Terrain Features And Rub Lines by Ken McBroom
Most deer hunters know how important rub lines are to locating bucks in a particular hunting area. Rubs have paid off for me over the years but over the past few seasons, after reading Mapping Trophy Bucks by Brad Herndon, an excellent tool for your deer-hunting arsenal; I have come up with a new approach. Terrain features are easy enough to find, features such as funnels, saddles, points and hubs. You can find success hunting these features even if there is little or no deer sign within them, especially on public land with lots of pressure which tends to stir up the herd and forces them to utilize these features to escape potential danger. Hunting terrain features this way works well and should be utilized, but this article will focus on the combination of terrain features and rub lines.
I have had success with hunting terrain features alone, but the lack of confidence in the area always made it difficult to stay on stand the entire day, which becomes a necessity when hunting any part of the rut. To gain the confidence I needed to keep my butt in a tree I needed the definite knowledge that there was a good buck in the area. This is when I began combining terrain features with rub lines and big rubs.
The area I hunt is a good mixture of hardwoods, swamps and cutovers with lots of ridges as well as croplands. Over the past several seasons I have located great terrain features that tend to funnel deer through the area providing for some great hunting. In the past couple seasons I have began to scout these terrain features for rubs.
You should begin your scouting early in an attempt to locate the first rubs of the season. Mature bucks almost always make these rubs. I don’t mean those barely visible rubs in August and early September. These rubs are often just where a buck (of any size) was just cleaning the velvet off his rack. The rubs you should look for is good rubs like you find in November. When you locate good rubs in Mid September to Mid October mark the spot and/or hang a stand because you are in the living room of a mature buck. These rubs are not easy to locate, as they are few and far between not to mention the foliage is still thick and visibility is limited in the woods.
These scouting trips are for the serious hunter who wants to harvest a good mature Whitetail buck. The heat can be unbearable this time of year in the south and while the chiggers and ticks keep most hunters out of the woods the snakes tend to keep out the rest. A friend of mine had to go to the emergency room shortly after one such scouting trip as the seed ticks had covered many delicate parts of his body. He still scouts year round although he is very cautious and sometimes feels imaginary ticks crawling all over him.
The trick, after locating these rubs, is to align them within areas of the terrain features already noted. The rubs and rub line do not necessarily have to be in the middle of the terrain feature you are hunting just nearby. In fact I prefer the sign to be away from the terrain feature that links the area where the rubs are and the area where the buck that made them is likely to bed during the day.
Rubs, I have found, can be a double edge sword for the deer hunter. Your initial reaction to a shredded six-inch cedar is to get up a tree and hunt within sight of that rub. Sometimes this works but most times the hunter should try to locate the area that the buck is likely spending his day. If the rub is in the wide open next to a field or in a stand of mature hardwoods, where you can see a mile, then that buck is likely to be visiting those rubs at night and a sighting during good shooting light is not likely. Now, having said all that, I have found, through hours of sitting by a rub line in the open not expecting to see anything only to have several bucks come by and more times than not the biggest buck moves later in the morning like ten to noon. Hence the double edge sword. Do you hunt at the rub or move back and locate a terrain feature that funnels the buck by your stand area as he moves either to the rubs or from the rubs.
Paying close attention to terrain features can help you see more deer but the great thing I have noticed since using this technique is that I look more at the big picture and focus more on the deer’s habitat than just on where I find the sign. Many years ago I felt like I was hunting areas that even though covered up with buck sign was just not the right spot, but I continued hunting these areas because I was seeing deer. These deer were does and young bucks but it kept my confidence level up enough to hunt all day and hopefully get a shot at a good buck.
Finally the decision was made to just tough it out and hunt where I thought the bigger bucks were hiding. I located the most remote areas of the public land that I hunted and began hunting terrain features that had some low browse and acorns but no deer sign at all or at least not any that I could detect. Ironically the very first time I tried this I had a decent six point meander by my tree well before dark which was very unusual at my old stands even for a small buck. Needless to say after many hours on stand and fine tuning this technique, to include rubs, my buck sightings has more than doubled and just as I suspected but was too caught up in all those tracks and rubs and scrapes down by the fields, I see very few does now and even though I like seeing deer activity I would much rather see the horns.
I will describe a scenario of one of my hunts this season that might help you see the possible advantages to this approach.
A lake surrounds my hunting area on three sides. I like to find two or three coves fairly close together. These coves form peninsulas where deer bed and feed depending on what is located on them. Ideally I prefer at least one peninsula that contains some thickets for potential beds, and remember it need only be big enough for one deer if you are hunting big bucks. A lone brush pile left by a storm can be enough of a bed for these loners.
I had located some big rubs all the way out one of the peninsulas where there was no food at all and it was fairly open so I figured the buck must be making his rounds there under the cover of darkness but he has to get there. Now comes the decision on where to set up for your ambush. The peninsula with the cover is where I felt the buck was spending his days so you don’t want to get too close to that area but close enough to get a shot during the day as the buck leaves his bed to patrol his area, which may or may not include the third peninsula, between these two, which consisted of very open hardwoods and lots of acorns so it very well could be where he feeds but again probably at night, so you want to be setting at the entrance to this peninsula. So I set my stand between the bed and the rubs and at the end of the peninsula with the acorns with the lake in sight of my stand. Now if the buck decides to leave his bed and check out his territory I have it covered because the rubs tell me that he prefers that area and gives me a direction I can have confidence the buck is traveling. If I am wrong I have enough visual coverage of the area to determine if the buck is coming from another direction. It really helps when you have a rub line connecting all the peninsulas, which is what I had in this location.
This particular stand site provided many buck sightings. Most were not shooters but one was. It took three days at this stand before he showed himself at 9:45 am on a hot windy morning. I nearly departed my perch several times that morning as the thoughts that deer won’t move in this hot (in the 60’s) and windy weather. The deer sightings were spaced apart enough to keep me on stand and it’s a good thing as the buck was the biggest I had ever seen in 15 years while hunting this area. He did give me a glimmer of a shot but he was about 48 yards and I felt like he might come a little closer, but he continued, to my surprise, right down the shoreline in the wide open. I just was not comfortable with a 48-yard shot with my bow and I let him walk. Goes to show, you never know. These rubs are marked in memory as well as GPS for future reference so I can set-up here year after year with confidence especially if that big eight pointer makes it through this season. You can bet he will be there and so will I.
The rubs helped with the decision on this set-up, but many times the rubs don’t show until late in the season. I saw several bucks at this stand sight and many would be a shooter for most. These bucks came from every direction, as they seemed to use the terrain feature as a guide for their travel as they investigate their area for food cover or most importantly hot doe’s. These bucks will travel out these peninsulas to search for doe’s, and as they leave that peninsula the natural path to the next is around the back of the cove that created these peninsulas. The backs of these coves usually contain a creek or drainage that usually provides great bedding areas for doe’s, which is another reason for the bucks to cruise through here on his way to the next big peninsula in his quest for love.
So get out there and do some early season scouting. Look for early rubs and make a note, then look at the big picture and try to imagine where these deer are traveling and put together a plan. Locate the terrain features that tend to funnel deer movement into a confined area and you just might fill your tag early. Later in the season, cautiously scout these locations and some new ones for active and aggressive rubs. Put it all together and you just might find that this tactic really works, and don’t be surprised if buck sightings increase. This approach to hunting may not be for everyone. It took me several seasons to stay away from all the sign and focus more on where bucks like to hang during the day, which is not with the doe’s that tend to make the more visible sign we see around fields and logging roads.
Some hunters, even if you proved this method to them would still prefer to hunt where they can see a lot of territory and a lot of deer even if they are doe’s and yearling bucks, even with a bow. I do understand, and to each his own, but if you want to get serious about bagging a good buck, especially with a bow, then try this approach. Give it time as this method takes some time to learn and begin to see the whole picture in your woods and put together a successful plan to harvest a mature whitetail buck.