DEER BEHAVIOR AT BUCK RUBS
My pap once told
me, "boy, if you ever get the chance to see the buck that made that
huge rub you will see one hell of a buck". To this day, whenever I see
a freshly raked rub I remember his words. Back then, pap would have
spent countless hours in the woods in hope of seeing the buck and then,
there was no guarantee. Today, with the use of a TrailMaster infrared
game camera, research and technology have come together to observe and
photograph the behavior of deer at rubs.
If your not familiar
with the TrailMaster, it's a monitoring system with an infrared game
camera that records and photographs animal activity at a particular
site or along a trail. Hunters have recently started using this innovative
technology to help predict the daily movement patterns of deer in their
hunting area and hence, maximize their chance for success.
In 1994, noted
deer biologist Grant Woods completed his Ph.D. work at Clemson University
in South Carolina. Woods' dissertation addressed the physical characteristics
of traditional rubs and whitetail behavior associated with them. Woods
defines a "traditional rub" as any species of tree that had been rubbed
for at least three consecutive years and is three inches or greater
in diameter. A buck rub that does not meet this definition is termed
a "non-traditional rub".
For two years,
from August 15th to January 1st Woods used nine TrailMasters
units to monitor deer behavior at traditional rub sites. At the same
time, he ran various transect lines to observe 186 non-traditional rubs.
Woods photographed a total of 379 occurrences at his nine traditional
rub sites. Based on these photographs, Woods discovered that more than
half of all traditional rubs occurred on sassafras, Southern magnolia
and Eastern red cedar. This was surprising because these aromatic tress
comprised only four percent of the forest community.
rubs occurred predominantly on sweet leaf, wax myrtle and Eastern red
cedar. Considering the composition of woody plants in the area these
species composed less than five percent of all trees. Once again, even
on non-traditional rub sites aromatic trees were definitely preferred.
It is interesting to note that bucks in the study addressed the sassafras
more than any other tree. The end result to hunters is that most rubs
were associated with aromatic trees.
Some hunters may
ask, "How can I find these traditional rubs without any prior knowledge
of the area?" Woods found from a habitat or cover point of view, traditional
rubs are generally located in areas with 80 yards of minimal, unobstructed
ground cover. Apparently, bucks want to advertise or maximize their
effectiveness by creating rubs in relatively open areas. Thus, with
good field notes from previous years and a little extra scouting in
open areas, traditional rubs are not difficult to locate.
Overall, most of
the deer behavior(s) at rubs occurred at night. For example; 74% of
all buck, 60% of doe and 51% of fawn photographs were taken between
9PM and 6AM. During the entire study only one mature buck was photographed
during daylight hours (7:39 AM). Needless to say, this is not encouraging
to most hunters. Although, it should be pointed out that this area was
heavily hunted and activity just beyond the TrailMaster cameras may
have varied substantially.
visits may have been in response to deer modifying
their daily movements to avoid hunters and researchers. Different
biologists have found that deer will readily adjust their active
periods to avoid potentially dangerous situations. This pressure
may account for the high number of photos taken at night.
Pen studies have
shown that bucks commonly rub during daylight hours. It is reasonable
to assume hunters who hunt in areas with low hunting pressure can expect
more bucks to rub during daylight hours, then those experienced in Woods'
buck activity around traditional rubs was strongly associated
with the first conception dates. In fact, buck activity around
traditional rubs increased during the rut. This generally contradicts
previous studies where rub activity has preceded the first breeding.
Since this work was conducted under a quality deer management program
most would agree that the difference in herd composition and social
biology probably accounts for this discrepancy.
Like many hunters,
I always thought bucks were cueing in on a certain clumped distribution
of scrapes. Evidently, during the rut, compared to scrapes, bucks mainly
utilize traditional rubs. Although, Woods did not monitor daily home
ranges of does during the rut, traditional rubs may be associated with
a buck or doe core area?
Woods noted bucks
with five or more points rubbed earlier than bucks with four or less
points. Throughout the literature this holds true. In fact, some biologist
believe when mature bucks rub earlier they deposit a priming pheromone
on rubs that may synchronize breeding cycles, bring does into estrus
earlier and suppress the testosterone in smaller bucks. If this is occurring
in your area, smaller bucks may be suppressed or lack the experience
needed to make a rub. Thus, a decreased number of rubs are present and
observed later in the year.
Reuse of existing
rubs has always interested hunters. Some believe every time a buck checks
a traditional rub, he wants to establish his dominance by re-rubbing.
Woods found six of the nine traditional rubs experienced some reuse.
One buck was monitored at six of the nine traditional rub sites during
one year. One traditional rub had at least 13 different bucks photographed.
Nine of these bucks were estimated at more than 1.5 years old. Apparently,
mature bucks are more likely to address a traditional rub than yearling
I always wondered
what percentage of reuse is there on non-traditional rubs? Using a pencil
lead to mark existing rubs, my own field experience has indicated the
number is probably very low. This suggest that hunters should focus
in on traditional rub sites and plot them on a map. Woods agrees, his
data found older bucks will definitely re-rub the same tree more often.
Most of the photos
taken by the TrailMaster units were fawns, with only
one actively addressing a rub. Bucks, does and fawns all addressed
rubs, but bucks were more likely to exhibit a behavior. In all, six
behaviors were observed at rubs: antler touch, forehead touch, body
touch, smelling, rubbing and butt touch. All behaviors are self-explanatory,
except the butt touch. Although I have never witnessed the butt touch
it involves deer literally rubbing their posterior against a rub.
Although I can
not prove it, I believe deer may have some unidentified anal gland which
deposits some type of chemical signal on the rub. Woods has one photo
of a doe rubbing her vagina/anus region against a tree. Last year I
was giving a seminar at the Michigan Deer and Turkey Classic when a
hunter explained to me why she was exhibiting this behavior. He said,
"she had a itch from a yeast infection"! I do not know if he is correct,
but it makes you wonder about the biological significance?
and non-traditional rubs are hunters best field clue as to the antler
potential in an area. Knowing the difference can give you the extra
edge on bringing home a good buck or nothing at all.
the help of TrailMaster infrared game cameras, research has shown that
hunters would be wise to focus in on traditional rubs sites (trees rubbed
for three consecutive years and three inches or more in diameter) specifically
during the breeding season. This may help to determine a trophy deer
from one that is better passed up!