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Signpost secrets: getting bucks to make sign where you want can lead to a big difference in your scouting and hunting efforts.

Part 1

I have to confess: I often dream of huge whitetail bucks prancing around in daylight, oblivious to my presence. I imagine them chasing does, casually feeding, working scrapes or rubbing trees. Yes, it's only a dream, but I'm sure it's a dream shared by millions of other diehard whitetail hunters.

We who consider ourselves serious students and pursuers of mature bucks know the importance of daylight sightings. If you can't set yourself up to consistently be within range of mature bucks during legal hunting hours, it's impossible to consider yourself an advanced trophy hunter. You can have all of the whitetail knowledge in the world, own the best equipment and clothing, and hunt the best properties, but if you can't produce mature-buck opportunities for yourself within legal shooting hours, it's all for naught. As they say, "The proof's in the pudding."

Consistently killing mature bucks boils down to three things: (1) knowing the buck is there; (2) knowing 'where he travels; and (3) properly setting up a stand site. As simple as all of that sounds, I of course realize it's a bit more complicated. Still, if you've ever purposely taken a target buck, I'd be willing to bet you had all three of those key components covered.

The key words here are "purposely taken." Even when we're after a certain buck, most of us mess up and never see him in a hunting situation. We read the sign wrong or, more commonly, blow a good setup with a bad wind. More often than not we never realize how close or how far we are from taking the buck we're after. We have no way of knowing unless we see the deer or get him on trail camera as we're hunting. So the million-dollar question is: How do we consistently get daylight sightings of the deer we're after?

The answer is once again rather simple: We can produce consistent daylight results by hunting rubs and scrapes.

I know what you're thinking: Scrapes are bit-and-miss ...and rubs don't mean much, outside of the occasional signpost. Well, are you ready to push the envelope? The use of portable mock tree rubs can turn your hunting around.

The idea that you can cut a tree from one area and place it in the ground within another area, then have mature bucks dancing around it, might sound like a dream--but in reality, it's paid huge dividends for some pioneering hunters who have implemented it into a hunting strategy. Imagine having a signpost rub tree perfectly positioned within a food plot or meadow. Or placed precisely within bow range of your stand or ground blind.

However, before we go into the how-to of mock rubs and their setup, let's be sure we have a solid understanding of why the concept works.

The idea of creating mock rubs is nothing new. Despite there being very little written on the topic, biologists have been toying with the concept for decades. By its simplest definition, a tree rub is a visual signpost, a marker that says a particular buck has visited a particular spot. The complex definition of a signpost would be "a tree where several bucks leave certain olfactory and visual traits that are used for communicative purposes."

The purpose of this communication isn't fully understood, but we do know scent found on a signpost can help maintain hierarchy and social structure within the buck population. A signpost is important because it's the one spot all of the local bucks will visit multiple times during the year, with peak visitation occurring during the fall rut phases.

Signposts are often found where mature buck territories overlap--thus, the importance and difference when hunting a rub whose purpose is scent communication versus the more common rubs made from velvet stripping and strengthening of the neck muscles. The latter are rubs to which bucks sometimes never return.

The biggest difference between the two types of rubs is that a signpost rub is where all of the bucks within the area will leave their scent. This is why it can become a tremendous hunting spot. This is also why we want as many signposts as we can have within our hunting territory.

But not every hunting area has a natural signpost. So we're going to bring our own! Yes, we're actually going to place a signpost exactly where we want it, so it perfectly benefits our hunting setup. When implemented properly, the bucks will take over the rub tree and daylight sightings will increase, which is exactly what we need. This is where the use of mock rubs changes everything. Although proper location is a key to success, any area that has natural buck movement will be enhanced and become a better hunting spot if the mock rub is in the right location and employed properly.



The first consideration for any mock rub strategy should be which tree species to use. Certain areas of the whitetail's range will have a particular favored rub species. You can easily identify which species is preferred by simply walking through your hunting area and counting the rubs on various trees. The species rubbed the most will be the tree type you want to focus on. In some parts of North America it might be a spruce or cedar, while in others it could very well be a willow or basswood. One thing's certain: The favored rubbing trees within any area usually have soft bark, are odiferous when peeled, and are limbless within rubbing height.

Once we've identified the preferred tree species, we need to determine locations in which our "portable" mock rubs will get the most attention. Food plots, meadows, swamp and forest openings, beaver pond edges and agricultural fields are great places to consider. The main factors to keep in mind are buck traffic and visibility. Knowing where doe groups live also is essential; these areas will I become major travel zones for bucks during the rut, when the use of our signposts will be at its peak. Just think traffic locations --the areas bucks travel the most--coupled with an area of good visibility.

The idea is to place the tree close to a known travel route and where it will be most visible to bucks as they travel through. These locations of course also should be within good shooting range (but not downwind) of a tree stand or ground blind setup. This is why meadows, swamp openings, food plots and agricultural fields often are the best areas in which to place the trees. Of course, if you're thinking of placing anything in a crop field, make sure you first get permission from the farmer.


You'll want a few rub trees in place just before the bucks start to lose velvet. In most parts of North America, this will mean late August. I like to use smaller and bushier trees for this period right before velvet stripping. Bucks that are still in velvet won't actually rub the tree, but they'll still use it for scent communication, which will make it a center of activity.


The first thing we need is the tree itself. By now you should know which tree species you're going to use, so it's time to go cut a few. We don't want trees that have been rubbed--instead, we need unrubbed trees of a locally popular rub species.

For now, stick with those 2-3 inches in diameter. Cut them off low to the ground and trim flush with the trunk any low branches that might be present. The ideal rub tree will be cut around 8 feet in length and have a couple of overhead branches that will be within reach of the bucks but still be above the actual rubbing area of the tree.

Using a posthole digger or shovel, plant the base of the cut tree approximately two to three feet into the ground. Again, consider the height of the overhead branches. If they're too high for bucks to reach, the tree won't have near the appeal of one whose branches bucks can reach while remaining on all fours. These branches eventually will become overhanging limbs for scrapes, so they're important to have. We'll talk more about this subject later.

If the ground is dry, it's imperative to add water to the hole as you replace the soil. This helps firm the soil while the moisture dries, creating a more compact and sturdier base for the tree. Depending on the species used, this can also help to keep the tree green for a longer period. Once a rub tree does dry up or lose its luster, you can simply replace it with one that's been freshly cut.

An important consideration is to make sure the tree has a little "give" to it. You want to tamp the soil firm enough to hold the tree but still allow for some movement when it's pushed against. Being able to bend and flex the tree seems to really drive a buck crazy--which in turn causes more aggression, which in turn causes him to spend more time at the tree. This of course will become very important once you're hunting the tree rub. Depending on the soil type within your hunting area, you might need to adjust the depth of the hole in order to get the desired amount of movement.

Again, it's important to pay attention to the height of the overhead branches. If they're too low, bucks can actually hook them in their antlers and literally pull the tree out of the ground. At the same time, if they're so high bucks can't reach them, the tree loses its appeal.

You can avoid this problem by using a tree with high overhead branches and simply bending them low enough to be utilized by the bucks. Throw a few plastic zip-ties or some rope into your pocket and tie the branches down to a height of about four to five feet from the ground. This should be sufficient for the bucks to reach for scent marking but also high enough so they can't actually lift the tree from the ground.

Once you have your tree set firmly, take your shovel or clipper blade and scuff the bark to give the trunk a good visual. You want to peel the bark enough that plenty of the inner white wood is showing, as if it's a fresh natural rub. Make this rub about three feet above ground level and have it facing the direction from which you anticipate the buck traffic to come. The bucks need to see this rub in order for it to grab their curiosity and pull them to it.

Even if the bucks don't start tearing up the tree as their own rub, it will most likely still become a hub of activity. The bucks will nuzzle the overhead branches, purposely leaving preorbitai and forehead scents, which in turn should eventually lead to scrapes being developed. So even if the trees aren't seeing much rubbing, it's a safe bet there's still decent activity around them. These trees are great places to set up trail cameras, helping you know for certain the amount of activity there is and which bucks are working the tree.


In Part 2, I'll share a late-pre-rut strategy that drives bucks crazy and can turn your mock tree rubs into genuine signposts. This simple change will all but eliminate the dreaded "October lull" and is just about guaranteed to bring bucks to your mock signposts during daylight hours. So stay tuned for more! NAW

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Author:Cole, Dan
Publication:North American Whitetail
Date:Sep 15, 2015
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