What’s the Rub?

By Helen Fischel, Associate Director, Education

Once the rain subsided last weekend, I ventured out to my Delaware Nature Society-certified backyard habitat to begin the fall clean-up.  I was surprised to find several trees that were rubbed by deer in the side yard. Ugly scars in vertical stripes adorned the trees. Since the damage was only done on one side of each of the trees, there is a good chance that they will survive.   I responded to this assault by sheathing the trees in wire caging, but the damage has been done and the cambium tissue was violated.

A White-tailed Deer buck in velvet.
A White-tailed Deer buck in velvet. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Bucks rub their antlers on the trunks of small trees in late summer to remove their velvet but this does not usually result in much damage to the tree.  During the autumn rut, Bucks rub trees to mark their territory and to practice sparring, which they will do in earnest with rival bucks.  This is when you will see that your backyard trees have been molested and mangled.  Small trees up to 3 or 4 inches in diameter truly are the White-tailed Deer punching bag. 

In order to prevent deer from rubbing your backyard trees, some homeowners spray the area with predator urine while others use solar-powered electric fences to deter encroachment.  My low-tech method was to whip out some chicken wire and garden fencing to protect the individual trees for now.  Hey deer…go pick on somebody else’s trees!

My trees were rubbed by the neighborhood bucks.  I responded by wrapping them with chicken wire and garden fencing.  Hey deer...go pick on someone else's trees!
My trees were rubbed by the neighborhood bucks. I responded by wrapping them with chicken wire and garden fencing. Hey deer...go pick on someone else's trees! Photo by Helen Fischel.

Resources: Tree Injury From Deer Antler Rubbing; Branden Schiess, Graduate Student
University of Idaho and Derek Stoner, Delaware Nature Society.

3 thoughts on “What’s the Rub?”

  1. Christie Taylor

    This is a great story! And that deer photo caught my attention – you’ve got a real photographer’s eye, Derek! So what compels male deer to do this? Is it instinct? Are they trying to pass on their scent to females? Or, just like a velour leisure suit can become uncomfortable after 18 hours of wear, does the velvet get itchy for them?

  2. Christie-
    The velvet is actually a layer of skin with specialized hairs and a rich supply of blood. When day lengths shorten in late summer, the blood supply shuts off, and antlers become hard bone. The velvet dries up and the buck rubs his antlers to get rid of the dried skin, sort of like someone ditching a leisure suit after it has worn out its usefulness. – Derek

  3. You should use DeerPro Winter Animal Repellent to stop this kind of damage to your trees and shrubs. One spray will last all winter.

Leave a Reply