Yamaha Outdoors Tips — Now is Time to Hunt the Sign
By Bob Humphrey
Over much of the whitetail’s range, the rut is about to bust open. Bucks will be chasing does during what many whitetail enthusiasts consider the most exciting and dynamic periods of the season. It also means predictability goes out the window. Before it does however, bucks can become quite regular in their daily movements. Now, more than ever, is the time to hunt buck sign.
Bucks begin making rubs early in the fall as they shed velvet from their antlers. The shedding is initiated by a surge in testosterone, which also makes the bucks increasingly more aggressive. They vent some of this aggression on the local vegetation by rubbing trees. This helps them strengthen neck, shoulder and leg muscles they’ll need to spar over mates in the coming weeks. They also leave scent from forehead glands on the trees as a signal to other deer, though the exact purpose is still not clearly understood.
Regardless, a line of fresh rubs indicates a route traveled regularly by one or more bucks. Unless disturbed, they should continue to follow that route and work the rubs on a somewhat regular basis until the real rut kicks in. Now you know where they travel; you just don’t know when. This is where scouting cameras can be very helpful. Images can sometimes help you discern a pattern, if there is one.
You can sometimes make an educated guess based on which side of a tree is rubbed, and what the surrounding cover consists of. If the tree is rubbed on a trail leading to a food source, you may be better off hunting in the afternoon. If it leads to bedding, it might be a good place to intercept a buck heading to bed.
Somewhat the same is also true of scrapes. Biologists believe (though they’re still not certain) that scrapes are something of a message board -- a place where bucks and does can communicate with one another without actually being together. It is presumed bucks are signaling their dominance and readiness to breed; and does will signal the latter when it occurs.
Until then, bucks will continue visiting scrapes to keep tabs on who’s in town and who’s hot.
Most, but not all, scrape visits occur during the night. Hunting over scrapes is a low-odds tactic. However, bucks will occasionally visit scrapes during daylight, and if they do, it is far more likely to happen at twilight.
Things will change, and once the first does come into estrus bucks abandon their scrape lines. Rub lines, on the other hand, are often on regularly traveled routes, trails that both bucks and does will use both in and out of the rut; so they remain good places to hunt throughout the fall.