Scrapes, Rub Lines, and Beds…Oh My!

There are very few feelings like scouting on a crisp fall day and finding a fresh scrape dug into the earth, immediately before the season opens. Further down the trail, maybe you find a fresh rub gouged into a tree or a group of saplings all thrashed about. The late season is spent focusing on finding funnels and beds in and around food sources. Even after the season ends, our off time is a time to look for this sign and pull it all together. Once found, deer sign has you automatically thinking you hit the jackpot, and that a big mature buck will come sauntering right through your set on opening morning. But is that true?

Bringing up the word “fall” is still a sore subject with bow hunters, the off season can be tough to swallow. Off season scouting is one way to stay in the woods and at the same time improve your chances at success next season. Scouting in February and March while looking for sheds mostly, also reveals deer sign from December and November. This deer sign should be taken note of as it can be vital to next year. While heavy deer sign does indicate that deer semi-regularly use that area, that doesn’t always mean it will be useful to you as a hunter. It may make us feel better to find scrapes, rubs, beds, scat, tracks, or trails. But let’s look at three common types of deer sign and see what they really mean.


Scrapes are formed when a deer (buck or doe) paws the earth and urinates in it. They may also rub their heads on a licking branch above the scrape location. During the process, they deposit scent from glands between their hooves, on their legs, and on their heads. Basically, deer use scrapes as a social communication board. A buck may make one to mark the edges of his territory and never return, or several deer may use a larger community scrape. It’s true that bucks mostly visit scrapes at night, but there are always exceptions. So how can you capitalize on this type of deer sign?

Prime Hunting Bows | G5 PrimeFirst, realize that hunting over scrapes is generally only effective during the pre- and post-rut periods. During these phases, bucks are seeking and chasing does and re eager to breed. If you depend on a scrape during the rut, after bucks have locked down with does, you won’t see nearly the same action. Save your scrape locations to use during the pre- and post-rut. Luckily, the pre-rut is a wonderful time to be bow hunting with your new Prime Rival hunting bow. The weather is perfect for it and the action can be great!

Also focus on larger community scrapes within or near security cover (e.g., thickets, conifer plantation, etc.). This will maximize your chance of finding a mature buck checking it during daylight hours. Make sure you set up on the downwind side, as always. You can add to the enticement factor by scratching up the surface of the scrape with a branch (be careful about adding your own scent to it) and even dribbling in some doe in estrous scent. The next buck that wanders past this scrape should check it often in the next couple days hoping to find the receptive doe. What a surprise he’ll get when you’re that doe!


Rubs occur in two fairly distinct phases. In the early season, bucks use trees and brush to help remove velvet from their grown and hardened antlers. They don’t mean much from a hunting stand point. As the fall wears on and the pre-rut approaches, however, bucks start to use trees and shrubs as territorial markers and sparring partners. They’ll often use trees to strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles, and also vent their increasing aggression as testosterone takes effect. In the process, they also leave scent from their forehead glands on the trees, which serves as sign post to other deer.

Deer Signs | G5 Prime

Often you’ll find rubs in succession (i.e., a rub line) along habitat edges. For example, you’d be more likely to find a rub line where a hardwood stand meets swamp edge versus strictly in the middle of a hardwood stand. While trees and shrubs of all sizes could theoretically be rubbed by any age buck, there are some generalizations. Larger trees (i.e., over 4 to 5 inches in diameter) are usually only rubbed by mature bucks with a fairly nice rack. If you find a rub line consisting of all large trees, it’s a very safe bet you’ve found a mature buck. How can we use this information to hunt more efficiently?

Again, rubs may be most effective in the pre-rut stage when bucks are marking territories and practicing for the rut. Set up on the downwind side of a rub line near a habitat edge and you should find a buck wandering within bow range at some point.


Deer beds might not be the most exciting deer sign compared to scrapes and rubs. But they can be used and applied to your bow hunting sets. Does tend to bed in small groups, often with smaller beds (fawns) located in close proximity. You’ll often find these types of beds in brushy cover or small woodland openings near food sources. Unless you’re hunting for meat, you may want to switch your attention to buck beds. For these, you’ll probably need to head to patches of isolated cover. Think of small island thickets in the middle of a swamp, or tangled messes you don’t want to walk into. These areas will hold big bucks.

Focus on bow hunting downwind of these bedding areas when the going gets tough. Your entry and exit routes must be rock solid to hunt close to a bedding area, and once you’re in, you should hunt for the day so as not to disturb bedded deer. At the beginning of the rut, start hunting downwind of the doe bedding areas, and you may find a mature buck cruising the edges of the doe beds looking for an estrous female.

Off season scouting can expose a lot of deer sign from the season and it all is significant. Bow hunting over or near this sign is important, but you need to know how to do it effectively. If not, you may spend countless days on stand with nothing to show for it. Or worse, you can quickly turn a good thing bad by educating the deer you’re after.