How To Read Buck Rubs

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A buck rub is basically a bucks declaration! It’s the first step in getting your deer. But how do you read a buck rub, and what else does it tell us? Bucks are letting other deer know that this is his territory. He also wants to attract does by leaving his scent and pheromones behind. How can you use this information? Read on to find out more.

Buck rubs are visual and olfactory (chemical) signals. A good hunter can use these signs to locate game before he even sees them. The best way to learn how to interpret a buck rub is to study one yourself or watch someone who knows their business.

Velvet Shedding Rubs

What are velvet shedding rubs? Shedding usually occurs from late August through early October. Susan C. Morse, over at, wrote an entire article about the Velvet “Rub Out.” Here is what she says about the velvet shedding rubs:

“Increased testosterone levels in the blood of bulls and bucks cause closure of the blood vessels that have nourished the growing antlers, resulting in the dying and shedding of antler velvet. Each male cervid rubs his rack against pliant shrub stems and small trees in order to “rub out” the velvet and prepare hardened antlers for their function in affirming his social and sexual status.”


In general, the older a buck was, the larger the sapling that was rubbed and the more damaged it was. Fresh rubs made in September or early October are likely caused by mature bucks in their home range. Velvet shedding rubs are a visual sign posted by a mature dominant buck on his territory.

To say it with the words of Susan C. Morse, you have found “the Holy Grail of tracking deer.”

The bigger the Rub, the bigger the Buck

It is believed that the size of the rub has a lot to do with the size of the buck; here is what Bobby Worthington over at has to say about it:

“Common rubs appear anytime in the fall after velvet shedding has taken place. However, as a buck’s hormone level rises, rubbing intensifies. Rubbing actively will increase weekly until breeding begins. Even during the peak of the rut, mature bucks still make quite a few rubs.

As is generally believed, the size of the rub has a lot to do with the size and maturity of its maker. If the rub is the size of a person’s finger and the tree is only barely skinned up, the rub was probably made by a 1 1/2- or 2 1/2-year-old buck. Young bucks do not make a lot of rubs unless older bucks (3 1/2 years old or older) are noticeably missing from the area.”


I think this makes sense and is backed by the findings of many expert hunters such as Bill Vaznis:

“Though it’s far less familiar to hunters, this is a good maxim, too. A mature buck is taller and stronger and therefore tends to rub farther off the ground. Still, it really applies only to fresh sign in fall; rubs made over packed snow can be high but not made by a big animal.”


Different Buck Rubs

Single Rubs

A random rub out in the woods may not be connected to a travel corridor, a trail, or any other buck sign. Rubs of this type were probably made by bucks looking for a doe in the country, so they’re of little use to hunters trying to pattern a mature buck. The rubs are not random, but you can call them single rubs since they are found only once.

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Rub-line Rubs

Bucks’ travel patterns can be identified by their rub lines. Such rubs can usually reveal a buck’s direction of travel. In other words, where a buck has rubbed a tree will tell you from what direction he came.

You will often determine a buck’s travel patterns by looking at this. It could indicate that the trail/travel corridor was used in the evening if the rub is away from the feeding area. Rubs that face away from bedding areas are usually used in the morning.

Here is what Bill Vanis over at has to say about deciphering the secrets of a rub:

“In hilly country, buck rubs that are visible when you’re facing uphill were likely made in the morning, as the animal traveled from his feeding grounds back to his lofty bedding area. Similarly, the ones you see when looking downhill were probably made in the evening. Wherever foraging areas are open and obvious, such as cropfields, the rubs you spot while facing into the woods are morning sign; their opposites, evening sign.”


As long as the majority of rubs in a rub line face away from a possible bedding thicket or sanctuary, the buck was likely using the travel corridor early in the day. This information may help hunters decide when to hunt a particular corridor.

Position yourself downwind of the rub that receives the most attention or near the spot where most rubs are found in a small area. His preferred travel patterns cross at the most used rub or rubbing spot; setting up as close as possible makes sense.

Cluster Rubs

Bucks’ bedding areas may be located very close to their rubbing clusters. The buck may be in the staging area where he waits for darkness to fall. It’s a good place for a stand when you see rubs from different times, which indicate an older or mature buck. The dominant bucks in an area tend to interact more during the rut.

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When it comes to rubs, one of the biggest unknowns is how many times a buck has visited. Check surrounding areas for more rubs and bedding areas if you find a rubbing cluster. The buck might be coming back to his familiar territory, or he might be marking his property.

Rubs made at different times are significant and could be an excellent sign to set up your stand. Rubs made in clusters by more than one buck, possibly of different ages and sizes, are very telling. They indicate that bucks are jockeying for dominance.

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Buck rubs are visual and chemical signals. If you can “read” the rub, you’ll get an idea of the buck’s size and maturity – and possibly of his location. You’ll often see a buck’s travel patterns and could set up your stand accordingly.


Q: How can I use buck rubs to determine a deer’s age?

A: By identifying the different types of rubs and considering how much attention a specific rub has received, you can make an educated guess about the deer’s age.

Q: Can I use buck rubs to find a deer’s bedding area?

A: Yes, if you notice that most rubs are facing in one direction (away from the bedding area), the buck is likely using that travel corridor early in the day.

Q: What does it mean if I find a rubbing cluster?

A: If you find a rubbing cluster, the bedding area is likely close by. It could be a good place for a stand when you see rubs from different times, which indicate an older or mature buck

Q: What should I do if I see more than one type of rub?

A: If you see more than one type of rub, it could mean that several bucks are competing for dominance in the area.

Q: What is the significance of a rub made at different times?

A: A rub made at different times could be a good sign to set up your stand. It could mean that the buck is coming back to his familiar territory, or he might be marking his property.

Q: I found a rub, but there’s no deer sign nearby. What does this mean?

A: It could mean that the buck is no longer using that area, or it might just mean that the deer are being more careful and not leaving any clues.

Q: I see lots of rubs, but I can’t seem to find the deer. What’s going on?

A: There could be several bucks in the area, but they may be bedded down at the moment. Try waiting until later in the day to see if you can spot any movement.

Q: I see a lot of rubs, but I’m not sure where to set up my stand. What should I do?

A: If you can’t pinpoint an exact spot, try setting up downwind of the rub that receives the most attention or near the spot where the majority of rubs are found in a small area.

I am the founder and chief editor here at BowAddicted. I love my kids, archery, and the outdoors! It's been an amazing journey so far with some ups and downs, but it's worth it to spend time outside with friends and family.

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