Spring Strategy Time

Start now to piece together the clues for next season.

Every whitetail hunter needs at least one great morning stand, one great evening stand and several general-duty stands that can be productive any time of day. Finding the right locations takes a lot of scouting, and the best time to get out there is in the early spring, when the bare trees and forest floor allow you to read deer sign like an open book. You need only study the clues and put the pieces together.

Sign Language
SIZE:: It is rumored that only big bucks rub big trees, but I’ve seen plenty of small bucks rubbing trees that are wrist-size and larger. Biologists R. Larry Marchinton and Karl Miller, of the University of Georgia, studied rubs for several years and concluded that a rubbed tree must be at least four inches in diameter before one can assume, with reasonable confidence, that the rub was made by a fully mature buck.

LOCATION: More can be deducted from rub lines than from individual rubs. They reveal a travel route rather than just a random spot where a buck stopped once. While scouting, look for rub lines rather than individual rubs. After the season, most rubs are dried out and brown. Don’t let that bother you. Next season you will want to see shiny rubs, and dried-out rubs should then be avoided.

Some rubs give clues about the buck that made them. I arrowed a buck several years ago that had a big hook near one antler base. His rubs had huge gouge marks where the hook had bitten into the tree. If you find odd similarities between several rubs, more than likely they were all made by the same buck.

Not all rubs should be hunted. Rubs along field edges were likely made at night — and probably at random. It would not be wise to hunt a rub along a field’s edge. However, rub lines found back from the field, in and around thick cover and near bedding areas, are much more likely to mark regular travel routes.

Some bucks rub the same trees year after year. These trees are a deer hunter’s treasures. It may not be the same buck each year, but then again maybe it is — and now he’s mature.

Regardless, such sign reveals a consistent travel pattern that will work to your advantage. Find a line of these and you’ve struck pay dirt.

DIRECTION OF TRAVEL:: In most cases, a buck will rub a tree on the side from which he approaches. This reveals the direction he was likely traveling in, but it also gives clues about the time of day the rub was made. A rub that faces a bedding area was probably made in the evening, since the buck was heading out to feed or to look for does. Conversely, a rub that faces away from a bedding area was likely made in the morning as he came back to bed.

TRAILS AND FUNNELS: In areas where hunting pressure is light, or during the peak of the rut, bucks will use trails just as readily as does. Hunting a place where several trails converge increases your odds. Even if the buck isn’t following one of the trails, he knows the spot well and may come up to check the funnel for signs of estrous doe activity. Additionally, the same terrain and cover features that force doe trails together will also bottleneck a traveling buck.

BEDS: A cluster of beds generally indicates a doe bedding area, as bucks normally bed alone. They may be on the same ridge or in the same area as the does, but you’ll rarely find them in the same grouping. Large beds are obviously made by large deer, most likely bucks. Bucks are also prone to urinating in the middle of their beds, while does will urinate on the edge.

TRACKS: When a doe is walking on even ground, her back hooves will tend to fall right on top of the tracks made by her front hooves or slightly outside, due to the fact that her chest is narrower than her hindquarters. A mature buck tends to have a wider chest than hindquarters, so his rear tracks usually fall short and to the inside of his ffront tracks. His rear hoofprints may be toed out slightly as well.