Setting up near bedding areas is sometimes the only way to tag a mature buck.
Story and photos by Steve Bartylla
I knew I was on to something good as I followed last year’s rub line. Although it was still late summer, the large tracks indicated that a buck had survived and continued using the route between its ridgetop bedding spot and feeding areas in the valley.
Standing at the bed, I paused to survey the area. It had everything a buck could want. The thick cover made it difficult for anything to approach silently. The knob selected for the bed jutted out just enough to offer a view of the valley below. When the wind blew from the opposite side of the ridge, the site allowed a buck to see, hear and smell danger. Furthermore, it offered excellent escape routes. If pushed, the buck could drop down the side of the ridge, escape over the opposite side or parallel it in either direction. In an instant, it would be gone.
Before the afternoon was over, I found a second bed and a rub line dropping down to fields in the opposite valley. With that, the buck had two beds that provided safety, regardless of wind direction. It wasn’t going to get ambushed in bed. However, it was easy prey as it slipped out its bedroom door.
The beds’ positioning on either side of the ridge provided options for any wind direction. With both valleys offering food, the buck bedded on the east side of the ridge during periods of westerly winds. As darkness neared, it could get up and face the wind as it went over the ridge and down the other side to the western valley to eat. On days with eastern winds, it could do the reverse.
Having pieced this together, all that was left was selecting stand sites on the opposite sides of the ridge on which the buck bedded. While both stands were on the doorstep of its bedding areas, they allowed for undetected entrance and exit routes. With stands in place, I waited for the season to begin.
On a warm and windy afternoon, I climbed into the western stand and waited with hope for an encounter with the 4 1/2-year-old 10-pointer. Just after sunset, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. The buck was playing its role perfectly.
It stopped a mere 5 yards from the base of my tree and surveyed the ridge side for danger. One more step and it would be in the clear, offering a beautiful 6-yard quartering-away shot. As it moved, I brought my bow to full draw, picked a spot and sent the arrow. As I watched it bury in, I knew the 10-pointer would wear my tag. Setting up on the doorstep of its bedding area had produced beautiful results.
Bedding Area Benefits
During certain weather conditions and phases, setting up in a buck’s bedroom doorway is the most consistent stand hunting technique. Take the buck that began this piece. The hunt took place on the third day of Wisconsin’s bow season. Hunting food sources can be a productive early season tactic, but it wouldn’t have produced that animal that day. The heat had caused it to remain bedded until after sunset. At its leisurely pace, it would have been dark before it entered the food source. Being so close to its bed let me see the buck well before shooting light was a concern. During periods of excessively hot, windy or rainy conditions, being near the bedroom is often the best choice.
Another consideration is hunting pressure. As most readers know, excessive human activity can drive bucks nocturnal. This occurred to me some years back as I scouted on public land. I was troubled by the amount of human sign, but I brushed it off as being left by fishermen. Opening day found my mouth gaping in surprise when I pulled up to a full parking lot. Since I had nowhere else to hunt, I figured I might as well head in. That afternoon resulted in double-digit sightings of people, but not a single deer.
The next day I showed up at noon with a pair of hip boots and went to work. From my earlier scouting efforts, I knew the deer were bedding on islands in the swamp on the opposite side of the river. From then on, setting up on the edge of these islands consistently produced great results during the last minutes of light. However, other hunters were seeing very few deer. Not surprisingly, their stands were much farther away from the bedding areas. Setting up at the bedroom doors is an effective way to beat hunting pressure!
Perhaps the most crucial phases of the season to hunt near bedding areas are the lull and early post rut. In many states, some form of deer season begins well before the rut. The first week or two, bucks are often seen feeding in open food sources. That changes suddenly. Much like hitting a light switch, consistent daylight sightings of mature bucks come to an abrupt end, only to start again once the peak scraping phase begins.
During both these periods, bucks are lazy, overly cautious and busy building fat. This often results in bucks that feed almost exclusively at night and lounge in bed all day. That makes setting up in their doorway one of the only ways to take mature bucks during these phases.
A buck I took during the lull phase of the 2003 archery season illustrates how this tactic can pay off. In mid-summer, I hung a stand bordering a cornfield bedding area and left it alone until the lull phase began. About 40 minutes after getting settled into the stand for the first sit, the snap of a branch caught my attention. Soon I saw a buck slipping out of the standing cornfield.
I had left some scent in my shooting window, banking on it to bring him to a complete stop. It did its job well. With its nose glued to the scent wick, I had plenty of time to focus on slipping the arrow neatly behind the buck’s shoulder. Several bounds and one loud crash later, it was mine.
Finding Bedding Areas
Post season, spring and even summer are good times to locate bedding areas. During these times, all of the previous year’s rubbing activity has been conducted. That makes following rub lines from food sources to the bedding areas much easier.
Piecing individual rubs together often requires filling in some gaps. Because bucks are solitary animals during non-rutting times, their trails are rarely well defined. However, they’re typically good enough to fill in the gaps.
The big guys prefer bedding sites that possess certain traits that help ensure their survival. By identifying the common traits, we can also apply this knowledge to finding new locations.
Regardless of where bucks bed, they have a strong tendency to lay with the wind covering their backside and their eyes protecting their front. Such was the case with the anecdote about my buck at beginning of this article. The two knobs each offered nearly impenetrable cover, as well as a view of the slope below.
The thickest cover on a property, islands of dry land in swamps and even knolls in native grass fields all have potential. Each may offer numerous escape routes and allow deer to see and smell the wind from all sides. The swamps and thick cover offer noisy approaches, whereas the knolls let them see danger from a great distance.
Checking locations that share these traits can pinpoint mature buck bedding areas. Then, when large bed-shaped impressions are found in conjunction with big tracks or scat and rubs, it can indicate that you’ve found the big boy’s bed.
Also, because the buck’s route from the bedding area is dictated by the location of food sources, changes in food sources are another consideration. Farmers commonly rotate crops, and natural food source production such as acorns can fluctuate from year to year. When food sources change, if a suitable alternative is not present, bedding areas can shift to spots closer to the new food source.
Making It Work
Unfortunately, there’s no rule on how close you can set up to a bedding area and still go undetected. The amount of noise you make while walking, the topography, the route you take, wind direction and density of cover are just some of the factors that determine this safe distance. As with many decisions made in the woods, common sense and experience should be the guide.
Along the lines of keeping a low profile, it’s best for stands to be prepared well in advance. When that isn’t an option, odors, noises and disturbances to the area must be kept to a minimum while preparing the stand site.
Knowing when, where and how to hunt a buck’s bedroom doorway can produce great hunting during otherwise less productive periods. The more time you spend in stands with decent odds of producing, the more consistently you can fill your buck tags. Frankly, I don’t know a single hunter who wouldn’t like to wrap his or her hands around a few more trophy racks.
This article was published in the July 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.