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5 Things You Can Learn From a Deer Rub

What will a deer rub tell you about the herd on your property?

Photo via Field and Stream
Photo via Field and Stream

We all know what a rub is in the deer hunting world. It’s the sign or marker that a buck leaves on a tree trunk when he rubs his antlers against it, scraping away bark and leaving behind visual and olfactory evidence of his presence in the process.

Sometimes, bucks will do this to rub velvet off their antlers. Other times, bucks will simply rub trees in a similar way that dogs pee on fire hydrants: it’s a territorial sign, meant to be a warning to other deer that this area has been claimed. In addition to scraping away bark, a buck even leaves behind chemical evidence that he’s been there, thanks to glands situated on his forehead.

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In other words, the first and most obvious think you can learn from a rub is that you are in an area that a buck has claimed as his territory. But what other signs do these territorial markers present? What other information can be gleaned from examining a rub?

Granted, the majority of rubs occur in the pre- and breeding seasons, during the fall. No reason why we can’t brush up, and keep an eye out for the occasional rub that may be seen earlier.

View the slideshow to learn five pieces of information that a rub can provide.

1. The location of bedding areas 

One of the most obvious pieces of information to be gleaned from a rub is the proximity of a bedding area. One or two intermittent rubs aren’t necessarily a sign of a bedding spot, but when they start showing up more frequently and in tighter concentrations, there’s little doubt that you’ve stumbled upon a buck’s chosen resting area.

If you’ve ever seen a dog get up from sleeping, walk around in a circle, and then lie down in the same exact place, then you have a pretty good idea of what bucks do when they make these clusters of rubs. If you were to leave a camera near one of these spots, you’d likely see a buck rising from sleep, promptly crashing his antlers into a tree, and then going back to bed. This behavior, when spread out repeatedly over a season, results in clusters of rubs that can only really signify a bedding area.

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2. The travel routes bucks follow 

Photo via pgtnaturegarden

While clusters of rubs obviously have the most concrete meaning, that doesn’t mean more intermittent rubs can’t provide you with valuable information. On the contrary, these fewer and further between rubs can help you to map out buck travel routes, which can in turn give you a better idea of where you should set up trail cameras or tree stands.

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3. The size of the buck you are tracking 

Photo via biggamehunt

It seems like rubs would be one of the clearest indicators of buck size out there. Logically, large rubs would be left by sizable bucks and smaller rubs would be the territorial markings of smaller antler specimens.

Unfortunately for trackers, things aren’t quite this simple when it comes to reading rubs. While it’s true that smaller bucks only leave behind smaller rubs, there are times when bigger bucks can make smaller rubs as well, whether due to a distraction that comes while they are making the rub or because of a lower than average level of aggression. However, the old belief that rub size signifies buck size is at least partially true: really massive rubs are almost only left by big bucks, so if you see a series of fresh deep, thick rubs, then chances are pretty good that you are on the trail of a bruiser.

4. The age of the buck you are tracking 

Photo via Field and Stream

Since size and age often go in hand, it probably goes without saying that you can estimate a buck’s age from the size of the rub he leaves. This estimate can also be derived from where on a tree the rub appears. Rubs that are consistently appearing four feet up a tree trunk are almost undoubtedly the work of a taller, elder statesmen buck. A rub that is about a foot off the ground, on the other hand, probably comes from a yearling who is just getting his antlers.

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5. Population statistics 

Photo via noble.org

Speaking of yearling bucks, studies have shown that most younger males will start making rubs later in the season than their older counterparts. With that thought in mind, if you don’t start noticing many rubs on your property until peak rut season, that’s a pretty good sign that the buck population on your property is, for the most part, extremely young.

Similarly, if you are noticing a prevalence of rubs earlier in the fall – September or October, namely – then you can comfortably assume that your property has a healthy population of older (and therefore, bigger) bucks. In addition to all of the above, biologists have indicated that older bucks simply make two or three times as many rubs as younger male deer do, so take that thought into considerations when trying to make estimates about your herd’s overall age statistics.

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5 Things You Can Learn From a Deer Rub