Rut Reporter Will Brantley of Murray, Kentucky, knows the region well. He spends 40 to 50 days each season in the Mid-South whitetail woods. Brantley shot his first deer at age 10 with a sidelock muzzleloader. States covered: KY, TN, WV, VA, NC.

Oct. 26: It was a cool, still morning in late October. I was 16 or 17, and still hunting with a bow on a neighbor’s farm. I eased toward the crest of small white oak hillside and stopped to listen–the sound I heard just the other side of the rise was slow, steady grinding. The thought of it being a deer was actually far from my mind–so, naive, eager kid that I was, I stepped over the rise. A beautiful 8-pointer stood 20 yards away, thrashing a sapling with his antlers. The flexing tree and blur of tines captured my attention just long enough to distract me from what would’ve been an easy bow shot. The buck picked me out, threw his tail up and bounded away.

Really, I shared that story not to lament on letting that buck get away, but to comment on the tree he was rubbing. It was a small tree of some sort (I can‚t remember what and had I seen the rub alone after the fact, I would have likely assumed it was from a smaller buck, based on the tree’s diameter. I would’ve been wrong.

Since then, I’ve made it a point not to discount many rubs that I find when scouting. Sure, I get most excited about heavy rubs on fence-post-sized trunks–but I pay close attention to rubs on smaller trees, too. I like to examine such a rub carefully, well up the tree’s trunk. Long tines will usually leave nicks and gouges on the tree’s trunk several feet off the ground. Basket racks won’t.

Plus, rubs of any size are just cool–a really fresh one will still be wet with sap and will have a pile of soft bark shavings at the tree’s base. They tell you which direction a buck was going at the time–and several of them in a line reveal an area where a buck regularly travels.

I found the rub in this video while scouting last weekend. It was on a tall, skinny cedar tree, and the bark had been stripped clean several feet up the trunk. I’ll never know what kind of buck left it, of course, but I suspect he was a nice one.