Antler rubs tell part of the story – and can help hunters
Few bowhunters going into the woods this month will miss the signposts left by male deer.
Bucks are known to scent-mark surrounding trees or vegetation all year ’round, but buck rubs on trees generally begin to appear more frequently around the middle of October. Like a burglar dropping a glove at the scene of a crime, a buck rub can give hunters a clue as to the possible number and size of the bucks in their hunting area.
Back when I was a kid, it was widely believed that bucks rubbed trees to “get the velvet off their antlers.” This was taken as gospel by most of the hunters I knew back then. But today, most hunters know better. My trail cameras and personal buck sightings indicate velvet is gone from a buck’s antlers by the third week in September, long before rubs appear in my hunting area. Today, deer researchers tell us bucks make rubs and leave their scent from their forehead glands to let other less dominant animals know who’s boss and to mark their territory.
Most of the buck rubs I’ve found are on trees less than four inches in diameter, but I’ve found rubs on trees that were at least six inches in diameter, indicating possibly the presence of a really nice deer. A single large tree rub can mean a big buck made it or not. However, a rub line made on a series of larger trees is a good indicator that a large buck calls the area home.
Most rubs are made on trees or shrubs with a smooth bark such as popple, striped maple and, in my opinion their favorite, staghorn sumac. The latter has a distinctive aroma and perhaps this is one reason bucks like to rub it, especially if it grows along a field edge.
If bucks have a preference for the trees they like to rub, it seems they also have a preference for those to avoid. Ironwood or hop hornbeam and paper birch trees are on that list. The buck rubs I find are usually near a source of food like acorns or field edges where farm crops are planted. Old logging roads are also prime areas for discovering rub lines and they are usually a good spot to hang a stand.
Newly made rubs are exciting discoveries for a deer hunter, but unless they’re made along a travel corridor like an old logging road or path, they may be more or less unreliable in predicting buck movement.
For me, the value of a rub is that it tells me where a buck has been and in which direction he was heading. If it’s pointing to heavy cover, I can assume it was made in the morning, when the buck was leaving the feeding area. If it points to a feeding area, it might mean it was made in the evening as he was leaving heavy cover, and this gives me insight as to when to hunt the area. Successful deer hunters read and interpret the sign made by deer and take advantage of it, and this can make the difference between a successful.