Without a doubt, rubs are the king of deer sign and many hunters actively look for rubs and rub lines while scouting and hunting whitetails.
Most bucks rubs are made at night, but that doesn’t mean these rut-time signposts aren’t great places to hang a stand and ambush a buck. And, hunting rubs is better than standing vigil over active scrapes.
Do you agree? I hope so, because those are the overwhelming opinions of avid Deer & Deer Hunting readers who completed our comprehensive survey on hunting tactics near rub-lines and scrape-lines. Although more than 74 percent of the survey respondents said they believe most rubs are made under the cover of darkness, 59 percent said they have killed at least one buck that was approaching a rub, at a rub or leaving a rub. Furthermore, nearly 95 percent of the readers said they actively hunt over or near rubs at some point during deer season.
The comprehensive survey was completed by 517 readers. The survey revealed much about modern hunters and how they approach the rut. It also revealed contrasting opinions on rub-hunting and scrape-hunting. Before the survey, many people, including the D&DH staff, assumed most hunters viewed rubs and scrapes with equal enthusiasm or disdain.
Well, the readers proved us all wrong.
Without a doubt, rubs are the king of deer sign. Nearly 98 percent of the respondents said they actively look for rubs and rub lines while scouting and hunting whitetails. Fewer hunters — 94 percent — said they look for scrapes.
What are the best places to look for rubs and rub lines? The answers here were split, but the overwhelming favorite was travel corridors and deer crossings. More than 69 percent of the respondents pinpointed these areas as prime places to find rubs (Figure 1, below). Other good areas include feeding areas inside the woods, 35 percent; near bedding areas, 44 percent; inside bedding areas, 41 percent; and along man-made trails and woodland roads, 16 percent.
D&DH readers find most rubs and rub lines along edge cover, 75 percent; and ledges and shelves within forests, 56 percent. Other habitat features that respondents associate with rubs include creeks and river bottoms, 37.9 percent; slopes and hillsides, 25.9 percent; and flat areas, 23 percent. The worst areas readers find rubs include field points, 4.6 percent; gullies, 5.4 percent; and field edges, 7.7 percent. Marginal habitat for finding rubs include swamps, marshes and hilltops.
These findings contrast sharply with an earlier D&DH survey in which we asked hunters their opinions on scrapes and scrape-hunting. In that survey, more than 76 percent of the respondents said edge cover is an ideal habitat feature for finding scrapes, while 69 percent said field edges are also good places to find scrapes and scrape lines.
Jiving with Science
Although there were some discrepancies, the survey results nearly mirrored a scientific research project on rubs that was previously published in D&DH. Using a survey designed by deer researcher Grant Woods, graduate student Bryan Kinkel found that rub distributions were greatly affected by various types of edge cover. That influence, however, only extended about 10 meters. Rub densities were basically the same in areas 10 meters past an edge boundary.
Kinkel’s rub survey revealed that edge types producing the strongest effect on rub distribution and densities were not the classic “hard edges,” such as field edges or powerline right-of- ways. The best producers were “soft” edges, such as the subtle changes in forest or cover type, especially where mature forests met younger growth.
According to that research project, the areas receiving the highest rub densities were ridgelines, 4.7 rubs per acre; points, 4.5; and valleys, 3.7. Hillsides — listed as a poor choice by D&DH survey respondents — had a density of 1.9 rubs per acre in the earlier study.
Although rubs have certain appeal, readers seemed split as to which method — rub-hunting or scrape-hunting — is most effective. Exactly 59 percent of the readers said they have killed at least one buck that was approaching a rub, at a rub or leaving a rub. In fact, of all the successful rub-hunters, the average hunter killed 1.8 bucks in this fashion during his or her lifetime. Interestingly, many more hunters — 67.7 percent — reported killing at least one buck that was approaching a scrape, at a scrape or leaving a scrape.
However, these instances appear to be more coincidental, because of the average number of bucks killed near scrapes was less, 1.6 bucks in a lifetime, yet the overall success ratio was nearly 10 percentage points higher than for rub-hunters.
In other words, hunters who experienced success while hunting near scrapes found the tactic much more difficult than hunting near rubs and rub lines.
Mornings and evenings are the best times to hunt rubs and rub lines, according to D&DH readers. Although similar results were posted during the earlier scrape survey, readers indicated rub-hunting is a bit more flexible.
For example, 31.7 percent of the readers said dawn to 8 a.m. is the best time period to ambush a buck near a rub. More than 24 percent said the best time period was from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., while nearly 30 percent said 5 p.m. to dark was the best time. Conversely, 4.4 percent indicated 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. was the best period, and 9.4 percent listed 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. as the best period.
The scrape survey was more pronounced. More than 34 percent of those respondents listed the dawn-to- 8-a.m. period as best, while more than 36 percent listed the 5-p.m.- to-dark period as best. Only 2.3 percent said they preferred the period from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and only 9 percent liked the period from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In true Stump Sitter fashion, the survey respondents were astute woodsmen. These hunters not only hunt hard, they pay attention when they’re in the woods.
For example, the average hunter reported seeing mature bucks work rubs at least three times over the past three hunting seasons. What’s more, they observed an average of 3.6 yearling buck encounters. Further, 35 percent of the respondents said they saw does/fawns sniff or lick a rub within the past year.
Doe activity at rubs was best in the mornings. Of the antlerless deer they observe near rubs, readers said 60 percent of these visits occur between dawn and 11 a.m., with the best period running from dawn to 8 a.m., 32 percent.
Readers also reported that antlerless deer activity is much greater throughout the day when compared to buck activity. After studying their hunting logs, readers reported seeing adult does sniff and lick rubs an average of 2.2 times per season.
When to Hunt
Regional differences were not well represented in the survey results. The vast majority of respondents live and hunt in the Midwest and East, and few of those filling out the survey hunted Southern locales. As a result, the best calendar times to hunt rubs and rub lines was greatly skewed toward Northern hunters.
Still, according to the respondents, the pre-rut was the best time to waylay a buck at or near a rub. More than 43 percent of the respondents said they prefer to hunt Oct. 16 to 31 (Figure 2). The next best periods were Oct. 1 to 15, 16 percent; and Nov. 1 to 10, 16 percent.
Seven percent said they preferred the period running from Nov. 11 to 20. These results coincide with the expert advice of rub-hunting expert Greg Miller.
“The pre-rut is the best time for rub-line hunting,” Miller writes in his book, Rub- Line Secrets. “At no other time do bucks relate so strongly to their rubs. This time period occurs about 10 days before the first does enter estrus. Fresh rubs appear almost daily.”
Although scrapes can attract deer and influence their behavior, rubs are a much more effective signpost for deer. As noted by such experts as John J. Ozoga, bucks make rubs to show dominance. That’s why mature bucks usually make the most and biggest rubs each season.
With these things in mind, hunters are best served to key in on rubs clustered near well-defined travel routes and abundant food sources. In this regard, rubs serve as billboards that say, “place your stand here.”
If anything, buck rubs give hunters a place to start. From there, it’s up to the individual hunter to tweak his or her tactics as the hunts unfold.
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