Rubbing Behavior in White-Tailed Deer

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An Inside Look At Whitetail Rubbing Behavior

VelvetScent GlandsPeeling BarkLate Winter RubSpike Buck RubbingFavorite TreeBulking UpWhereWhich Side?Signpost

1 | Velvet's Off

Once bucks peel their velvet, they begin making rubs throughout their home range. The first rubs of the year are a sure sign the rut’s just around the corner. 

2 | Scent Glands

Rubs are a way for bucks to dispense their own unique scent, and that’s one reason for making them. When a buck makes a rub, he begins the process by rubbing his moist nose on the tree’s bark. 

3 | Peeling Bark

This is of course followed up by rubbing his antlers on the tree, which in the process peels the bark. Scent from the buck’s nasal, preorbital and forehead glands is left behind. 

4 | Late Winter Rub

Even after the rut is over and bucks have cast their antlers in the late winter, they’ll continue to scent-check rubs that were made in the fall.

5 | Spike Buck Rubbing

Most rubs are made by more dominant bucks to mark territories and signal a readiness to breed. But a young buck can’t resist checking them out. 

6 | Favorite Tree

In certain areas, bucks definitely seem to prefer certain types of trees. Cedars, spruce and other evergreens are often favorites, but bucks will rub about anything with smooth bark, even downed limbs and fence posts. 

7 | Bulking Up

Beyond creating signposts for other deer, it is believed that rubbing strengthens a buck’s neck muscles — something he’ll definitely need for fights with other bucks during the rut.

8 | Where's He Been?

The location of a rub line can be one of the best scouting tools at your disposal for pinpointing a big buck’s location and setting up to hunt. You may not get a shot setting up right over the rubline, but it can clue you in to a buck’s daily travel routine.

9 | Which Side?

Which side of the trees are being rubbed on a rub line? It may seem obvious, but it provides important clues as to a buck’s direction of travel. Is he headed to bed or to eat? 

10 | Signpost

Big signpost rubs often appear in the same area — even on the same tree — season after season. That’s a sure sign of an active travel area.