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Reading Rubs

Updated: Aug 18, 2021



Below is a guest post from our good friend and colleague James Floyd.  He and I came across the rubs pictured above during a late season hunting trip in North Mississippi this past January.  This cluster of signpost rubs was located in a staging area, adjacent to a primary food source.  -Emily

Author: James D. Floyd

As a deer hunter, nothing gets me more excited about hunting a location than fresh rubs. Unlike other forms of deer sign such as tracks, trails, droppings, or browse, rubs let you know with certainty that a buck is in the area. However, not all rubs tell the same story. Without going into depth as to why bucks make rubs, this article is more about what information hunters can gather by studying rubs.

A common misconception is that the size of the tree (i.e. tree diameter) a rub is on is a good indication of the buck’s antler size. Truth is, large antlered bucks sometimes rub on small trees. Rubbing is the most common during the first few weeks of bow season when bucks are rubbing to relieve the irritation of shedding velvet. Smaller bucks, however, are much more likely to consistently rub on small trees. It’s not impossible for a small buck to rub a large tree; it’s just unlikely. For this reason I seldom take the time to study small rubs. Larger rubs on the other hand warrant closer inspection. Larger rubs often reveal clues that indicate a buck’s size and antler characteristics. Gouges near the top of the rub, as well scaring on trees and brush behind the rub can be a good indication of tine length. Deep furrows in the center of the rub may indicate junk around the bases.

It’s also important to note the side of the tree the rub is on, as this can be an indicator of which direction the buck was traveling. For example, if following a rub line that connects a bedding area to a feeding area, and the rubs face the bedding area, chances are good the buck that made these rubs was traveling from the bedding area to the feeding area. This information is critical, when choosing a stand location, wind direction, and time of day to hunt the area.

Just like many good stories, good rubs too can be filled with twists and complexities. Spend enough time in the woods following buck activity, and sooner or later you will come across a tree that has been rubbed from all directions. Many times these trees are rubbed year after year. Many hunters refer to these as signpost rubs. Signpost rubs are often located in very visible locations. These natural works of art may be singular or clustered. Unlike a traditional rub made by an individual, signpost rubs are a collaborative effort from all mature bucks in, or passing through, the area. For this reason I’ve never encountered a rub line of signpost rubs. They often correlate with staging areas, primary bedding, or feeding locations. Signpost rubs are difficult to mistake, and are a great indicator for the caliber of bucks using the area.

New or old, all rubs tell a story. Last year’s rubs are often good predictions for the up and coming season; so just because a big rub isn’t fresh doesn’t mean that its information is invalid. Regardless if you’re scouting a new location, or if you’re hunting old ones, the next time you encounter a decent rub, take the time to read the clues carefully. The story that rub tells just might end with your next successful hunt.

Floyd photo

About the Author:

James D. Floyd is the natural resource instructor for Holmes Community College.  His office is located at the Grenada, MS campus. He instructs and advises both two year and transfer students majoring in Forestry, Wildlife, and Conservation Law Enforcement. For more information about the Natural Resources program at Holmes Community College visit

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