The Difference Between Scrapes and Rubs—And How to Hunt Both

Christian | |

Rubs and scrapes are two of the most useful whitetail deer markings for hunters. Unfortunately, they’re also two of the most confused terms in the hunting community with some hunters mistakenly thinking they’re the same thing. And, to be fair, they do sound pretty similar.

The primary difference is that scrapes are on the ground while rubs are above on a tree or branch. However, when it comes to deer language, it’s a lot more complex than this. Understanding the significance of a deer scrape vs rub and how and when to hunt them can be one of the best ways to finally take down your trophy buck.

What Is a Buck Scrape?

A buck scrape is a place where a buck has literally scraped away a little hole in the ground and urinated in it. When active, they’re usually oval or squarish patches of bare dirt in an area that would normally be covered by brush or grass. More often than not, there’s a low-hanging branch right above it.

Deer making a scrape
This deer is scraping the ground and scenting the mark

What won’t be visible is all the buck pee in the scrape and the saliva and forehead gland oils on the branch above. A buck deposits these fluids, especially the urine which he ran over his tarsal glands, to leave his buck scent for other deer.

The simple interpretation is that the buck does this to mark his territory, and the higher the density of bucks, the more scrapes there are likely to be. Still, it’s a bit more complicated than that. A scrape basically becomes the local deer bulletin board. 

Before the breeding season, when most scrapes are made, bucks will travel far and wide to find the area where they’ll have the most chances of mating successfully. Does, on the other hand, stay close to home. As a result, a wandering buck may leave a scrape to see the response he gets. He may quickly revisit it to find a mature, dominant buck urinated in it right after him, so he’ll move on to another spot. On the other hand, a doe in estrus might urinate in it, meaning there are receptive females he can mate with.  

As you can see, many different deer may visit a scrape, and depending on who they are, this will change deer behavior in one way or another. This is why they’re such great places to hunt.

What Is a Buck Rub?

Unlike a scrape, a buck rub is on the tree itself. It’s easily recognizable as a place on the side of a tree where the bark has been rubbed away by a buck’s antlers, right about at head level for a deer, between four and five feet off the ground. 

Tree with deer rubs in forest on winter day
A buck rub

It’s also common to find rub lines where a buck has rubbed multiple trees going in one direction. You’ll notice that the rubs are usually on the same side of the trees, the side in the direction the buck was moving.

Many hunters think that rubs are the result of bucks trying to remove the velvet from their antlers. However, while bucks do rub against trees for this purpose, this isn’t the primary reason for buck rubs. Rather, they’re marking their territory and stating their presence for other bucks. While younger, smaller bucks will stick to small trees, large, mature bucks will rub against small and large trees alike.

Just like scrapes, you’ll probably find more rubs if a greater proportion of the local population is bucks. However, unlike scrapes, a dominant buck is likely to continue making rubs along the edges of his territory even if he’s driven out all his competitors during the pre-rut.

Is It Better to Hunt Scrapes or Rubs?

You’ll hear a lot of different answers to this question in the hunting community. Those who have had luck with scrapes will tell you scrapes are better and those who have had luck with rubs the opposite. 

The truth is both have advantages and disadvantages. While I tend to lean towards rubs because they’re more consistent and relevant for a longer period of the hunting season, hunting scrapes can certainly lead to success if you do it right.

How to Hunt a Scrape

Bucks make scrapes during the pre-rut, starting in mid October and lasting until the majority of does go into estrus in November. Once the does start going into estrus and letting the bucks know by urinating in their scrapes, the bucks will spend more time chasing them than making scrapes. 

An active scrape should be completely bare. If it’s starting to get covered by leaves or brush, the deer aren’t using it anymore, so it’s useless to hunt it.

Although conventional wisdom holds that deer usually make and visit scrapes at night, it’s far from a consistent schedule. A scrape may just be a transient buck, or it may be a mature buck who’s not much concerned about competition. In this case, it’s unlikely to be revisited often. 

Deer are most likely to visit a scrape if it’s between bedding and feeding areas. Your best bet is to find a group of fresh scrapes in an area like this—or make your own—and then set up your tree stand nearby.

How to Hunt a Rub or Rub Line

Rubs and especially rub lines are great deer signs to hunt, not because the deer will necessarily check up on them repeatedly, but because they indicate deer travel corridors. Mature bucks will often take a minute when they go to feed or back to bed to leave some rubs so any interlopers know who the boss is.

This is why the best places to find rubs are on the edges of cover where deer are most likely to travel. These include ridgelines and valleys.

Additionally, because rubs are common on travel corridors, it’s best to hunt them when deer are moving between feeding areas and bedding areas, ie, at dawn or dusk. Specifically, try sunrise to 8 AM or 5 PM to sundown.

Like scrapes, strategic rub hunting can make the difference for a successful hunting season.

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