There is something about finding a buck rub in the woods that gets a hunters imagination running wild. You may wonder how big the buck might be or visualize what he might have for antlers. It’s a though there is a mystery to be solved. Most hunters look at rubs and only see them as proof that a buck is in the area, but buck rubs can tell you a lot if you take the time to study them. I think that rubs are important enough that I devoted a whole chapter to them in my book, Hunting Big Woods Bucks. I’ve been studying rubs for over forty years and have drawn my own conclusions as to why, where, when, and how a buck makes a rub. My opinions are not scientific, just plain old logical experience. In this article I’ll give you a brief overview of what I believe to be the purpose of a rub.
What is a "rub"
First of all a rub is made when a buck removes the bark from a tree with his antlers. It is usually done with the base of his antlers but is also done with the beams and points. Rubs are made at different times and for different reasons. A buck will begin to rub his antlers as soon as the velvet falls off from them. These rubs will be made in September and these can be easily identified. By hunting season these rubs will be faded and have mildew spots on them. This is because they were made when it was warm enough to cause the sap to mold. Bucks do not make many of these rubs and they do not tell us much other than a buck is in the area. Once the velvet has been shed and antlers polished, a buck will rub very little until the pre-rut period which is a few weeks before the rut.
The three different types of rubs: common, hookings, and signpost rubs
I believe that there are basically three types or rubs and each type can tell us something about the buck that made them. The types are: common rubs, hookings, and signpost rubs.
The first is the common rub and it is just that, the most common ones that you will find in the woods. They may be made on any kind of tree but I have found that some bucks prefer certain kinds of trees. These rubs are made randomly throughout a buck’s territory. I think bucks make these rubs as a way to practice there fighting or sparring ability as well as to strengthen their neck muscles. Kind of like a boxer training and working out. These rubs will tell you something if you take the time to study them. The first thing they tell you is the direction the buck is traveling. The rub will be made in the direction that the buck is traveling. If there are gouges into the wood of the tree, the buck has points around his antler burrs. Rubs are made at different heights from the ground. These things are all important because they can help you figure out a buck’s territory. If you are seeing rubs that look the same and are a mile of more apart, they could be made by the same buck. Many a times after I have shot a good buck, a certain kind of rub has disappeared from a big area around it.
Hooking are a kind of rub, but are made mostly by the buck thrashing his antlers in the brush. They may also be made when a buck is rubbing a small piece of brush with his burr and his tines are breaking and scratching the limbs above. Hookings are usually made by a frustrated or excited buck, during the rut. I’ve followed bucks while they were with doe’s that have made hooking after hooking. I’ve also tracked bucks that were searching for doe’s make hookings, probably out of frustration of not being with a doe in heat. If you’re following a buck that is making hookings, there is a good chance of catching him off guard.
The last and most important type of rub is the signpost rub. The signpost rub is really the key to a buck’s territory. A signpost rub is more of a scent communication point than a place to just rub. Sometimes there will be a signpost rub with several other common rubs around it. The signpost is where a buck takes the time to deposit scent from his forehead glands and mark his territory. When buck’s territories overlap, they may use the same tree for a signpost of they may use another one nearby.
When a buck travels throughout his territory he may check all of his signposts. The buck may not rub it every time but he will check the scent and may add more. Bucks will go to these signposts even in the summer when their antlers are in velvet and carefully place some scent there. If you look closely at a signpost even when the bark is not visibly rubbed, and you may find subtle marks from his forehead. These rubs are sometimes used by generations of bucks as the yearling bucks learn the territory by following the older ones. I’ve found signpost rubs that have been used for fifty years or more. The signpost rub is the key to unlocking the secrets of the Big Woods Buck. If you can find a signpost rub in your hunting area, you will have found a key to the buck movement there. If you really take the time to study the rubs you find, it will open up a whole new dimension to your hunting.
Unlock the secrets of tracking and still-hunting big woods whitetail bucks with Hal's books: Hunting Big Woods Bucks, and Tracking Whitetail Bucks: Stories from the Trail in the Big Woods