Hunting Rub Lines and Other Sign - May 2009

Question: When I find a long line of rubs, I often have difficulty choosing where to put my stand. I have heard that deer travel the path of the rubs, but I've also heard that they travel perpendicular to the line of rubs. Should I set my stand on the rub line or in line with the rubs where the deer hasn't rubbed yet? -- Allen Carlton, Coldwater, MS

HUNTING RUB LINES AND OTHER SIGNI am going to answer your question directly and then I am going to go into longer explanation of the virtues of hunting the terrain and cover instead of focusing on deer sign.

If you are intent to hunt rub lines, then I would set my stand on the rub line itself, well 20 yards downwind of it, to be more exact. I don't see anything wrong with that approach. But you may be missing out on better options by focusing too much on sign.

Now for the long explanation. I started out as a sign hunter, but I don't hunt sign much anymore. Now, I focus on travel routes. Generally, travel routes have the sign, as well, but I find them through other means, methods that seem clearer to me and require less on the ground scouting. Rather than hunt sign, I hunt the terrain features and the cover. If there happens to be rub lines in these places, so much the better, but if not, I still hunt them and trust my experience. Here is the way I approach my hunting area now.

There's a whole lot more to wiring the rut than finding the heaviest buck sign and throwing up a stand. You have to dig a little deeper and look beyond the obvious.

FINDING THE TRAVEL ROUTESSolving this puzzle first requires that you know where a buck is likely to be, and then where he's likely to go next. Find Point A and Point B and then connect them. Sounds easy enough. Let's see how you actually do it.

During the rut, bucks are mostly concerned with finding does in estrus. They'll still travel between bedding and feeding areas but now they're more interested in the does than the food or the rest. They'll also travel heavily from one doe bedding area to another.

Jogging your memory in an effort to come up with these endpoints is the beginning of closing the deal. Hunters who take the obvious approach will hunt the places where the bucks hung out and made the most sign before the rut started ripping. They won't be there anymore. Because there is a lot of random movement during the rut, sometimes this approach will work, but often it only brings disappointment. As with most of life, the obvious approach will net average results.

Travel areas are the key-these tend to be places with limited sign. Spend the time and energy to figure out a few likely travel routes and you can hunt a wary buck effectively for the entire season without educating him. To put it in human terms, if someone walked across your yard you'd be much less inclined to move into a new neighborhood than if the same person broke into your living room.

SELECTING THE AMBUSHUnfortunately, a buck's choice of travel routes is often influenced by subtle factors that are hard to recognize. For example, the most heavily pounded trails are rarely the ones that bucks' travel, but they tend to be the ones that 90-percent of the hunters watch. What are the other 10-percent of the hunters doing? Bucks tend to go straight from Point A to Point B, and are not as inclined to worry about trails as does are.

Terrain influences buck travel in a very predictable way and learning to understand how bucks relate to the terrain is the key to picking the best spots. Any dip that will hide a traveling buck is a good place to wait for him. For this reason, the sides of terrain features such as saddles, draws and swales are perfect ambush sites during times when bucks are on the move. Of course, there has to be a reason a buck will come that way, so find the terrain features that lie between a buck's Point A and Point B and you've found a great place for your stand.

Bucks are also lazy and will take the path of least resistance when traveling, as long as it doesn't compromise their security. This means they'll use gentle slopes to climb a hillside instead of a steep section of bluff. They'll also travel through saddles and pick the easiest creek crossings. In other words, deer adapt to the terrain in a predictable way. When trying to figure out where a buck will travel, first look for the easy route.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHERThe point where two believable travel routes intersect, such as a creek crossing between two massive ridge complexes, is better than a ditch crossing that lies between two small ridges. I wouldn't discount any terrain-related funnel on a logical travel route, there is no such thing as too many good stand locations, but I would spend the most time hunting the sites where the bucks have multiple reasons to pass.

So, to summarize, go through your hunting area and figure out all the endpoints: buck bedding areas, feeding areas and doe bedding areas. Next look for those terrain features (and cover features to a lesser extent) that lie between any two of these. That is where I would concentrate my time during the rut.

Maybe this isn't so complicated; apply a little scouting time and a few hours staring at an aerial photo. You will reap the reward for that investment over the rest of your hunting lifetime.

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