In our local area, deer begin making rubs early, even before archery season begins. Hunters like to see rubs for the simple reason that it indicates that deer are in that area.
Does that mean that the hunter will see a buck deer when the season begins? The answer is absolutely not.
There are two groups of thought when it comes to these early season rubs. Some hunters believe deer make those early rubs to remove the velvet from their antlers and to sharpen the points on the antlers.
The second group of hunters will say that is simply hogwash. They believe the deer are simply beginning to mark their territory and that the velvet comes off naturally without any need to rub trees for its removal.
Having observed some pen-raised bucks, I have to agree with the second group of hunters who believe that rubs are simply the act of a buck marking territory. Those early rubs are somewhat insignificant anyway, since they have little to do with successfully harvesting a buck.
More important are the rubs that are made leading up to the rut. The rut is defined as the period when sexual excitement or heat of mammals like deer increases. The rut may last over a period of two months or more, but the peak of the rut is a period when a large number of does come into estrus, or become ready to breed, and that period may only last one to two weeks.
Successful hunters will look for what are often called pre-rut rubs that are made by bucks as the buck travels from feeding and bedding areas. Bucks make these rubs to let other deer know he is in the area. They are, in fact, marking the boundaries of their territory.
The size of the rubbed tree also leads to differences of opinion about the size of the buck making the rub. One season I hunted an area with two incredible rubs. Two large cedar trees had been rubbed almost a quarter of the way through. When I finally spotted the deer making the rubs, I was surprised to see that it was a rather small four-point, but he was rubbing that tree very aggressively.
What about scrapes and how do they improve a hunter’s chances to harvest a buck? Bucks most often make scrapes, but sometimes a doe will make a scrape. Scrapes are areas on the ground where bucks have pawed with their hoves cleaning away everything. The scrape can very in size from a couple feet to several feet in diameter.
Most scrapes will have a low hanging tree branch above the scrape that the deer will bite and rub leaving their scent. They will also urinate in the scrape, leaving additional scent.
The scrape may be made and never visited again. Sometimes a scrape will be used by more than one buck, and does will also use the scrape to leave scent. Early season scrapes and scrapes made by does have no importance to the hunter. What the hunter is looking for is what is often referred to as the primary pre-breeding scrape.
These scrapes are made and visited by bucks just prior to the breeding season or rut. Hunt those scrapes very hard prior to the rut. However, once the actual rut begins, the buck may never visit that scrape again.
When the rut begins, rubs and scrapes are unimportant. The bucks are now interested in breeding, and the buck and hunter need to turn their attention to the does and where they are located. Bucks will be following does, and daytime activity will be very high as long as does remain in estrus.
Rubs and scrapes are just two means by which deer communicate with other deer. Understanding rubs and scrapes has changed greatly over the years, and research continues to alter our understanding and long-held beliefs about these communication tools.
Between now and the beginning of the rut, hunters will do well to hunt fresh scapes before turning their attention to finding areas where does are located.