QUESTION: I live in western North Carolina. Sometimes bucks make a great rub line, eight to 12 trees long, and other times you’d be lucky to find three trees that have been rubbed in a row. My game cameras prove there are always bucks around, but I am puzzled by this. - David
ANSWER: There are so many reasons that bucks rub, or don’t rub. A scarcity of rubs could indicate low deer densities in general, low deer activity in a particular area or low buck activity in that area during the period when bucks rub the most.
Rubbing begins when velvet is shed. Whether it’s actually intentional or not, bucks rub as part of the process of shedding velvet. And they rub wherever they happen to be when this occurs. It might, or might not be an area they use regularly. Much the same is true for aggressive or display rubs. The sudden surge of adrenaline that causes antlers to harden also makes bucks more aggressive. They might take that aggression out on the local vegetation. And if they encounter another buck, they might rub as a show of aggression before, or instead of, actual combat.
Rubs often show up along field edges, particularly where bucks exit a field, or where they stage up before entering one. These field rubs indicate regular travel but are seldom part of a rub line. Conversely, rub lines sometimes show up along, and parallel to, a field edge, usually indicating a regular night travel route.
If you find a distinct rub line back in the timber, it is often a good indication of a buck’s regular travel route, and possibly his core area. Once the rut starts, however, he might abandon this route, particularly in areas of high deer density or highly skewed buck-to-doe ratios. In areas of low deer densities, where bucks must travel long distances to encounter does. Rub lines might indicate the semi-regular travel route of an older buck.