How to Decipher the Secrets of a Rub

How to find and decipher the hidden clues in a buck’s most prominent sign.

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Big bucks are tall and rub high up.Mark Raycroft

You know what a buck rub looks like. You know that bigger bucks tend to rub bigger trees, and you’re probably aware that a buck travels in the direction facing the rubbed side of a tree. But there’s more than this to be gleaned from a savaged sapling. The right rub, like the one shown here, can also tell you what time of day the buck made it, whether he has any beauty points—even how to put those antlers on your wall.

Time of Day

In hilly country, buck rubs that are visible when you’re facing uphill were likely made in the morning, as the animal traveled from his feeding grounds back to his lofty bedding area. Similarly, the ones you see when looking downhill were probably made in the evening. Wherever foraging areas are open and obvious, such as cropfields, the rubs you spot while facing into the woods are morning sign; their opposites, evening sign.

Big Tree, Big Buck

This well-known rule of thumb is valid. But remember, there are plenty of exceptions. A bruiser buck with a narrow tip-to-tip spread or other unusual rack configuration may not be able to rub a large-diameter tree in the usual way.

High Rub, Big Buck

Though it’s far less familiar to hunters, this is a good maxim, too. A mature buck is taller and stronger and therefore tends to rub farther off the ground. Still, it really applies only to fresh sign in fall; rubs made over packed snow can be high but not made by a big animal.

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Deep and off-center gouges can indicate sticker points and deep brow tines.Mark Raycroft

Nontypical Marks

Sticker points, split brow tines, and other odd pieces of antler bone commonly leave corresponding deep, off-center gouges on the tree trunk, branches, or adjacent trees.

Rack Width

Wherever you find rubs on multitrunked or closely clumped trees (as shown at left), look for scars or broken branches on adjacent saplings and shrubs. These can tell you how wide a buck’s rack is.

Tine Length

Don’t forget to examine the undersides of branches. A tall-tined buck may leave nicks or scraped bark on branches a foot or more above the rub.

Color-Coded Rubs

Keep an eye peeled for older sign, too. The dream setup is finding a mixture of rubs: light-colored new ones, gray-weathered older examples, and healing-over aged rubs, often blackish. Such a pattern reveals a perennial-favorite buck route. Even better, it suggests that the animal making them is by now mature. This is an ideal area to hunt.

Velvet on the Ground

Off-track ATV travel can complicate your search: A tree that’s been debarked by a buck may be hard to distinguish from one scraped by a four-wheeler’s grille. During preseason and early-season scouting, be sure to look for shed velvet beneath the rub. You won’t always find it—velvet dries quickly, and bucks sometimes eat it—but when you find some, it’s a sure sign of a buck.

TIP: A RACK REVEALED

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Look for nearby tracks and droppings.Donald M. Jones

Any time you find a rub, look for nearby tracks and droppings to help determine the age and size of the buck. And closely study every scrape you spot. A mature buck will sometimes bury his nose in a fresh scrape. As he does so, his antlers may create an imprint in the dirt, revealing their width and occasionally even the number of points they feature.—B.V.