How to Read a Rub and Find a Buck Fast

Rubs are the key. Bucks are making them in all of their highest-traffic areas this month. Locate rubs now, and … Continued

Rubs are the key. Bucks are making them in all of their highest-traffic areas this month. Locate rubs now, and everything else—what your buck eats, where he sleeps, and how he travels between those spots—falls into place. But the clock is ticking, which means you need to focus your effort in the right spots. The results of a decade-long rub study, presented at the 2012 QDMA National Convention in August, can help you do just that.

The Research
Wildlife biologist and land consultant Dr. Bryan Kinkel conducted the study on a 488-acre Tennessee property, where he spent 10 years mapping the locations of rubs in relation to terrain and vegetation features. Kinkel’s study area was classic ridge-and-valley deer habitat. First, he examined the frequency of rubs in relation to habitat edges.

Whitetails being well-known edge creatures, it’s no surprise that Kinkel documented more rubs along “hard edges” than in areas where no discernible edge existed. What is notable, however, is how tight to the edge most rubs occurred. Kinkel recorded an average of nearly 28 rubs per acre within 5 meters of a habitat edge. Between 5 and 10 meters from the edge, the number dropped to 17 per acre. Beyond 10 meters, rub frequency plummeted to less than eight per acre.

Kinkel also took terrain features into account, classifying his property into a handful of simple types: ridges, valleys, hillsides, primary points (the end of a long ridge), and secondary points (smaller spurs off a main ridge). While Kinkel found rubs in all terrain categories, rub frequency on secondary points and wooded valleys was an eye-opening 250 to 300 times higher than on any of the other terrain features.

Reading Rubs
These findings can certainly help you find rubs quickly. But just because an area is peppered with rubs doesn’t mean it’s the best spot to ambush a buck. For example, Kinkel found that rub frequency was significantly higher in valley bottoms, an observation that matches my experience; however, fickle winds make this terrain feature notoriously tough to hunt. Consider the case of one timbered valley that I hunt: Bucks rub like mad on the willow saplings and cedars at the head of the hollow, where adjoining hills create a hunter’s nightmare of shifting air currents. But many of the bucks that rub here walk straight down the valley to where the terrain flattens and broadens enough for a steady wind. If I can locate just one or two good rubs there to connect to the others, I’ve got a high-odds ambush.

Back Off
Secondary points—another of Kinkel’s high-frequency rub sites—make poor ambush setups, too. First, they are typically situated lower than the main ridge, so there will be tricky currents. Second, bucks love to bed on these smaller, out-of-the-way points. Better to back off and set up where the wind is more predictable and where you won’t bump bedded deer. Look for a thinner line of rubs extending away from the main cluster at the point. It’s apt to lead either down the valley (as above) or to the main ridge—both places where you can find a steady wind.

Finally, Kinkel’s “hard edge” rubs can lead you astray, too, simply because such edges are likely to involve wide open cover—such as a feed field—that big bucks rarely visit during shooting hours. So remember this: Hard edges are great places to find rubs; soft edges are great places to kill bucks. To find rubs fast, by all means walk the edge of a field, food plot, or clear-cut. But once you do, look more closely for a soft edge—an overgrown logging road, old fence, stone wall, creek, or swale—winding through the woods toward bedding cover. If you see a good rub here, set up. Then get ready to meet its maker.