There is misinformation about deer rubs on trees that you see in the fall and winter. No, the story that those rubs you see are made by bucks whose velvet antlers are itching and they need to get rid of drying velvet, the blood-filled covering of young, forming antlers, isn’t completely accurate. That is the case with other cervids like elk and moose to a greater extent, but those rubs made by buck deer in November and December, are found as often as those made in September or October.
It is true that rubs on small trees just an inch or so in diameter is something done by bucks with smaller antlers, but when you see a really large rub on a tree that is more than three inches in diameter it is more than likely done by bucks with larger antlers. If you come across a really large tree, most often a cedar, with a diameter of five inches or so with a fresh rub, that is almost always the result of a big-antlered deer mock-fighting against an opponent.
The resistance of that bending bush or small tree resembles what he would feel in a fight against another buck and it prepares him for that, strengthening neck muscles. It is also true that glands in his neck and head leave his scent for a passing buck to smell and realize that he is in the territory of a possible opponent.
The scrapes a buck makes below overhanging limbs become less of a thing as winter progresses and breeding winds down. They are made not so much as a process of staking out territories as they are for the does that are coming in heat to leave their scent. Scrapes are made and marked with urine by both the does and the buck that made them. That urine, which flows down over glands inside the lower legs, tells a story to other deer, mostly the does which are in the area. Even humans can smell that scent in a scrape, it is that strong, and if you remove them from a dead buck it takes some washing to get that smell off your hands.
When bucks make a scrape, they rub their eye glands against the limbs above them and nibble at the ends of the branches as well. But buck rubs on small saplings are something different. I am not writing about what I have been told or read. I have seen it all, the making of scrapes and rubs. Photographed both as well, with more hours in the woods than I spent hearing all about it in the classroom getting my wildlife biology degree from M.U.
When a buck is making a rub in December he gets carried away sometimes. He will stand there and act as if he is done, perhaps watching for other bucks, and then attack it again with gusto. He isn’t trying to polish his antlers, he is mad at it, practicing for a fight with some opponent. At this time of year, most rubs are made at night and usually it is a one-time thing. The chances he will return to that one sapling or cedar is slim. There are plenty of others to attack; but it for sure is in his travel lane.
If you stay away from those scrapes, he may come back again and again, even in the early morning when it is light, or just at dark.
After the first few days of the deer season, big bucks and even the does seem to become nocturnal, especially when the moon is bright. Next week I will give more revelations about deer in late winter, before they begin to shed those antlers.
My riverman friend and grizzled old outdoorsman, Jim Barr, of Piney River country, asked about the shrinking numbers of whippoorwills there. Jim, those birds and their close relative, the chuck-wills-widow, are doomed to extinction in time. I really mean that. In 30 years, and maybe less, there will be none. I think that woodcock will follow.
Whippoorwills are birds that do not walk… all feeding is done in flight, and nothing but insects. They lay eggs in hardwood forest leaves. There is no nest made. They lay between two and four eggs and I truthfully cannot figure out how long it takes for hatchlings to gain flight. But it isn’t long enough. They are in more danger than baby quail or turkey.
While today I estimate we have lost 60 to 70 percent of these birds that we had 40 years ago, we have record numbers of raccoons, possums, skunks, black snakes and the worthless non-native armadillos, every one of which easily finds and eats nest of ground-nesting birds. There are other creatures that also eat eggs and nestlings, as evidenced by the big decline in quail and wild turkey. Turkeys are really in a decline now, but some nests of quail survive because they are well-hidden. That is the only thing helping them survive.
The eggs of the whippoorwill are never in cover, only camouflage protects them and the camouflage is just not good enough. We need to be capturing and breeding them in confinement to make some attempt at saving that species, but with today’s young city-bred biologists and ornithologists, I don’t know that the urgency is there to do that. They didn’t hear them in the past decades when Jim and I did, when the music of their calls at night permeated hardwood forests that are bulldozed and shrinking every year.
You can see photos of whippoorwill eggs, bucks making rubs and some other of my photos and past articles on the Internet, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.
I am also putting info there about trail mix I make at home, which ends up being a great and economical Christmas gift for outdoor people.
You can order my outdoor books or outdoor magazines for Christmas gifts too. They are seen on www.larrydablemont.com. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org My office phone is 417-777-5227.