Reading A Rub
Submitted By: © 2005 James L. Bruner on 8/30/2005
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 leave their rank or social status on each rub
through way of the Forehead Gland.
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 scaring 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
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
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 scaring 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.
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