The whitetail’s most visible rut-time signs also have spawned deep-rooted myths. Count, if you can, how many times you’ve heard someone say, “Small rubs always equal small deer. You have to find big rubs to find big deer.” What’s the count? Probably dozens, right? Unfortunately, that blanket statement is yet another whitetail myth.
Although big rubs are a good indicator that a big deer is roaming the countryside, sign alone does not indicate if, or how many, big deer frequent a property. Well-developed yearlings and average-sized 2-year-old bucks can leave calf-sized rubs. These rubs, however, are usually sparse. Rub lines that feature consistently large rubs are good indicators you’re dealing with a mature buck.
A mature big-woods buck I killed 10 years ago made nothing but small, sapling-sized rubs across his home territory. I knew the buck was there, and, frankly, was surprised by the lack of sign. I didn’t realize why until after I killed him. He weighed 245 pounds on the hoof and sported a Pope-and-Young-class rack, but his beam tips curved so far inward that they nearly touched. When he rubbed, he either had to choose a 2-inch sapling, or rub the trees with the sides of his rack.
Rubs are certainly exciting to a deer hunter, but they’re highly unreliable for forecasting buck movement … unless concentrated in a well-defined line in a classic travel corridor. Rubs basically tell you where a buck has been, and close study can reveal what direction he was traveling when he made them. When hunting, let rubs confirm you’ve selected a good piece of terrain. Don’t make the mistake of merely placing a stand within shooting distance of a rub or two. Instead, dissect the area and key off of trails, corners and areas where dense cover overlaps with more open areas.