I don't particularly appreciate laziness during the winter months, so there are days you'll probably catch me wading in the snow. But as with everything, there is a time and a place.
Part of my winter routine is to make a list of places to check via e-scouting. Far from laziness, but it does include a recliner and coffee. Post-Season is the time to venture out, list in hand, and gain a few more hunting sites.
Rubs are one of my favorite deer signs to find and to hunt. They may seem unpredictable, and maybe that's true in some circumstances. However, if you know when and why a buck is creating a rub, you'll appreciate the correct time to target that location.
Here's what you'll need to comprehend when decoding rubs:
What do we know about hunting in the early season? We know that bucks follow more predictable patterns. Bed-to-feed and the reverse is a staple routine for deer. Bucks tend to stay close to the security of their bed. Typically, they only leave that security in legal light's first or last minutes.
Identify the following rubs in the post-season to get yourself on track to catch up to that October behemoth.
- Cluster Rubs
Follow deer sign into tight cover. You've struck gold when you come upon an explosion of rubs. This location has a high likelihood to be a buck's inner bedroom. The bed won't be far, so take a few minutes to confirm.
- Signpost Rubs
Bucks that rule the roost will frequently leave their mark on robust trees on the outer edges of their core area. Signpost rubs often occur on the same tree every year. However, use caution in your decryption: a rub should have an aggressive appearance. If it doesn't, it may be a communal rub.
- Community Rubs
These rubs, commonly found in social gathering areas, may mimic signpost rubs. They usually have a much less aggressive look to them. Their bark will not be as shredded. Generally, the rub's tree trunk will be much smoother.
Evergreens are the tree of choice for community rubs, with cedars being a favorite variety. Even small bucks will rub large evergreens.
Pre-rut begins at the time most believe to be a lull period. Almost like clockwork, it starts in the middle of October and continues through the first few days of November. Rubs created during this timeframe will fall under one of these categories:
- Staging Rubs
Like cluster rubs, staging rubs will exhibit an "explosive" grouping. The difference is that these rubs will directly correlate to food. There will often be adjacent bedding, but the clusters will be outside the heavy cover.
Leftover white oak acorns or newly favored red oak acorns are ideal for pre-rut staging areas. Add some variety of berry, and you may have a honey-hole.
- Entry and Exit Rubs
Bucks have begun cruising during the pre-rut, and scent checking for bedding is part of a buck's daily routine. Rubs at the junction of entry and exit trails, leading into the bedding, emerge during this phase of the season. Identify them during your post-season scouting, then carefully watch for their development during the hunting season.
The rut needs no introduction. It's the GO Time of the whitetail deer season. Most hunting strategies revolve around the long-winded chases that happen. Rubs that appear along these lines have the following characteristics:
- Rub Lines
Rub lines are the most huntable type of rub. Unless something changes about the terrain they originated, they will likely re-occur. These rubs generally begin to open up around the tail end of the pre-rut. It's almost as if bucks took the time to blaze a trail for their future back and forth antics.
- Patterned Rubs
Bucks often behave unpredictably during the rut. Evidence suggests that many home-body bucks head off to neighboring areas. Although bucks are known to display this behavior, it's not always the case.
In 2019, I patterned a buck by his rubs. I initially discovered his signature during a post-season scouting mission. His rubs were made on isolated laurel trees about 5 inches in diameter. The buck had rubbed the trees from knee to chest height, and they all had a streak on the left side.
On November 14th, 75 yards from his preferred bedding, I finally ran into that buck. A doe was eluding a button buck by utilizing a trail that passed his bed. The buck I was looking for was in hot pursuit. Distracted, he made his way into bow range.
To my distaste, when I turned to shoot that deer, my tree-stand squeaked. The buck ignored the noise, but the stand creaked a second time causing him to spook. Just like that, a 140-inch buck fled the scene before I could blink.
Disappointment aside, at least I had the assurance that my scouting efforts were on point and that he had remained in the same general area.
Size matters, or does it? Small rubs can hold meaning as well. Maybe that buck is timid. Or is that baby sapling torn to bits?
There's a possibility that a giant is letting out pent-up tension, so avoid immediately writing off minor rubs!
Add to your evidence. Is there a large track or bed nearby? If so, you'll want to consider the idea that your monster prefers small trees.
After spending days collecting intel, outline the phases during which different rubs emerge. Scrutinize the appearance of the rubs, then plan to hunt them accordingly. A priceless tip is to always decipher if the rub shavings are on top or under fallen leaves, this gives you a rough timeline of the event. Finally, draw educated conclusions about when they will materialize.
Rubs come at a premium value, but only to a hunter who understands what they've found. Anyone can read about it. While reading is a good start, it can't replace on-foot experience.
Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hat Team Member