Pre-rut Sign You Should Hunt

The weeks we’ve all been waiting for are here. Just yesterday, a small buck in my backyard was making rubs and having bristled staring matches with my 3D archery target. Deer are now moving more during daylight, and tensions are mounting. This time might be the best time to kill a big deer. Check out this podcast about killing big deer during scrape week!

With all the sign making, how will you know which pre-rut sign is worth hunting? That question is the right one to ask. Much of the sign made at this time of year may not hold value. Understanding the sign is the key to a successful hunt.

It’s Everywhere

Deer sign is all over the place this time of year. From rubs that popped up in September to scrapes opened by tense young bucks, it can be tricky to choose which sign to hunt. 

While I’m not condoning passing by sign without checking it, there is sign you’ll want to spend more time reading. The name of the game is the right place, right time. But if you get one of those wrong, you’ll be out of the game. 

Worth The Price

Your time is valuable, and no hunter wants to waste it hunting the wrong thing. Big sign often draws considerable attention, but despite popular belief, that a signpost rub doesn’t always carry its weight in gold. 

Let’s use the example of a rub and the details you need to pick apart. One big rub is all you need to get your mind excited, but if that rub doesn’t give you direction, it’s not worth much. Small rubs leading to a bedding area, or better yet, to and from a bedding area, should get you excited. Saplings rubbed on both sides with a green hue and bark shavings at their base reveal a key travel route. Dig a little further; any buck can make a little rub, so how aggressive are those rubs? Are the saplings snapped off halfway up their trunk? Do the rubs go from the bottom of the tree to about chest height? How shredded is the wood, is it smooth, or does it look like spaghetti hanging off the tree?

Scrapes shouldn’t be a problem determining their freshness since leaves are falling. That means bucks will open the best scrapes daily. But the right time is difficult to catch. Scrapes can be a perfect trap for daylight activity, but many are used and checked at night. If you’ve noticed scrapes with loose earth, becoming a muddy pit, or dust on newly turned leaves, consider throwing a hunt at that area right away. If you’re not so sure, this is a good area for a cell cam.

As a helpful hint, if you find new scrapes on your way out of the woods, hunting them right after a light rain is an excellent plan. Be patient; a buck reworking scrapes after rain will have many to check. Don’t be afraid to be on stand through mid-day hours.

Soak It In

Gawking at sign and moving along won’t teach you much. But overthinking can hurt you as well. Take a quick look at the sign and ask some questions. What pattern is it showing? Does the sign make sense for the time of year? A buck’s interest is shifting toward does, so better movement will happen from buck to doe bedding. Food is still important but does and security cover rule.

When you find a few things that catch your eye, take at least 5 minutes to read that sign. Think about why a buck would make it, when he would travel it, and how you might hunt him there effectively.

Flip a Coin?

Sometimes even the best hunters have to make educated guesses. If you’re in an area where you’ve found minimal sign, it might mean you just need to take your chances. Find the best sign you can. If that sign is in a funnel, pinch point, or good travel terrain, it’s probably a good travel corridor for a pre-rut hunt. Flip the coin and take your chances at your educated guess. You’ll be surprised how often you might be right.


Bucks will do some cruising this time of year, but they are more likely to be caught setting themselves up for success with does. Establishing their travel routes and rooting out doe bedding is a priority. Finding their travel lines and areas of intense sign making can often be like a connect the dots picture. Find the correct number in the sequence and hunt!