How to ... lure bucks to a specific location with a rub tree

  • Updated: September 26, 2013 - 3:49 PM

The author examined a rub tree he “planted” in a food plot, just 15 yards from his tree stand. Note the tree has been rubbed and bucks have left a scrape below the licking branch.

Photo: Bill Marchel • Special to the Star Tribune,

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. - It was nearly 3:30 p.m. when I decided to bow hunt from my favorite deer stand. The date was Nov. 12, 2012, one day after the close of Minnesota’s Zone 2 firearms deer season.

I arrived at my stand and wasted no time climbing the tree and settling in. A strong wind gusted from the northwest, perfect for this hunting location.

This bow stand is my favorite for a variety of reasons. First, I’m well hidden. My stand is strapped to the trunk of an ash tree, with two nearby spruce trees to break up my outline. Second, behind me is a pond, and on many occasions I can pass the time watching wood ducks, Canada geese or other wetland critters. Third, the stand is between two small food plots. Each year I plant the plots with a variety of vegetation to attract deer and other wildlife.

The stand has another prime feature, most attractive of all: Back in October I had “planted” a buck rub tree — complete with a licking branch — in the food plot to my right, just 15 yards from my tree stand. Bucks feeding in the plot are attracted to the tree not only to rub their antlers but to also make a scrape under the overhanging branch I provided.

Rubs, scrapes and licking branches are visual and olfactory signposts left by rutting bucks to attract does and to alert other bucks of their presence. When a buck rubs his antlers on a sapling, he not only leaves a scarred tree, he also deposits scent from a gland on his forehead. A buck will also mouth and thrash a licking branch as he attempts to leave his scent. The final touch comes when a buck paws the earth below the licking branch. Sometimes the buck will then urinate in the scraped area.

To “plant” the rub tree, I simply used a fence-post digger to bore a hole about 2 feet deep in the ground. Then I cut an aspen tree roughly 4 inches in diameter and placed it in the hole. After that I used a portable drill to bore a 1-inch hole in the aspen trunk. Finally I placed a licking branch in the 1-inch hole, securing it with a few screws.

At least one buck visited my rub tree the very next night. It not only rubbed the tree, but it pawed a scrape in the soil and worked the overhanging branch.

Now, a month later, as I looked down upon my accomplishments from my elevated perch, the rub tree was shredded and a large well-worked scrape lie beneath the licking branch.

At 5:05 p.m. a fawn walked into the food plot to my right. I had 10 minutes of legal shooting time remaining. Almost immediately the fawn glanced back into the woods, ears cupped. Using my binoculars I spotted the reason for the fawn’s actions: A nine-point buck was heading our way.

Entering the food plot, the buck ignored the fawn, and I knew he was coming straight to the rub tree. As the buck walked my way I carefully moved my feet, adjusted my body and positioned my bow. Sure enough, the buck walked directly to my rub tree only 15 yards away. When he turned his head to sniff the scarred bark, I drew and released my arrow. I heard the dull “thump” when my arrow hit flesh. The buck ran a short distance before expiring.

My rub tree had worked to perfection.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

  • related content

  • From a tree stand in an ash tree Marchel re-enacts the shot in which he took a nine-point buck that was checking out the rub tree (foreground) he placed earlier in the fall.

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