Author: National Deer Association
Published: October 25, 2022

A really informative article from the National Deer Association.

“Whitetails don’t have cell phones or social media accounts, but they are far more social than most hunters realize. They surf the information highway at rubs and scrapes to stay in contact with locals as well as travelers. During the rut, rubs and scrapes are primary communication locations for deer, and scientists have learned a lot about these interesting news feeds of the deer woods.

Deer communicate with each other in many ways. They communicate with visual signals, like when they use the white on the underside of their tail, rump, and belly to lead others away from danger. They use the positions of their eyes, ears, head, body and hair to convey attitude and intent.

They communicate through touch, such as social grooming and licking. Sound is also important in deer communication, and you’re probably familiar with numerous deer vocalizations. Of course, smell is also very important, and they communicate through a highly complex olfactory system. No one knows exactly how much more sensitive a deer’s sense of smell is than ours, but every hunter knows it’s several orders of magnitude better.

Visual and scent communication play roles at rubs and scrapes.


Rubbing by bucks occurs any time they are in hard antler, but it peaks during the pre-rut and then maintains that level throughout the breeding season. Bucks rub small and large trees, and dominant bucks may express social or physical superiority by rubbing trees or shrubs within sight of other deer. They may also rub to advertise their mate appeal to does.

Mature bucks often rub large trees, and these rubs can be special “signposts” that are revisited each year. Bucks especially enjoy rubbing fragrant species such as pine, cedar, sassafras, and red and sweet bay. In more open environments, fence posts and telephone line or electric poles can substitute for trees. It’s the odd hunter whose pulse doesn’t quicken at the site of a well-rubbed utility pole.

Many hunters think bucks rub to remove the velvet from their antlers. That is true, but there is far more involved. Bucks rub a tree and break the cambium layer. This is a visual cue to other bucks as well as does, and depending on tree species, it can be a scent cue too. Bucks then rub their forehead gland on the tree to leave specific information about themselves.

Researchers from the University of Georgia have identified nearly 50 different compounds present on mature bucks’ forehead glands that can be deposited on rubs. This allows bucks to share information on their identify and status and is why numerous bucks and does check rubs throughout the breeding season.


Rubs are important to deer and exciting for hunters, but they are a bottle rocket compared to the fireworks of scrapes. Scraping is also a signpost behavior, and it occurs throughout the year. Bucks and does use scrapes during any month, but their use peaks during the breeding season.

Scraping includes a sequence of behaviors that begins with a buck marking an overhanging branch. Bucks may rub their preorbital and/or forehead gland on the branch, and they often bite or chew it to leave their desired scent signal for other deer.

Next, the buck will paw away the leaf litter or vegetation immediately below the overhanging branch and create a shallow depression in the exposed soil. The scent of the exposed soil alone can attract other deer, but bucks often urinate in the pawed area.

This may be normal urination or “rub-urination” where the buck urinates while rubbing his tarsal glands together. The urine runs over his tarsal glands where some is collected, and the remainder drops into the scrape. This allows a buck to advertise at the scrape with his own unique scent and carry the scent with him (think Old Spice). In general, younger bucks urinate in scrapes without rubbing their tarsals together, especially yearling bucks. Mature bucks rub-urinate much more often, which is why dark-stained tarsal glands are one indicator of buck age.”

The full article can be found with this link.

Photo Credit: Original Author

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