Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Observations of a sumac rub

I have always considered rubs, those white scars on the forest’s saplings, a mystery in the world of the white-tailed buck.

At least in my mind, when it came to constructions, we call “sign,” made by deer, ground scrapes – including the all-important overhanging branch or licking branch were the main teleporters of whitetail pheromones – those biochemical messages that oversee and govern the rut, or breeding cycle of deer.

That’s until this year.

Despite my best, or actual sloppiest gardening practices, I noticed that once again an old sumac tree was being hit and rubbed up by bucks.

So, big deal.

Haven’t we all noticed those big old scared sumacs, some dead, some barely hanging on but living by a thread off the last vestige of living Cambrian layer?

So, I pulled up the old barbwire and sheep fence, finally dragged away the old farm implement, even the old mattress spring. So, the base of the sumac tree with the rub was finally cleaned out and looking good.

This signpost rub on a sumac tree attracted bucks and does alike in one of Oak Duke’s hunting areas, including this mature 8-pointer. (Photo by Oak Duke)

And then, in a moment of inspiration, a coup de gras, I quickly put together a mock scrape there, with multi-branch bouquet, from grape vines, buckthorn branches, a sumac branch, and an apple branch.

I hung a camera to chart the progress of my efforts… would bucks show up?

Wow, and how! Was I surprised! It became a buck magnet. They didn’t even wait for my scent to dissipate.

That evening a large 8-point buck with a disdainful look when glancing at the camera anointed the sumac rub first, pounding it and grinding his heavy antlers into the heartwood of the tree, shredding the bark in the way of their kind, eating the frayed bark, and smelling the result of his tine damage. Then periodically pausing to carefully lick his gouges in the tree.

For the following weeks, bucks of all sizes and sorts made their own pilgrimage
to the sumac rub. And consequently, the size of the scar grew and grew
to crazy, absurd proportions, at least in my world of normal buck rubs.

My camera chronicled the final stages of this year’s growth of the rub.
And opened a new window into the ritualized movements of bucks at this
signpost, reminding me of the ritualized movements of bucks at scrapes.

The Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) has velvety covered twigs, reminiscent of
a buck’s antlers in velvet, hence the name. This sumac is dioecious,
meaning there are both male and female
trees, and they produce different flowers, with males blooming between
May and June while females (which produce the large red cone-shaped
fruits) bloom from May through September.

Years ago I remember we experimented with sumac fruit, squeezing the berries
and making a delicious drink, reminiscent of cranberry juice.

Sumacs have always been considered as extremely hardy “trash” trees, growing
where burdocks, buckthorn, and honeysuckle live unattended, neglected.

Unattended by all…except for Mr. Whitetail.

Various species of saplings are in close proximity on the field edge, and all
completely ignored by bucks as adjacent rubbing sites.

This type of rub has been christened long ago by
whitetail experts as a signpost rub, differing from the more common
sporadic trail rubs, or field-edge rubs we notice.

As the 2022 rut peaked in early November under the waxing full moon, the
largest bucks on my trail cameras on that property, attended the sumac
rub, leaving their indelible deep marks and gouges on the white polished heartwood.

And more interesting to me, at the peak of the rut, new bucks, individuals that
had seemingly no interest in my mock scrapes hit the sumac rub.

I regret that I did not have a camera on the old sumac at the beginning
of the season, back in late September when the signpost rub was being
initialized (even through the old wire and trash.)

Also, interestingly, bucks only seemed to pay slight deference to my mock
scrape there, along with the licking branches. Evidently, a rub is a
different type of movie than a scrape.

Also, the Staghorn sumac signpost rub evidenced an amazing parade of does,
most frequently older, mature animals, carefully approaching, then
smelling and finally licking the shiny rub, sometimes from top (about
four feet up) to bottom (almost ground level.)

But I did not record one head-rub from does, as all the bucks, from spikes
to 10-pointers, did. But the does licked the tree at the rub site,
drinking in the buck pheromones there.

As sumacs colonize and send up other shoots and suckers, a few flank the
signpost sumac, and they are rubbed up too, not to the degree of the
senior tree, but quite respectably compared to most other forest and
field edge rubs.

I have carefully scoured nearly 20 acres surrounding the staghorn sumac
signpost rub and found nothing even remotely like it in that stretch of
whitetail cover.

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