Understanding Bedding Behavior Is One of the Most Important Factors in Deer Hunting
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1 | Time Spent Bedding
Deer spend more time bedded (about 70 percent) than in any other behavior or activity. Bedding periods last an average of 30 minutes. Deer are creatures of habit and may bed in the same location repeatedly. One exception is during periods of the rut when bucks are on the move searching for estrus does and defending their hierarchy. Bedding is more than a time to relax, groom and chew a cud. Where a deer beds is key to its survival. Click through the gallery for more information on deer bedding patterns, preferences and some tips on how to identify likely buck bedding areas.
Within a few hours of birth, the doe has cleaned up the fawn. It is then led away to security cover. There it will instinctively bed down. The next week or so is the most critical time for fawn survival. It will spend up to 95 percent of its time bedded while the doe keeps its distance, visiting several times a day to nurse the fawn. Most fawns that die from predation are under two weeks old. If a fawn senses danger, it instinctively knows to hunker down, lower its ears and let its spotted coat provide camouflage.
Doe family groups often bed near each other. Here they chose a log pile for rear protection. Group bedding provides advantages for survival. Multiple noses, eyes and ears monitor for danger. Oftentimes they even face in different directions while bedded to increase protection. It’s difficult for even the wiliest predator to approach close enough to spring an attack. Bucks will cruise doe bedding areas during the rut. Learn their locations from topo maps and pre-season scouting. Set up accordingly. Take care not to disturb bedding areas.
Grooming behavior is an important daily activity that contributes to a deer’s overall health. Much of it occurs while a deer is relaxed and bedded. The coat, tail and any injuries are licked clean. This buck was tending its tarsal, metatarsal and interdigital glands. Remember, a bedded deer may appear distracted, but its senses are always on alert.
Bucks naturally bed less during the pre-rut, search and chase phases. They’re more visible to the hunter, though does may lead them into dense areas to elude the buck’s advances. Finding an estrus doe is paramount and bucks will forego rest and feeding for the opportunity to breed. However, tending bucks will take advantage of the time while a doe beds. They will feed, groom and bed for a short rest like the buck pictured. The relaxed pair were interrupted shortly after the photo was made when a competing buck arrived on the scene. Hunting a buck that’s locked down on a doe takes patience and luck. The pair may not move much during the full estrus period.
A mature buck will use rocks, a log or other structures to shield it from a hunter or predator’s view. When off-season scouting, watch for signs of beds around dense brush piles, logs, boulders or anything that might offer a deer added safety while bedded.
Hunting pressure is directly related to where a buck chooses to bed. Deer prefer thick cover when it’s exceptionally windy, cold or rainy. Look for areas free of human disturbance, often small in size, near a road or creek bottom. It will generally have thick brush or tall grass such as the grassy tangle where this buck found sanctuary.
A buck may bed during daylight hours in the open, on a ridge top or point where visibility is good in all directions. The deer will rely on vision and hearing in addition to scenting for approaching threats. Scout for signs of single large beds, especially in areas with mast dropping. The beds that offer the best security will typically be used repeatedly, the spot matted down with numerous droppings nearby.
According to deer experts, a deer has nasal glands that may lubricate the nose to help it function. It’s extremely difficult to stalk within close range of a bedded buck. A mature deer will typically position with its back to the wind to detect danger from behind well in advance of visual and noise cues.
In areas of light hunting pressure, mature bucks may bed in the open, close to feeding areas such as mast-producing hardwoods or fields. Once hunters hit the woods, all bets are off in finding a buck in this scenario. Adjust to the change as the deer do. Remain on stand when most hunters are in camp. Position near pockets of undisturbed cover.
This buck didn’t reach trophy class being careless when selecting a morning bedding spot in its core area. It settled on a ridge line with a good view, near food and water below. Positioned between a large tree and fallen log, its outline is minimized. Rising thermals and deep crunchy leaf litter give warning of danger stalking from below.
Predators often stalk their prey from behind. Most bucks will position themselves when bedding down so they have a view of their backtrail, relying on their excellent eyesight to detect movement. Deer are a prey specie. Their eyes have horizontal pupils, which play a role in visual acuity. Their position near the side of the head gives a wider field of view. A savvy deer hunter once advised, “If you can see a deer’s eyes, it can see you.”
Researchers say yes, no matter where they bed. Deer doze from a few seconds to a few minutes between alert periods with eyes open or closed. The buck pictured dozed in short periods with eyes closed and head upright. Deer are constantly monitoring for danger, even when asleep and can instantly awaken. Ever try sneaking up on a dozing deer? Their ears and nose never sleep.
The rut takes a heavy physical toll on bucks. Driven by the urge to breed, some dominant bucks push to the point of utter exhaustion (like the one pictured). A spent buck will lie down, lower its head to the ground and sack out for short periods. I have photographed rut-worn bucks stretched out like a sleeping dog. However, note the ears remain active and angled to pick up the sound of two- or four-legged footsteps, even if the eyes are closed and the nose is buried in leaves. This snoozer would likely still bust you.