If the July and early August heat makes you think about the whitetail rut, then you’re as crazy about deer hunting as I am. Think about it: who in their right mind spends the summer months preparing for November bucks? But the truth is, it’s one of the best times to unravel the travel patterns of big bucks without altering their movements come fall.
Most guys scout heavily in the weeks preceding the hunting season, and then really hit it hard as rubs and scrapes begin appearing. The problem with scouting during these periods is that you’re nosing around a buck’s favorite haunts at the precise time that you want him to be un-pressured!
Whitetail deer are creatures of habit. A particular buck, if not bothered by man or other predators, will maintain routine travel routes to and from favored bedding and feeding areas. Like you, he’ll have predictable “patterns” in his day-to-day living. You get up, shower and shave, eat breakfast, go to work, break for lunch, finish work, go home, relax with family and friends, then sleep to recharge the batteries so you can do the same stuff the next day.
A buck does the same basic things (minus the showering and shaving). And during the pre-rut and rut, his “work” is finding girlfriends. Driven by testosterone-powered passion, he’s territorial. To define his “turf,” he makes visual and olfactory signposts in the forms of rubs and scrapes. By locating his signposts, and connecting the dots between them, you can effectively determine his travel corridors and establish ambush points for the upcoming season.
Focus on Rubs
In the summer, it’s pretty difficult to locate last year’s scrapes in the lush forest. But in my opinion, this can be a blessing in disguise. It forces the summer scouter to tune into the other signpost: RUBS. To me, locating rubs (and ultimately, rub lines) is the ticket to patterning a big buck for several reasons:
1. Rubs generally indicate the size of the deer that made them. A forkhorn will not shred a cedar the diameter of your thigh. A monster will.
2. Rubs tell you the direction of travel. Some trees will have mirror-image rubs on both sides of the tree. Nothing gets me more excited, because that demonstrates that the location is favorable whether the buck is coming or going, morning or evening.
3. Many rubs made by a dominant buck will get hit year after year. Various “layers” of scarring on the tree will tell you if it’s a recurring rub site. Quite likely, a rub like this will be within a buck’s core area.
4. Rubs made on big trees by a particular big buck can have an identifiable “signature.” A buck I chased several years back had wonderful brow tines very close together. That dude liked to dig those brows into wide trees, like he was carving a number 11 in them. Deciphering his travel routes was easy, but I never actually saw this buck. I think he was extremely nocturnal. I wish I had a Cuddeback scouting camera back then to see what he looked like, but they hadn¹t been invented yet.
Get An Aerial Map, GPS
As you begin summertime rub scouting, equip yourself with two tools. First, a good aerial photograph of the hunting property. Once upon a time, a guy often had to hire a pilot to get these images. Nowadays, you can go on-line and find satellite images through Google Earth and other sources. Second, make sure you have a quality hand-held GPS. My Lowrance I-Hunt is worth its weight in gold for scouting and logging waypoints. Plus, a GPS can save your bacon if you get lost. I also keep a traditional magnetic compass in the gear bag as a safety back up, and a notebook for jotting down data.
When you locate a big rub, log that waypoint. The I-Hunt has scouting icons pre-loaded in the unit, and one of them is RUB. From that starting point, extend your search in every direction and look for additional rubs. If you find another that has the same characteristics as the first, mark that waypoint. Log all pertinent information about each waypoint in your notebook (type and size of tree, compass direction of the rubbed side(s) of tree, scrape nearby if visible, licking branches nearby if visible, potential stand trees nearby, etc.). Continue this process until you’re satisfied that you’ve found every one of last year’s rubs in the area.
Now it’s time to piece together the puzzle. Zoom out on your GPS and you’ll often see an obvious pattern or patterns to the rub waypoint configuration. This is especially revealing if you know for certain where proven bedding and feeding areas exist.
Recreate Deer Travel Patterns
After you’ve logically connected the dots in your head, go out and physically connect the dots by walking from rub to rub while your GPS logs your trek. Now you have a visual re-creation of the travel pattern of a buck. Transfer the pattern to a printed aerial photograph of the area and laminate it. Keep it in your backpack when you hunt that spot for easy reference.
Another benefit of mapping rub lines goes back to using today’s digital scouting cameras. Near those trees that get rubbed year after year on my property, you’ll find a Cuddeback on a nearby tree come October. Because even if I don’t encounter the rub-maker during hunting season, I still want to see what I’m missing!
So this summer, in between fishing trips and rounds of golf, do yourself a favor and go scouting. Don’t worry about spooking deer because they’ll have several months to calm down and return to their routines. When the rut arrives, you’ll have a head start on one or more brutes living on your hunting grounds. And if all goes as planned, you’ll have the satisfaction of harvesting an animal that you outsmarted with hard work, technology, and summer sweat.
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