Skip to main content

Understanding Buck Rubbing and Movements

Understanding Buck Rubbing and Movements
Understanding Buck Rubbing and Movements

Few things excite deer hunters more than the discovery of numerous large rubs on their hunting property. Hunters have long used the size, location and number of buck rubs to select hunting locations and to help understand how bucks move throughout their property. But, excitement often leads to disappointment as they spend countless hours hunting rubs, often with little success.

Previous research has revealed that white-tailed deer are “creatures of the edge” and spend a majority of their time in close proximity to habitat edges. These can be “hard” edges like those bordering a hardwood forest and a field or “soft” edges like transitions between forest stands of different age. Therefore, a better understanding of buck movements and rubbing patterns as they relate to specific habitat features could greatly increase your hunting success. Thankfully, the results of a landmark, 10-year study on where bucks make rubs has revealed new insights into buck movements.

The Study

The study was spearheaded by wildlife consultant Bryan Kinkel on a 488-acre property in west-central Tennessee. The property is best described as a Ridge and Valley system featuring long, narrow, hardwood ridges separated by steep, narrow valleys containing food plots and old fields. The study took place over a 10-year period from the winter of 1995 to the winter of 2004.


The first step of the project involved classifying the habitat into one of several categories. The defining lines between categories were classified as habitat edges. To produce rub sampling areas, long transit lines were randomly placed across the landscape. Rub data were collected by walking each transit line and recording the number of rubs within 10 meters of the transit line. Each rub was classified by the habitat type in which it was located and the distance of the rub to the nearest habitat edge was recorded. All sampling was conducted in late winter after the majority of rubbing had concluded.


It’s All About Edge

The results of the study revealed strong relationships between habitat edges and rub densities. Kinkel’s research revealed that the highest rub densities (27.9 rubs per acre) occurred within a narrow strip within 5 meters of habitat edges. Rub densities declined with distance from habitat edges, with the strips 5 to 10 meters from habitat edges averaging 17.0 rubs per acre and the strips 10 to 20 meters from habitat edges averaging 7.7 rubs per acre. The “edge effect” appeared to end approximately 20 meters from habitat edges, as rub densities averaged 1.8 rubs per acre beyond this distance.

In addition to habitat edges, other linear features such as roads and creeks were analyzed. Both roads and creeks displayed some “edge effect,” but not nearly as strong as habitat edges, with the exception of old, abandoned log-skidder trails. Rub densities averaged 12.4 rubs per acre within 5 meters of these trails and 5.5 rubs per acre within 5 to 10 meters of these trails. The data also suggested that the less a road is used and maintained by people, the more often it is incorporated into a buck’s travel patterns.

However, no matter the habitat type, rub densities were much higher within 20 meters of the outer edge of each habitat type or near linear features such as skidder trails. In fact, some habitat types displayed nearly 15-fold increases in rub densities in the 20-meter zone bordering the outer edge of the habitat or paralleling other linear features. This suggests bucks are using these habitat edges as travel corridors or concentrated activity areas.


Topography Matters

The influence of topography on buck rubbing also was examined. Kinkel and his research team classified the study area into one of five categories: Hillsides, Ridges, Valleys, Primary Points and Secondary Points. The tops of ridge-lines and level upland plateau regions were classified as Ridges. Narrow valleys or level bottomland areas were classified as Valleys. The slopes off ridgelines or plateaus to where valleys or bottomlands began were classified as Hillsides. However, two types of slopes received unique classifications. Topographic points that were terminal ends of ridge-lines were classified as Primary Points, and small topographic points that descended from the side of a ridge-lines or upland plateau areas were classified as Secondary Points.

When the researchers analyzed the relationship between rub densities and topography they found that two terrain features - Valleys and Secondary Points - displayed significantly higher rub densities. Both had rub densities 250 to 300 percent higher than the other three topographic features. While unsure exactly why these features were used so heavily, they discovered a strong correlation between good cover and rub densities associated with valleys. Where valleys contained good cover, rub densities were high. However where valley cover was lacking, such as in open hardwood forests, rub densities were low. In fact, cover habitat located in valleys and bottomlands displayed considerably higher rub densities than the same habitat located on other topographic features. They speculated that the reason Secondary Points were used more for buck rubbing activity likely was due to bucks using these slowly descending points as “ramps” for easy access between valleys and uplands.


When the effects of 20-meter “edge zones” were analyzed for topography, all topographic features displayed large increases in rub densities. The already higher rub densities for Secondary Points and Valleys were increased dramatically when edge zones were present.

Hunting Implications

As bowhunters, you realize that hunting the edges of large food sources such as food plots or stands of oak trees can be frustrating because deer can enter or exit these areas at numerous points out of bow range. However, using the results of this study to fine-tune your hunting set-ups can greatly increase your odds of hanging a tag on a mature buck this fall.

According to Kinkel, “One of the best hunting locations is a valley or bottomland food source with habitat edges running from adjacent uplands down descending secondary points and intersecting with the food source. Hunting habitat edges that run from thick cover in valleys/bottomlands up the spine of secondary points to a ridge-top/upland food plot also can be very productive. And, don’t overlook those seldom used, unmaintained roads.”

In addition to helping locate the best hunting locations on a property, the results of this study also can be used to better distribute hunting pressure. A common mistake by hunters is over-hunting a handful of areas while avoiding others altogether. Savvy hunters realize that mature bucks are extremely sensitive to hunting pressure and will quickly learn to avoid those locations during daylight hours. Identifying numerous hot spots scattered throughout the property can greatly increase hunting success.

Thankfully, armed with the latest “Whitetail Science” researchers and hunters alike continue to learn more about North America’s most hunted and most important game animal – the white-tailed deer.

Brian Murphy is a wildlife biologist and CEO of the Quality Deer Management Association (www.QDMA.com). He also has been an avid bowhunter for more than 30 years.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Increase a lure’s effectiveness by pairing it with the ideal reel speed.

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Most fishing rods feature both an action and a power rating, but what do those ratings mean and how do you use them to select the right rod for different scenarios? In this video, outdoor writer and tackle specialist Shane Beilue breaks down the difference between a rod blank’s action and power and discusses what the various ratings of each mean.

Catch More Bass on a Jerkbait in the Cooler Months

Catch More Bass on a Jerkbait in the Cooler Months

This one simple trick will trigger more bass strikes on a jerkbait during the fall months.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Get ready to braise ground venison with all the traditional chili ingredients, directly on the grill, for a smokin' hot take on this comfort food classic.Smoked Venison Chili Recipe Wild Game

Smoked Venison Chili Recipe

Eva Shockey - October 16, 2020

Get ready to braise ground venison with all the traditional chili ingredients, directly on the...

Who needs live bait when the big 'gills are so eager to strike these lures?5 Great Lures For Bluegills Other Freshwater

5 Great Lures For Bluegills

Stephen D. Carpenteri - March 10, 2011

Who needs live bait when the big 'gills are so eager to strike these lures?

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to the expectations demanded at ranges up to and beyond 500, 600 or even 1,000 yards. Try these different loads until you find the one that thumps steel at long ranges consistently.10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to...

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some great bass pond fishing.Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Last year alone, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act was responsible for $100 million in funding to benefit game, fish and other wildlife in the United States.At Issue: Greenbacks for Greenheads (and Other Game) Conservation & Politics

At Issue: Greenbacks for Greenheads (and Other Game)

Andrew McKean - August 04, 2020

Last year alone, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act was responsible for $100 million...

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to re-examine many cherished traditions, but hunting remains an essential activity.Perspective: Why We Hunt Stories

Perspective: Why We Hunt

Andrew McKean - August 12, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to re-examine many cherished traditions, but hunting...

Crossbows are more popular – and legal – in more places, and statistics show they're not that much more effective than vertical bows.Few Bowhunters Can Ignore This Case for Hunting with Crossbows Stories

Few Bowhunters Can Ignore This Case for Hunting with Crossbows

Patrick Durkin - September 30, 2020

Crossbows are more popular – and legal – in more places, and statistics show they're not that...

How a humble Virginia hunter bagged the biggest non-typical whitetail a bowhunter has ever seen.The Story Behind Brewster's World-Record Buck Whitetail

The Story Behind Brewster's World-Record Buck

Lynn Burkhead - October 17, 2019

How a humble Virginia hunter bagged the biggest non-typical whitetail a bowhunter has ever...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now