Most deer hunters know how important big rubs are to locating mature whitetail bucks in a particular area. Hunting terrain features linking rubs to bedding and feeding areas can be a great way to harvest your next mature whitetail buck. Terrain features are easy enough to find. Features such as funnels, saddles, points and hubs can be located using a topographical map before you ever scout your deer hunting area. Scouting these deer hunting areas for big rubs will let you know there is a good buck in the area and give you the confidence needed to stay on stand longer. When you know where a buck is traveling and are able to utilize the terrain features linking these areas you are putting the buck into a corner and with good entry and exit to and from your deer stand as well as proper wind direction and serious scent control the buck should eventually come by, hopefully within bow range.
The area I hunt has a good mixture of hardwoods, swamps and cutover with lots of ridges and cropland. Over the past several seasons I have located great terrain features that tend to funnel deer through the area and providing for some great deer hunts. In the past couple seasons I have added big rubs to the equation and the outcome has been very rewarding.
EARLY BUCK RUBS
You should begin your scouting early in an attempt to locate the first buck rubs of the season. Mature bucks almost always make the early rubs and when you locate them be sure to mark the spot or hang a stand because you are in the living room of a mature buck. These rubs are not easy to locate and they are few and far between, not to mention the foliage is still thick and visibility is limited in the woods this time of year. Take your time and you can find these important sign posts left by the bigger bucks in your hunting area.
The trick, after locating these rubs, is to align them within areas of the terrain features already noted. The rubs don’t necessarily have to be in the middle of the terrain feature you're hunting just nearby. In fact, I prefer the rubs to be away from the terrain feature that links the area where the rubs are located with the bucks likely bedding area.
Rubs, I have found, can be a double edge sword for the deer hunter. Your initial reaction to a shredded six-inch cedar is to get up a tree and hunt within sight of that rub. Sometimes this works, but most times you should try to locate the area that the buck is likely spending his day. If the rub is in the wide open next to a field or in a stand of mature hardwoods, where you can see a mile, then that buck is likely visiting those rubs at night and a sighting during good shooting light is not likely. In the past I was hunting areas that was covered up with buck sign, but I was not seeing mature bucks. I continued hunting these areas because I was seeing deer but decided I had to try something different.
WHERE THE BIG BUCKS HIDE
Finally the decision was made to just tough it out and hunt where I thought the bigger bucks were hiding. I located the most remote areas of the public land that I hunt and began hunting terrain features that had some low browse and acorns, but no deer sign at all or at least not any that I could detect. Ironically the very first time I tried this I had a decent six point meander by my tree well before dark which was very unusual at my old stands, even for a small buck. Needless to say after many hours on stand and fine tuning to include terrain features, my buck sightings have more than doubled and just as I suspected I see very few does now and even though I like seeing deer activity I would much rather see the antlers of a mature whitetail buck.
A lake surrounds my hunting area on three sides. I like to find two or three coves fairly close together. These coves form peninsulas where deer bed and feed depending on what is located on them. Ideally I prefer at least one peninsula that contains some thickets for potential buck beds and it only needs to be big enough for one deer if you're hunting big bucks. After the bachelor group phase, mature whitetail bucks are loners and a lone brush pile, left by a storm, can be enough of a bed for them.
HUNT WHERE THERE IS NO DEER SIGN
I had located some big rubs all the way out on one of the peninsulas where there was no food at all and it was fairly open so I figured the buck must have been making his rounds there under the cover of darkness. Now comes the decision on where to set up to ambush the mature whitetail buck using terrain features. The peninsula, with all the cover is where I felt the buck was spending his days so you don’t want to get too close to that area, but close enough to get a shot during the day as the buck leaves his bedding area to patrol his area. This may or may not include the third peninsula, between these two, which consisted of very open hardwoods and lots of acorns so it could be where the buck feeds, but again a mature whitetail buck will probably use the open woods at night so you want place your deer stand at the entrance to this peninsula. So I set my deer stand between the bed and the rubs and at the end of the peninsula with the acorns with the lake in sight of my stand. Now, if the buck decides to leave his bed and check out his territory I have it covered because the rubs tell me that he prefers that area and gives me a direction I can have confidence the buck is traveling. If I'm wrong I have enough visual coverage of the area to determine if the buck is coming from another direction. It really helps when you have a rub line connecting all the peninsulas, which is what I had in this location.
It took several days at this stand before the first mature buck was seen. He emerged from out of nowhere at 10:45 am on a hot windy morning. I nearly departed my deer stand several times that morning, but the rubs gave me the confidence that a good buck was in the area, so I stayed. It was mid November and the does were hot and this mature 8 point buck looked as though he had been out a little late, cruising the does.
The shot was true at 32 yards and I saw the nice eight pointer go down. The buck came down the narrow point I had chosen for this stand. The point proved perfect as drainages skirted both sides and was chocked full of brush and briers, a great place to hide, but miserable for travel. Deer will use the easiest route when not pressured and that is where locating good terrain features becomes key. The buck was on the move and had no time to waste crawling through the thick stuff. He came right down the center of the point grunting and I stopped him with a light grunt of my own and sealed the deal. Coincidentally the buck had just made the turn that would have taken him to the open peninsula to visit his rubs and scrapes. These thick drainages provide great bedding areas for does and the buck was probably checking them out for does and the quickest way was down this point. He could check both sides by smell and sound as he was signaling to any deer in those thickets that he was coming through. Deer know how to use the terrain to cover more ground to locate hot does and the sooner we as hunters realize this, the better. In this case the terrain features weren't the normal saddle or spur but rather some thick brushed ditches and a couple peninsulas.
It's time to get out there and do some early scouting and finding the terrain features that will help you harvest your next mature whitetail buck. Look for early rubs and make a note. Look at the big picture and try to imagine where deer are traveling and put together a plan. Locate the terrain features that tend to funnel deer movement into a confined area. Later in the season cautiously scout these locations and some new ones for active and aggressive rubs and be patient. Deer sightings may go down, but mature buck sightings should increase.
This approach to hunting may not be for everyone. It took me several seasons to stay away from all the sign and focus more on where mature whitetail bucks bed during the day, which is not with the does that tend to make the more visible sign we see around fields and logging roads. Some hunters, even if you proved this method to them, would still prefer to hunt where they can see a lot of territory and a lot of deer. I do understand and to each his own, but if you want to get serious about bagging a mature whitetail buck, especially with a bow, then try this approach. This method takes some time to learn and to begin to see the whole picture in your neck of the woods, but its well worth the time and hopefully this information will help you put together a plan that puts a nice mature whitetail buck down for you this season.