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Above left: Rub Above right: Scrape
Deer rubs begin to show up pre-rut or as soon as the antlers harden.They most often are on immature trees, but can be a fence-post, or anything handy to the buck. They will look like something took out its frustration on them; some bark knocked off, and small limbs broken.
Some say: The bigger the tree, the rub, the bigger buck. Maybe?
Scrapes normally begin to appear slightly later than whitetail rubs. Scrapes continue through much of the rut. Scrapes are made by pawing the ground and licking, chewing, rubbing any overhanging tree limbs... The most visual clue is a pawed up area of ground two or three feet wide usually.
Rubs and scrapes are deer communication, a sort of combination love note, territorial marker, warning, and challenge. They are not random, they are usually in a line, like along a trail... The bucks are leaving their scent, and a visual sign to other bucks and does.
During this pre-rut time bucks will often challenge each other. They may spar or butt heads. Other deer will often come when they think are hearing a good fight; that's why "rattling" works, sometimes.
When the does come into estrus, they will urinate on the scrapes, even make their own sometimes. She is saying, "Come on big boy; where are you when I need you?"
Deer droppings: Fresh ones are shiny, wet looking. When you find both abundant old dry droppings, and fresh new droppings, you have found a place deer pass through frequently, or even daily (or nightly).
When it comes to sign: tracks and droppings are good, a well used trail may be better. A recent rub line in early season, and a fresh scrape line through the rut is good. Deer rubs tell that a buck is or has been around. Does and especially bucks are going to check fresh rubs and scraps when the rut is on.
A deer hunting tip, they may not actually come to a scrape or rub. They sometimes circle downwind to check it using their keen sense of smell. You could set-up just off a trail, not on the deer rub or scrape. Always be aware of where your scent will travel with the wind.
Generally speaking: the peak of the rut is sometime in November for most of our country. Earlier as we move north and later if we go south. The weather, food supply, local conditions... can change it by a few days from one year to another.
The chances of seeing a good mature deer are much better around the rut. Mature bucks, and does, (when they're in estrus) are focused on mating. They are much more likely to be on the move, more careless, and give the hunter more chances.
Post-rut when most of the breeding is over food becomes the main focus again. The bucks especially need to replace body fat used up while chasing does.
While all of the times and signs discussed here are influenced by weather, temperature, location and more; they can be considered a fairly typical pattern of whitetail behavior.
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