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For mean hunters, that first rub or scrape they spot is a sure sign they are in the right spot to bag a big buck. Stands and blinds will be set based on what they have seen, and dreams of a successful hunt will hinge on it being correct. But what do rubs and scrapes really mean? How important are they to hunting? Keep reading, and we will tell you everything you need to know about rubs and scrapes. This will help you recognize when and when not to trust them.
Deer have a highly developed and very acute sense of smell. They also possess a large number of scent glands. By combining these with rubs or scrapes, they can communicate with any other deer inhabiting the same range. Do you know how to speak deer?
Rubs are created when bucks rake their antlers against trees, bushes, and saplings. In the process, they also rub their forehead scents glands on the surface, creating a billboard for other deer to see and smell. Where or on what type of material the deer rubs vary depending on what is available.
Fresh rubs can be identified by newly shaved barks, clean exposed interior wood, and a sticky sap-covered surface. Older scrapes will gradually heal as the season progresses. By the following season, they will look like a scar on the surface.
Scrapes are more complex than rubs and can include many parts. First, the deer will scrape at the ground to create a bare spot in the earth. While doing so, they also deposit scent from the interdigital gland. Sometimes they will also urinate on the site, allowing the urine to run down a leg to deposit urine and tarsal gland scent. Finally, many deer will also chew on an overhanging limb. If so, they will also rub their forehead and eye glands on the limb, leaving even more scent.
Fresh scrapes will have a dirt patch free of leaf litter, show recently disturbed earth, and may smell of dirt and one or more deer scents.
Rubs and scrapes are indicators that deer are in the area. Contrary to what many hunters believe, they are not necessarily a sign of where bucks might be when you hunt. Some are made and forgotten about. Others will be visited frequently or invite other deer to the same area. Knowing how and when each can benefit you is the key to a successful hunt.
The first thing to consider is freshness, especially regarding scrapes. If the site is days or weeks old and shows no return activity, there may be better places to set up.
Next, consider numbers – how many scrapes or rubs are in the same area? More is better and indicates a higher level of deer activity.
Third, consider where they are going. Both rubs and scrapes can indicate a deer's direction of travel, and this can help you select the best stand location.
Finally, what time of the season is it as activity levels around rubs and scrapes will change with the rut cycle.
A single buck may make several rubs in a cluster or even line as they travel its territory. Most rubs are made by mature bucks, but do not let the size of the rub fool you. Although larger antlers tend to make more extensive rubs, it depends on what they rub against.
If looking at the rub line, you can determine the travel direction by looking at what side the rubs occur on. Generally speaking, a deer will create rubs as they travel, with the rub facing the direction they came from. If you set up your stand facing the rub, deer will likely approach from behind you and vice versa.
Unfortunately, the same buck is unlikely to return to a rub once made. On the plus side, they can indicate a traveled area and often cause other deer to come to investigate. Bucks also create rubs throughout the breeding season, even during the rut, so watch every time you travel to or from your stand.
Fresh scrapes indicate deer presence and travel corridors, especially if you can locate a scrape line. They are prone to repeat visits by the same deer and likely to attract other deer -both bucks and does.
Unfortunately, the majority of scrapes are made and visited during darkness. So, although they indicate deer activity and travel areas, they do not necessarily mean where deer will be during hunting hours.
The position of a scrape itself does not indicate the direction of travel. However, a scrape may help you locate the deer trail. Look for several scrapes in a line and then try to find a path connecting them or nearby. To determine the direction of travel, you will need to search for rubs, tracks, etc.
Bucks also stop or significantly reduce scrape activity as the rut progresses. Most scrapes will be made pre-rut. As the rut approaches, bucks will stop and only resume once the primary rut has passed—good indicators for early and late-season hunters, not so much for rut hunters.
Scrapes are your best bet for locating and tagging deer. Not only is it more likely a mature buck will revisit a scrape site it is also more likely to attract other deer. However, only some scrapes are hotspots.
1. Look for overhanging licking limbs. Bucks are more likely to revisit a perfect scrape that includes a pawed-out section of earth and an overhanging licking stick. This is also where other deer are most likely to deposit their scent as they visit.
2. Focus on cover or food. As the rut approaches, deer will stay close to thick cover and food sources. If hunting scrapes, look for those bordering open areas or just inside the tree line. The closer to a food source, the more likely they will be revisited.
3. Grunts and calls. The use of grunts and calls during the pre-rut are a good strategy to draw buck to scrapes, as they will investigate against possible intruders. As the rut progresses doe will also respond to calls, especially those of fawns.
4. Scent. Masking your own scent is essential when hunting any where near scrapes. Let the deer focus on each other and not you.
In the end rubs and scrapes are another tool in tracking and bagging your next deer. By themselves they are unlikely to lead to success, but paired with scouting and good hunting techniques they can be the missing part to the puzzle.
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