September 01, 2007
Perhaps one of the most important variables to successful whitetail deer hunting is understanding bucks and their bedding habits. The trick is to have deer bedding close to your stand, on your property or hunting grounds and knowing how to take advantage of deer that are taking a nap.
How To Identify Bedding Locations
I've seen bucks bed in a variety of locations under varied weather conditions. During winter you can count on critters bedding on the downwind side of conifer trees. Pine, aspen, cedar and any thick conifer offers a wind block, snow cover and shelter for deer striving to retain body heat during cold weather conditions. Summer bucks often bed on the shady side of a knoll that offers a soothing breeze to cool their warm body.
Generally, during hunting season bucks tend to bed in thick cover or areas that offer shade, brush, tall grass, briars or habitat to conceal their form. Deer love fallen trees that are often uprooted by wind and provide a wind break and perfect camouflage to hide their outline. More often than not, bucks spend daylight hours in thick brush, swamps and areas of dense cover and seclusion. Come late afternoon they rise from beds and begin feeding. Savvy hunters place stands close to bedding areas. The trick is to enter the blind without alerting sleeping deer. Then, when evening arrives hunters have the added bonus of ambushing deer that are just starting to move. Bucks tend to hold tight to cover, not far from bedding areas until the light begins to fade and they feel comfortable moving into open fields or ridges.
Deer love to take naps in grass. Bucks often select tall grass that will conceal their ivory antlers that tower over their head. Obviously the CRP program proved to the whitetail world that big bucks can not only survive in fields of waving grass, but they can thrive and grow old with monster racks. Northern hunters are quick to recognize that bucks love to spend time in wooded locations that have abundant tall grass. Find where plush tall grass is interspersed with pine trees or other cover and bucks will not be far away.
|Generally deer love to take naps in grass. Bucks often select tall grass that will conceal their ivory antlers that tower over their heads. Kenny Darwin photos|
Approaching Bedded Bucks
I've spent a lifetime trying to photograph big bucks. Often I wait until noon, when adult deer are taking a nap before I slip into thick cover with telephoto gear. Some-times I get no shots because deer detect me and blast away. Other times I slip in, shoot 'em up and back out without detection. I've learned some tricks for getting close to deer that I apply to hunting with bow or gun.
Once a buck is taking a nap, your best bet for hunting success is to approach from downwind or side-wind and take stand until the animal gets up and offers a shot. Stalking resting deer takes plenty of skill, practice and lightning fast skills in order to make the shot. The trick is to move slow, spot the animal before he spots you, and get a clear shot. Sounds simple but the tactic requires plenty of hard work.
Trying to jump a buck and get off a shot is impossible with bow, but gun hunters can count on action if they approach bedding areas with reverence for the animal and move at a snail's pace. I've come from a family of northern Wisconsin deer stalkers. When I was a kid my Father, Ray Darwin, taught me how to silently slip through the forest, sneak up on bedded deer and get off a shot. Few hunters understand the skills involved with this brand of exciting hunting. Like all hunting strategies, the secret to success lies in how well you understand deer and their habits, identify bedding locations and use deadly tactics to approach bedding deer.
I've had fantastic success on monster bucks in southern Michigan during bow season by using some slick tricks. First, hunt in farm country highlighted by open fields where you can spot and stalk tending bucks. The idea is to locate a hot breeding pair. The buck will follow the doe-in-heat almost anywhere and the often end up away from woodlots, standing and eventually bedding in relatively open fields. This offers stalkers a golden opportunity if they understand bucks and their bedding habits.
Second, bucks always bed down wind from does and they will lay down with their back to the doe, facing downwind. This allows them to smell their partner and keep track of their mate, yet by facing down wind they can see any approaching rival bucks, hunters or predators.
Third, begin by using terrain to block your approach. Use trees, ditches, rock piles, standing corn, tall grass, rolling hills, telephone poles, farm equipment, any object between you and the buck to block him from seeing you. Move slow, stay hunkered, take breaks to relieve muscle strain and most importantly, DO NOT knock an arrow. Rookie stalkers make the common mistake of knocking an arrow long before they are in bow range. A knocked arrow makes stalking much too difficult; they catch on brush, leaves and make extra noise and movement that will alert resting bucks. The closer you get to bedded bucks, the slower you must move and the closer you need to be to the ground. Eventually, you want to be inside 30 yards, laying on your belly and the big boy is still bedded without a clue you are kissin' close.
I admit I'm a poor bow shot. So, I make up by getting inside 20 yards to bedded bucks and when they stand I have an easy shot at a large target. How do you get that close? Easy, if you move extra slow, avoid making noise, use camo on face, hands, head, whole body and when deer look at you, simply do not move.
Bucks that are bedded offer poor shots for archers. Placing an arrow in the vitals is difficult because the heart and lung are somewhat sideways. So, you need to get Mr. Big to stand up. Here's how to do it.
Begin by slinking into easy bow range, slowly nocking an arrow and getting up on one knee, ready to make your shot, yet still concealed from the watchful eyes of a resting deer. Now, make a burp with your mouth. That's right; purposely get the attention of the sleeping buck. He will think it is an approaching rival deer; his neck will rotate until he is facing directly at you, ears perked forward. This is when you can count on an adrenalin rush like no other and you must remain motionless, don't even blink an eye. If he turns his head away, give him another burp.
Now, listen up, this is the important part. Soon he will rise to check out the grunting noise and you must draw while the buck is getting to his feet. His rear end will come up first, always, and you must draw during this movement. Don't worry about spooking the deer because he is busy getting up and he will reserve flight until he is fully on all four feet. When he stands on the front feet, center your pin on his chest and let fly. If the deer is turned toward you try penetrating though the front of the chest, if turned away try a one lung or neck shot.
Of course, it is much easier to locate a bedding area and place a stand on the downwind side. Don't hunt the stand if your scent is blowing into the bedding site. Try to place the stand along a runway or path that will allow you to get in position without making unnecessary noise. Most hunters stalk their stand to avoid spooking nearby deer. Bucks that are bedded are difficult to see but if you try grunting calls you will get them up and frequently moving to check out the sound. Once you see a buck coming to your call, stop calling and do not call if the deer is looking toward you. Wait until his head is down or he is not facing you to call, otherwise the deer will pinpoint the sound and spot you in the stand.
Bucks often bed in the same location. This is because they have selected a spot that makes them feel safe, relaxed, unmolested and comfortable in particular hideouts. The goal of savvy hunters is to not disturb resting deer. Treat bedding locations with respect and reverence, your goal is to not disturb deer. If you walk up on a bedded buck, jump him from his bedroom, chase him from his sanctuary and he will not return until after dark. In some cases he will not return at all.
This was the case with a Washtenaw County 10-point with a monster white rack. I tried to get him for two years, knew he was bedding in the pine trees closed to hunting, but after I got permission to hunt with camera I made the mistake of spooking the monster. The wind was perfect as I put on face camo and slipped through the trees with telephoto in hand. It was noon on a sunny day, perfect camera weather and I knew the big boy would be sawing logs as my footsteps were dampened by the bed of pine needles. Then, I saw movement and when I focused on the white antlers and snapped photos the big deer turned his massive rack, took one look at me and blew out of Dodge in one unbelievable leap. The photos were great, but that was the last time I saw the big deer. Come November snow his tracks were missing and I've come to the conclusion I bumped him from his tiny sanctuary and he moved to another or was harvested by another hunter.
The moral to the story is if you go messin' with bucks in their hiding locations, you can spook them out of your hunting grounds. Your strategy should be to identify bedding areas, protect them from human influence and hunt the edges. Only go into bedding spots with gun in hand and finger on the safety. Hunters who don't understand scouting rules make the common mistake of pushing deer off their property by jumping bedded animals. Rookies think they gain valuable knowledge of a buck's whereabouts by jumping them, when they actually have done themselves a disservice by bumping deer to other sanctuaries.
Fact is, if you are serious about hunting deer, especially mature bucks with impressive headgear; you better have a good understanding of how important bedding grounds can be. Learn how to identify them, become proficient at placing stands around them and you will increase your chances at success. Hunting a big buck on his home turf can be a daunting job, but if you can narrow his territory to a particular bedding location you can have fantastic results at lightning speed.