I’ve been doing a bunch of scouting over the last few weeks and, like everyone else, I’m keying in on rubs and scrapes. This buck sign is not only the easiest to spot, it can also reveal something about the size of its maker and, when found in good concentrations, can prove that a deer is spending a good deal of his time in a particular spot.

But there’s a hitch. While finding a bonanza of buck sign in a certain spot is exciting, that immediate area may not be the best place to kill the deer that made it. In fact, it can be among the worst.

I was reminded of this while scouting in northern Missouri with my good friend and top-notch guide Ted Marum last week. Also along was Mitch Hagen, a veteran whitetail hunter and long-time regular on Hunter’s Specialties whitetail hunting videos. Both men are legitimate experts; guys who not only know big deer, but how to arrange close encounters.

The three of us were checking out an oxbow (sharp bend) in a creek bottom, a place Ted had on his radar after watching deer use it last fall. And, predictably, we found tremendous buck sign. Trails entered the oxbow like spokes into a wheel hub, and when we got close to the small creek itself, the place was bombed with scrapes and rubs. Instinctively, we all started looking for a tree to hang a stand.

We hadn’t been scratching our heads long before Ted announced “Setting up right on this sign is a bad idea. It’s so thick you know does are going to bed up in here, and we’d have to cut big shooting lanes, assuming we can find a tree. Plus, the wind here is going to be screwy–at least half the deer trying to walk in here are going to get you. We need to back off this spot and find something on the fringe where we’ve got the advantage.”

And with just a little extra work we found that spot. Ted finally hopped just across the small creek and found a tree that covered the majority of entry and exit trails sprouting from the hub. Even better, the direction of the trails and the shape of the topography made it good for three different wind directions. “I like this place,” Ted eventually declared. “Even if a buck goes into that hub in a way that you can’t shoot, you should be able to call him across the creek and right to this maple.” So we hung the set 75 yards from the nearest hot buck sign, and when we left we all agreed that we had the spot dialed.

That stand was the perfect reminder to me that great buck sign can actually steer you wrong. Of course it’s exciting to find. But sometimes that spoor is made where the deer–not you–have everything in their favor. When you find such a spot, remember to back off a bit, take a look at the bigger picture, and find the perfect ambush.