Bucks make tons of rubs a year, and that's the rub. There are so many, it's hard to translate the information into actionable hunting data you can use. This may help you.

Reading a Rub

Rubs are tricky deer signs to figure out. But with some knowledge of deer behavior, a rub can tell you a lot about deer.

Deer make rubs to remove the velvet from their antlers, release their aggression as testosterone levels rise, and mark their territory before and during the rut. Below are some tips for what to look for when scouting rubs, as well as what to ignore.

Types of Rubs

Ignore a single rub in the area. Deer will rub a tree during the early season because they simply feel like it or a strand of velvet is hanging in their face. Focus not only on areas that have a concentration of rubs, but areas that show fresh rubs from this year and old rubs from past seasons. You will likely find these shredded zones around bedding areas and food sources.

If you find that, it tells you a buck – maybe not the same buck – has been living there for some time. It has the habitat to make big bucks feel safe if they are using it year after year. Those are the right rubs to set up a hunting blind around this time of year.

Don’t set up your blind near the bedding area. Instead, set up an elevated blind in the middle of the food source and within shooting range of the rub activity there. Or, find rubs on well-used travel trails connecting the food source and bedding area and set up your deer hunting blind there.

Size of Rubs = Size of Deer?

deer rub on tree

We’re cautious to place generalizations on how the size of a rub correlates to the size of the deer that made it. We’ve seen young bucks shred a 4-inch tree trunk pretty well, and big bucks wreck saplings and smaller trees. In most cases it’s safe to assume a deep, gouging rub on a tree that is 5-inches or more in diameter was made by a mature buck. Still, there are other clues that tell you more about the size of the deer that made the rub.

Another factor in the equation is time of year. Older bucks tend to make rubs earlier than younger bucks. Wildlife biologist and researcher John Ozoga, wrote this in an article:

“Mature dominant bucks begin marking their territory soon after losing velvet and continue marking until they cast their antlers. By comparison, yearlings and 2 1/2-year-old bucks have little status or rank to advertise. They enter rutting condition later than older males. Even when there are no mature bucks around, yearlings make only about half as many total rubs as prime-age whitetails. Consequently, serious signpost rubbing in September is almost always evidence of a big buck’s presence.”

Finally, consider the height of the rub. Higher rub equals a bigger deer. A mature buck is taller and stronger and will leave his mark higher on a tree. If you see a case where the scar of an old rub is below or overlapping a fresh rub, chances are that deer has used the same tree to mark his territory in past seasons and is maturing.

For the folks who are still practicing the fine art of scouting bucks by sign rather than trail cameras, rubs are a great source of information. This September, look for fresh, clustered rubs around food sources, bedding areas (you should really hold off on scouting bedding areas until the end of the season but if you have an idea of where the deer are bedded, chance are there is a mass of rubs there) and trails with rub lines connecting the two. Use this scouting information to plan your hunt strategy and you will see deer in the early season.

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