Clusters of rubs are also likely to occur along travel corridors on old logging roads, firebreaks, ridge tops and in swales at stream crossings. Cluster rubs located near or on the edge of a secluded patch of thick cover like the one pictured could be the favorite bedding area of a mature buck.
Find a freshly rubbed, thigh-sized tree with polished-off bark and it’s sure to be an adrenaline accelerator. Buck rubs are bright beacons of scent communication and visual signals that appear every fall as bucks shed velvet, battle for dominance, establish territory and win breeding rights. Click through the gallery for a closer look at whitetail buck rubs and what they reveal.
Bucks in their prime years and in good condition are the first to reach testosterone levels that trigger velvet shedding. Shedding occurs from late August through early October, depending on the region. The process is normally completed within 24 hours. Bucks occasionally rub brush or saplings to aid in removal of dried velvet from the antlers. Look carefully for dried strips nearby. Take note of saplings or brush that appear aggressively stripped of bark and branches. Older, larger-racked bucks sometimes take out their irritation from the bloody process with a vengeance.
As fall unfolds, bucks rub to announce their presence in an area leaving visual and scent messages. Rubbing continues until they cast their antlers. Research shows on healthy habitat, rub densities can vary from a few hundred to nearly 4,000 rubs per square mile. Factors such as nutritional status of a herd can affect densities. If rubs are scarce, check near mast-producing trees. More rubs are made during years when acorns are abundant than when they are not. As breeding season approaches, bucks begin rubbing in earnest, forcefully debarking trees and shrubs while strengthening neck and shoulder muscles.
Through specialized forehead skin glands, a buck deposits primer pheromones that convey social status, suppress the sex drives of younger bucks and stimulate does. Bucks sniff and lick the areas they rub. Secretions from the preorbital or nasal glands may also be involved.
Bucks rub a wide variety of shrubs, brush and trees. Generally, they prefer small-trunked, smooth-barked trees and shrubs ½ to 4 inches in diameter, without lower branches. In the Southeast, bucks regularly rub aromatic species, like sassafras, pine and cedar. Other trees readily rubbed include alders, maple, oak and cherry. Deer in the Northeast and Upper Great Lakes favor quaking aspen, balsam fir, black cherry, red maple and willows.
For whatever reason, deer sometimes use power line poles or fence posts to deposit scent. This behavior can occur whether there are trees or brush nearby or not. The buck pictured rubbing a fence post was searching for an estrus doe. It stopped to rub the post while crossing a large expanse of open fallow fields devoid of trees.
Any age-class bucks will rub small trees. Young bucks don’t typically rub trees over a few inches in diameter. Giant rubs on trees a foot or more in diameter are rare and made by mature deer likely 4 ½ years old and older. The deer that choose such large trees have been through several rut periods. Find a rub like the one pictured and you’ve likely found the core area of the buck of your dreams. Set a trail camera nearby to help develop a hunting strategy.
As testosterone flows during pre-rut and levels peak in the rut, bucks will aggressively fight various-sized trees and saplings. These frenzied mock fights help build strength and may last a few seconds to several minutes. The buck pictured initially walked up to the tree and simply shoved and held its full weight pressed forward while running its head up and down the trunk. Over an amazing 7-minute period the agitated deer grunted, pawed the ground and rammed the tree, twisting its rack side-to-side as if engaged with a live buck.
Research shows the amount of rubbing bucks do is relative to the testosterone level in their blood. The hormone also largely contributes to a buck’s higher social rank and aggressiveness. Hormones and aggressive rubbing are the main reasons bucks develop a large muscular neck and shoulders in the fall like those on the bull-necked buck pictured here.
During the peak of the rut, bucks are pursuing does or tending one in estrus. Testosterone levels are pegged. Pent-up energy must be expended. Bucks will often shred saplings and brush in a fury. The behavior also serves to impress nearby bucks and intimidate intruders.
Signpost rubs, or community rubs, serve as message boards and are made in areas like the intersection of major trails or staging areas where numerous bucks will pass through and add their scent. These rubs show heavy use over long periods, often over multiple years. Consider setting up trail cameras nearby and hunt along trails leading to and from signpost rubs.
Rub lines are just that, indicators of the direction a buck is traveling. They are some of the most helpful sign when scouting for hunt setup locations between bedding and feeding areas during the pre-rut. If the blazed side of the rubs face away from a feeding area the buck is likely using that trail in the evening as it approaches to feed. If the rubs face away from a security or bedding area, the buck probably is using that trail early in the morning.
As the rut approaches, dominant bucks interact with other deer in their breeding range. Cluster rubs are likely to occur in habitats close to areas with abundant seasonal forage ⎯ wooded cover situated along crop fields, oak habitat when mast is abundant, food plots and feeders, and next to forest openings. The concentration of deer in such prime areas makes a buck’s communication efforts more effective.