Rubs: The Whitetail’s Communication Hub

rubzHumans learn by seeing. Deer do, too. When a hunter comes upon a big rub, his heart skips a beat. When a whitetail buck encounters a rub of any size, it has different thoughts.

Our excitement has to do with hunting possibilities. A buck’s has to do with identifying who made the rub, because their world is all about competition.

When a buck makes a rub, it deposits liberal amounts of scent from its nasal, preorbital and forehead gland on the sapling or tree. The number of rubs a buck makes in its home range depends on several factors, such as how sexually active it is, the number of adult does in its core area and the number of bucks in its home range (especially 2½-plus-year-old bucks). Simply, scent drives a buck, and the more scent they leave in their travels, the greater the possibility for an intense rut.

Each deer has its own distinct odor, which is identifiable to other deer living in its core area. So when a buck makes a rub, other bucks and does can identify which buck made the rub by the scent left on the rub. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for several bucks to work the same rub within hours of each other to share their identity and dominance.

Big Rubs Come From Big Bucks

Few things get a hunter more excited than seeing a huge rub on a tree more than 4 inches in diameter. In more than 90 percent of the cases, such rubs are made by a mature buck. It is extremely rare to see a yearling buck rubbing a tree more than 4 inches in diameter. Given a choice, yearling bucks make rubs on saplings and trees smaller than 2 inches in diameter, with a heavy preference to trees less than 1 inch in diameter.

Mature bucks rub to leave scent on anything from pencil-sized saplings to 1-foot-diameter trees. Some of the rubs mature bucks make on bigger trees will develop into what are called traditional sign-post rubs. These rubs are normally 4-plus inches in diameter (at waist level) along habitat edges and trails. They are worked by bucks year after year, usually until the tree dies from being rubbed so much.

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