Elk Rubs and Their Value to Hunters

Elk are no different than deer when it comes to making rubs. Just like deer, elk make rubs to mark territory, and rub off velvet from their antlers.

However, unlike deer elk rubs tell hunters a different story.

Do Elk Make Rubs

Elk are similar to deer in that they will make rubs to aid them in removing velvet. 

Elk also make rubs during the rut. This is both to mark their scent and as an aggressive act. In most cases, elk are a lot more aggressive with rubs. They also trash smaller shrubbery with their antlers.

When Do Elk Make Rubs

Elk Rubs and Their Value to Hunters

Elk make rubs generally two times a year. Although the times are very close together, they are separate events.

Elk will generally start making rubs towards the end of September. This will be when they start shedding velvet.

Shortly after this, elk will begin making territorial rubs; this will happen straight after the velvet rubs and will continue until late fall.

Meaning of Elk Rubs

Removing Velvet

The first rubs an elk makes are in the early season. This is when the elks’ testosterone begins to rise. 

During this time, the blood circulation is cut off from the antlers, and the velvet begins to die off.

As the velvet starts to die off and dry out, the elk start rubbing to help aid the removal of the velvet.

These types of rubs are usually quite close together and near bedding areas.

Velvet rubs are not very aggressive.


The second stage of an elk rub is when they are getting ready to start rutting.

These rubs are a lot more aggressive-looking due to the testosterone starting to build up.

Rutting rubs also cover a lot more ground as the elk are starting to move around much more.

Elk, similar to deer, rub trees and branches to leave their scent that comes from their pre-orbital gland.

Elk Rubs Value to Hunters

Elk Rubs and Their Value to Hunters

Whitetail hunters are well acquainted with rubs from deer. These rubs carry very significant information to the hunter and allow them to learn many things about the deer.

However, although elk rubs do carry some information, it is not as much as you would get from a whitetail deer.

Bull in the Area

The number one thing an elk rub can do for a hunter is let them know there is a bull in the area or one has recently passed through.

If you find an area with a lot of aggressive-looking rubs it may be worth marking that spot on your GPS device.

Areas with multiple aggressive-looking rubs are signs of good activity of rutting bulls.

If the rubs are fresh, then this area is worth slowing down and checking out.

If the rubs are from last year, it is still also worth marking this area, as it is likely that bulls may frequent this area again.

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Finding Staging Areas

Staging areas are the transition from removing velvet to putting on displays.

This is where a few bulls gather and start sizing each other up. I tend not to spend too much time on these areas because come September, the bulls will have moved on in search of cows.

These rubs will be random and infrequent. They will also be quite close together.

These rubs should be easy to spot from the more aggressive and spread-out rubs of a rutting elk.

Finding Travel Routes

Most people use whitetail rubs to map out a deer’s home range. However, this is more difficult to do with elk.

Elk generally do not have a small home range due to their far wandering nature. Thus it is often not possible to map out an elk’s travel using a rub route.

However, in some cases, it is possible that you may find some resident elk that will frequent the same trees or bushes to mark using their pre-orbital glands.

This gives a general location that the elk will frequent. Although it is not a travel route, it is an area that the elk likes and will return to often.

A resident elk is still far wandering but will frequently come back to the same areas. Look for an area with a lot of aggressive-looking rubs, more than usual.

Also, keep an eye out for trees with multiple rubs. Mark this in your GPS, it could be very valuable, perhaps the most valuable of all elk rubs.

Final Thoughts

Elk rubs don’t tell as much of a story as deer rubs. However, this does not mean that they should be dismissed.

Elk rubs can still tell you if elk are in the area or at the very least tell you if they have recently visited the area.

What you are looking for is very aggressive-looking rubs that are plentiful but also spaced out with some sort of direction of travel.

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