14 Oct Read A Rub!
Hunters love to get “Rubbed” the right way. I am talking about Buck or Bull rubs. Most hunters don’t really know what the rubs are telling them. Here are some tips on how to “Read a Rub.”
Bucks and Bulls rub trees with their antlers for a variety of reasons. Old timers used to say that rubs were made by deer and elk to scratch off the itchy velvet at the end of the summer. Antler bone has no nerves, so there is no sensation at all to the deer. The shedding of velvet is controlled by the length of days getting shorter. When the velvet comes off, the antler stops growing.
Rubs are signposts and signals to other critters. It suggests that, “This is my bedroom, or this is where I live or maybe I am one big buck and stay away from me”. The rub is made when a deer presses their antler bases into a tree and lean into the trunk. They raise and lower their antlers and remove the bark. This leaves sign and scent on the tree. A scrape occurs when a deer scrapes away the leaves or grass and leaves scent there as well. You will often find these signposts in the same area.
Bucks and Bulls close their eyes for protection when making a rub. If you walk up on a critter actively making a rub, move closer and get ready to shoot. I have talked to several hunters that were able to make a “chip shot” using this knowledge.
I once had a huge bull walking straight at me. The wind was in my favor and I was in front of cover that broke up my presence. He began rubbing the tree and I walked within 20 yards and went to full draw. He would have to go right, left, or present a head-on shot. The bull rubbed the tree for a long time and the bow was getting tough to hold at full draw. Finally, the bull made a quick turn and walked straight away. Oh well, it was a good plan. I chased that bull all day without getting a clean and ethical shot.
Make a detailed map of the area you are planning to hunt. Place all of your observations onto the map so you can see the patterns emerge. If you don’t see a pattern at first, you need more data. Deer sign identifies patterns regarding where a critter beds, feeds, waters, mates, loafs, etc. Knowing what type of sign you are looking at will help you to plan where and when you will hunt. Hang your map on the wall and update it every time you visit the area. This will help you to develop a successful strategy for your hunt.
Not all bucks or bulls are created equal. The size and shape of antler is about food, age, and genetics. When hunting a specific antlered beast, look for unique features. Not all deer rub all kinds of trees. Certain deer prefer pine trees, or a tree along an edge, or a tree of a certain size. The height or intensity of a rub can tell you what kind of deer was there.
Elk rubs are more about where a bull was, than where he will be. When you find a lot of elk rubs at a certain altitude or location, it will show you areas where they are likely to be.
Deer rubs show more deliberate patterns. A “Rut Run” is where you find a looping trail that a buck has created to intercept does for mating. Throw in the other sign characteristics and now you can set up an ambush. Your map and scouting trips will identify these pathways.
Elk take their cows with them in a herd. Their rubs are signals to keep other bulls away and serve as “no trespassing “signs. A “Rage Rub” is a rub where a buck or bull destroys a tree, grass, or bush to tell other males to back off. It is easier and less risky for a deer to fight a tree than another critter. Elk rubs are always more random and the bulls rarely return to the same spot. Older rubs do at least tell you where the bulls tend to be if they are in the neighborhood.
The elk woods are huge areas and sometimes it is hard to find where the elk are. In a deer woods, the ranges are smaller and more compacted due to development, food crops, or habitat. There are also more deer than elk. Deer only need 3 acres of space to spend their life. An elk needs miles of terrain to survive the more harsh conditions and life’s pressures.
Bucks and bulls don’t just rub trees. I have found rubs on fence posts, telephone poles, and rocks. Each rub has a story to tell about a behavior, size, or characteristic unique to each critter. It is kind of like being a CSI investigator. Look for the evidence and see what it is telling you.
You can also create your own “crime scene”. Use real antler and scents to scratch up trees in your hunting area. Less is more when doing this. Make sure to not kill all of the landowner’s trees. Wear rubber gloves and reduce your scent trail when creating a mock rub and scrape. Duplicate what you see. I have actually moved an entire small tree or shoveled a scrape into the area I was setting up in. This will help to bring the deer closer to where your stand has to be.
Sometimes you will find a rub site where the tree is uprooted and busted into pieces. I am pretty sure that this “Buck-o Saurus” is in the neighborhood. I would definitely remember this spot for future hunts. Big critters rub bigger trees and tear off more bark than smaller critters. Higher rubs come from taller or bigger bucks or bulls. Large brow tines scrape away more bark than no brow tines. Non-typical antlers create unusual rubs.
Be a student of the sport by constantly adapting to each new opportunity. Take advantage of technology and seminars presented by the “experts”. The more information we can acquire, the better our choices will be. Never stop learning. Hunting is a year round sport. We are only allowed to harvest a critter at certain times but planning and preparation must be continuous. Stay safe and enjoy the hunt!