Photo: Jacob Dingel
The most important forms of deer communication in the fall are rubs and scrapes.
Differences in Yearling Rubs and Mature Buck Rubs
By September, a buck’s antlers are hard and the velvet is shed. This is when rubbing activity begins. These early signposts are usually made by more mature bucks. Yearlings make about half as many rubs as mature bucks. Age also plays a factor in tree size selection. Older bucks rub much larger trees. Yearlings typically rub saplings no more than 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Compare this to a mature buck who may rub pole trees 6 inches or larger.
Rubs only require a tree and, if it’s not cut down, the same tree will be there year after year. So some rubs are historic being used annually. On average, bucks may make 300-400 rubs each fall. Yearling bucks make only about a half as many rubs during the breeding season as mature males. Bucks also select highly aromatic species of trees for rubbing like pines, cherries, and Eastern red cedar if they are available in the area.
The most complex signpost bucks use is scraping. Scraping has been observed from July through March but is typically done when antlers are hard. This complex signpost is used more intensely just before the peak of the rut. Most adult does in Pennsylvania are bred in November with median conception dates between November 11-17. So expect most scrapes to be made prior to this in the fall.
A full scrape involves 3 things: branch marking, pawing, and urination. A scraping sequence starts with an overhanging limb on which a buck will rub his forehead or preorbital gland. If the mood strikes him, he’ll even rattle the branch with his antlers. He then takes the twig in his mouth and moistens it, thereby leaving his mark and detecting that of others using the scrape. After this, he clears a 3- to 6-foot diameter circle by pawing the ground. The buck then steps into the cleared circle and urinates onto his tarsal glands while rubbing them together. Usually only mature, dominant bucks produce any significant number of scrapes. Some scrapes may also be used annually. However as forests change, so may scrape locations as they require a marking branch at the proper height.
Bubba was Here, an article from Life & Times of the Whitetail series discusses signpost behavior.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Biologist
Deer & Elk Management Section