It didn’t take long, as an afternoon sit on stand found Lee arrowing a 196-inch non-typical with large abnormals off each base. It was obvious who had been ripping up those trees.
The next time you’re scouting for some new stand sites take the time to get acquainted with the rubs throughout the area. I look at rubs like a foreign language. To become fluent in the dialect, you have to have constant exposure to it and practice speaking it whenever possible. Looking at shredded trees is no different. The more exposure you have to them, the more time you can walk along and inspect them, and the more fluent you’ll become in reading the clues they possess. Not everyone knows a second language, but as a deer hunter, being able to read rubs is a language I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to perfect.
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