When it comes to early season scouting for bucks with trail cameras, monitoring rubs and rub lines can be a very effective technique to better understand just what bucks are using your property, and how they travel around and through your property.
We deer hunters have always considered rubs to be commonplace fixtures of the fall woods, but by using buck signposts as indicators to aid in the early season placement of trail cameras, we can greatly magnify our buck movement knowledge — and, as a result, increase harvest success.
Now, before you roll your eyes, let me set the record straight: I am not saying rubs are like communal scrapes that are visited and worked by bucks subsequent to being made.
What I am saying is that rub locations and rub lines are great early season indicators of just where bucks live and travel.
From recent deer research I have studied, as well as personal experience in the field over the past several decades, there are definite preferences when it comes to where bucks tend to rub and where their travel corridors are located.
Unravelling this puzzle and taking advantage of what is learned can have a profound effect upon hunting success and enjoyment.
Let’s take a look at the role that habitat edges have in defining where rub locations tend to be concentrated.
A habitat edge is the defining line between two types of habitat. Deer research has clearly shown the majority of buck rubs occur in the linear parallel corridor that is roughly 60 feet of either side of an edge.
Some call this the “edge affect,” and you need to take full advantage of it.
Whitetail deer are classic creatures of the edge. A habitat edge can either be an abrupt hard edge, such as the transition from dense woods to open habitat like a field or food plot. Or it can be a soft edge, where the transition zone is more gradual as with a change in timber type and/or timber age.
During the early season, you should spend time scouting edge areas, looking specifically for rubs and rub lines.
Place some trail cameras in good vantage spots to catch the bucks that are obviously moving along and through this edge habitat.
As the rut approaches, bucks produce rub lines along their preferred travel corridors. What you should find is that, within the roughly 60-foot band on either side of a given edge, the highest concentration of rub activity will usually fall within the first 15 to 20 feet from the actual habitat edge, in both directions.
This gives the buck sign scouter a rough 30- to 40-foot-wide area to closely investigate.
Since the term “edge,” as we are using it, defines a line of habitat transition, we can also refer to it as a “linear feature.”
Linear features can be further expanded to include things like roads, log skidder trails and creeks, in addition to habitat edges.
The deer research I have read on this topic was clear that roads and creeks do display some “edge effect,” but it is not nearly as pronounced or as strong as habitat edges.
One exception involves abandoned logger skidder roads and trails, which do produce a noticeably strong edge effect.
To take all of this a step further, all habitat types are not the same when it comes to buck preference. Deer research clearly indicate that, in order for a habitat type to be prime for buck utility, it had to contain and provide both security cover and quality browse.
That combination produced the highest rub densities.
The most-productive habitat types, from the standpoint of buck utility, included young pines, young hardwoods, sapling thickets and mixed tall grass/saplings.
The least-productive habitat types were mature hardwoods and select-cut hardwoods.
I have to add some additional thoughts from my own experience regarding select cut hardwoods: If they are cut hard enough to produce a good checkerboard pattern of openings, this should allow enough sunlight to reach the forest floor so that, within a two- to three-year period of time, a huge amount of edge can be generated.
This technique is a great way to improve deer habitat in large stands of mature hardwoods.
Use what we have discussed here to place your trail cameras in favorable locations during the early season time frame to better pin down the buck movement patterns on your hunting property.
You won’t regret the result.