What is the Meaning Behind Deer Rubs?

The buck rub is one of the most well-known signs of deer hunting. But what is the meaning behind deer rubs? Not to be confused with a deer scrape, the rub occurs when the antlers of a buck rub against a tree, bush, or telephone pole, removing the bark and leaving it hanging in obvious positions. They are proof positive that a buck has travelled through the area at some point in time. 


Since we can’t ask deer why they create these signposts on tree trunks every year, the only thing we can do is observe these signposts. Many myths and legends have developed over the years about what deer rubs are and what they mean to the animals. The purpose of this article from Georgia Landsource is to examine all the information we currently have on the rubs created by whitetail deer each hunting season plus a few big buck myths related to them. So, what is the meaning behind deer rubs?

What Do Buck Rubs Mean?

Hunters have wondered about this for centuries. Deer probably understands rubbings more than we do. We may be missing something in the translation. Initially, it was thought rubs were only used for removing the velvet from deer. As a result, researchers have discovered they serve as a form of communication both by smell and by the visual display. Bucks have scent glands on their heads. These glands release an odor when they rub their antlers on trees. The odor indicates to other deer that this buck is nearby.

How Long Will a Buck Rub a Tree?

The reason for this is almost anyone’s guess. While many rubs are one-time events, some bucks return to certain trees regularly. How bucks choose which trees to rub appears to be a mystery. During the rut, bucks wander a lot in search of does and may rub random trees during their travels. Proximity to the buck’s regular feeding and bedding area likely plays a role in which trees become regular signposts.

Can You Tell the Size of a Buck by a Rub?

As trail cameras become increasingly prevalent in the woods, we know that the conventional belief that big rubs automatically mean a big buck is antiquated. Small bucks have also been recorded in the woods as well as large ones. Likewise, small rubs may not be indicative of a small buck, since big bucks shred saplings into kindling all the time. On the other hand, rubs that are high on a tree may indicate a taller, larger deer, but it’s hard to tell without seeing it.

A 140-inch 10-pointer that I shot in Southwest Michigan in 2003 had very little bark in his antlers, almost none. A 115-inch 10-pointer was shot ten years later that had bark embedded in his antlers. It looked like he had been rubbing so vigorously that he had rubbed all over his forehead with bark. I wondered if an entire tree hadn’t been hanging in his rack from the rubbing.

What’s the Difference Between a Rub and a Scrape?

Despite the similarities between rub and scrape, we wish they had chosen a different terminology for scrapes. Many newer hunters end up confused when they hear the words rub and scrape. In addition to the confusion, buck antlers are scraped when they finish growing, whereas rub refers to the marks deer make on the trees in the same way. Scrapes are the spots of bare earth on the ground that many newer hunters find on their hunting trips.

 In addition to urinating into scrapes, deer also mark their territories with scrapes, since the two serve the same function as signposts. It is hard to know which is which when it comes to deer urinating during the day. The difference is something you have repeatedly repeated in your head.

What is the Best Way to Hunt a Rub?

There are some dynamite spots to set up and hunt near a solid rub line along a field edge or on a heavily used trail. We highly recommend monitoring these rub locations with a trail camera to ensure this is going to be worth the effort. Rubs give you information about the side of the tree the deer was standing on when it came across the trail, allowing you to strategically position your tree stands. Rubs can be particularly useful when you are trying to determine which side the buck is standing on.