Scouting Buck Rubs and Buck Rub Locations

scouting buck rubs
Trophy hunters should look for big buck rubs on trees that bear the scars of having been used for several years. It may not have been the same buck each year (but then again it may have been). Such sign reveals a consistent travel pattern, one that has been in place for some time. You pretty well know the rub you've just found wasn't made randomly. If you can find a line of such rubs, you've struck pay dirt.

When you step into the deer woods you enter a giant storybook. Each piece of sign you encounter is another chapter in a story that is just waiting to unfold right before your eyes. This is an interactive story. The ending is up to you. To unravel the mysteries of buck movement and finally wrap your tag around a trophy buck, you have to learn how to read the chapters and tie them together.

Directional Nature of Buck Rubs

A buck rub can also give you some idea of the direction the buck was traveling when he made it. In many cases (remembering there are no absolutes in the whitetail world) a buck will rub the side of the tree from which he approaches. This tells you which direction he was traveling (probably), but it also gives clues about the time of the day the travel route was used. A buck rub that faces a bedding area was probably made in the evening, since the buck was heading out to feed or to look for does after spending the day in his bed. And, of course, a buck rub that faces away from a bedding area was likely made in the morning as he came back to bed.

Rub lines will tell you more than individual rubs. They reveal a travel route rather than just a location where a buck stopped once. The rubs shown in this photo (which was taken in early November) are dried out and brown: signs that they are old and were probably made at least a month earlier. Old sign reveals little about current buck travel patterns. Look for fresh rubs, and focus on rub lines. Hunter shown wearing Lost Camo.

Buck Rub Locations

First, you have to find the right sign. Before the rut breaks loose, the bucks are still sensitive to hunting pressure, so go easy. Too much scouting right now can educate a buck to the fact that you are hunting him. Smart old bucks pick this up quicker than younger bucks. If you're after a big one, make a special effort to keep the woods clean of human scent. The type of animal you tag may be a direct result of how carefully you scout! In other words, if your scouting is heavy-handed, you are likely to see only young bucks once you start sitting in your tree stands. 

I prefer to do as much in-season scouting as possible using an aerial photo while sitting at home on the couch - maybe watching a little early season football! I'll never spook a single buck that way, and neither will you. Learn as much as you can about the lay of the hunting land before setting foot on it. You should be able to predict where the travel routes and the rub lines will be with reasonable accuracy. Now, make a quick pass through the area, sticking to open fields as much as possible and only "stitching" your way into the cover occasionally checking for specific sign.

buck rubs
The location of a rub also tells much about when it was likely made and whether it worth considering as a part of your hunting strategy. Just like scrapes along field edges, rubs made in these locations were likely made at night and then likely they were made at random. It would be unwise to set up to hunt a rub along a field edge, nor is it ever a good overall plan to set up to hunt only a single rub found anywhere. What makes you think the buck will come back? Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

This isn't the time to study every piece of sign (save that for after the season), but rather it should be a single opportunity to prove or disprove your hunches. Stay off deer trails as much as possible, and steer clear of known bedding areas. Move slowly and take everything in so you don't have to come back for a second trip. Look for fresh buck rubs located back away from the field edges. Thick cover nearby is a bonus. Fresh rubs deep in the timber are the ones most likely to be visited by a good buck during daylight hours.

Buck rub hunting in late October requires that you hunt back in the timber. Some of these sanctuaries can be ticklish to hunt. It seems that bucks love to rub in the cool, damp earth found at the bottoms of draws and ravines. This is a great place to find sign, but a tough place to deer hunt. When the wind blows, it will swirl through broken country like eddy currents in a trout stream. Every deer in the area will know a man is nearby.

Shy away from these ravines and draws and focus instead on rubs on ridges and other locations where you can better control where your scent blows. You may have to hunt the rub area from a distance on routes you feel the buck may use as he goes to freshen them.

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