Calling Cards…The Ones Deer Leave

Right now is an exciting time in the woodlands. Not only are the trees going through their obvious transformation…but nature in general seems to have stepped up the pace as the doldrums of winter can be sensed by creatures large and small. Indeed, most of the woodland creatures are active for reasons as varied as the creatures themselves.

Yet, this time of the year is particularly interesting in the life of the whitetail deer. It’s a time when a buck’s thoughts turn to sex and the never-ending process of finding mates. For does, on the other hand, it can be a game of playing coy and staying distant until they come into their estrus cycle (meaning they are fertile and receptive to mating). This process of courtship is truly one of the most fascinating dramas that sportsmen get to experience, if only on a limited basis.

It all began several weeks ago when the bucks, or male deer with antlers, began the process of removing velvet from their summer antlers. Throughout much of the summer those antlers were a living, blood circulating bone that could grow as much as a ½ inch per day on top of a buck’s head. Then suddenly back in late August or early September the blood flow to the antlers began to shut down and the antlers hardened. The once soft “velvety” texture eventually dries and begins the process of sloughing. Experts tell us that at this stage for a deer it’s akin to us having a never-ending itch. Except for the deer, their goal is to remove the dried velvet and begin polishing the antlers for the upcoming courting process.

So how do deer accomplish this interesting process? Well, they leave their little calling cards all over in the woods for us hunters. During scouting sessions a keen eye will often spot numerous tree “rubs,” as they are called. Observing these rubs tell hunters several things. First, it is proof-positive that the woods contain a buck…as does will not leave such signs (caveat: there is a small percentage of does that will grow antlers, but typically it is only male deer). Second, rubs will also give some indication where deer like to hang out; they may even expose certain travel routes. But most importantly, the size of the rub can give the hopeful hunter a better understanding if there are any trophy deer carousing through the area.

Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that a deer will choose a bigger tree or sapling based on their size. For instance, a young forkhorn might only use saplings the diameter of your thumb to rub the velvet. Then again, a very mature trophy buck might also use that same small sapling. But if you find a tree with a diameter the size of your clenched fist or bigger…well, then…you have likely stumbled upon one of the most encouraging sights to be found in the deer woods.

Experts contend that deer rubs serve many purposes besides removing velvet alone. It’s speculated that the larger the size of the tree the bigger the deer…and the reason is simple. This tree is much like a sparring dummy. Think of a boxer in a gym using a punching bag to prepare for an upcoming big fight. The deer is doing much the same. If it wants to be the king buck doing most of the breeding in a certain geographical area it will likely have to fight other would-be dominant bucks with sort of a winner-take-all championship. Thus, bigger trees will in turn build bigger neck muscles and perhaps give a big buck the edge it will need to win the courtship rights to most of the does.

An observant sportsman will use the discovery of rubs and put it into the proper time line for what is happening in the deer woods. A fresh rub will mean the breeding season is underway…albeit, the peak is probably another month or more away.

When you see a deer rub think of it as the equivalent of a wildlife business card with some opportunistic buck introducing itself to you…letting you know it’s in the woods. Then when you stumble upon a BIG deer rub, think of it as a business card akin to meeting a big-shot CEO showing lots of embossing, gold hot-stamping, etc. While each card can be equally effective in its purpose, the card that stands out is the one holding the most promise for future opportunity. This fall, don’t squander the introductions these deer try to make in your life…pay attention to all the signs they leave for you.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.