The three biggest things in a whitetail buck’s world are feeding, breeding and bedding. So, as bowhunters, it makes sense to focus on those three keys when devising a plan of attack. Over the years, I have been fortunate to kill mature bucks by hunting food sources, rutting hotspots and bedding areas, and what I’ve learned is that a buck’s bedding area — where he spends most of his time — is the best place to kill him.
Contrary to popular belief, hunting close to a buck’s bed isn’t as risky as you might imagine. In this article, I’m going to share my experiences hunting buck bedding areas, offer some insights for finding your own path to success and debunk the myth that bumping a buck from its bed destroys any chance you had of placing your tag on him.
Why Hunt Buck Beds?
As a younger bowhunter, I focused most of my efforts on food sources. My thought process was simple: a buck needs to eat, so I’ll figure out what he likes, zone in on it and kill him! Sounds easy, right? Wrong! I quickly learned that, outside of the rut, most bucks, especially mature bucks, rarely move during daylight hours, much less show themselves on food sources before the cover of darkness. I needed to change my tactics and start zoning in on areas where a buck is likely to spend most of his time in daylight.
Since a buck spends the majority of each day (at least outside prime rut) in and around his bedding area, I knew I needed to figure out how to find and hunt these spots. My plan was to use trail cameras, topographic maps and smart scouting on foot to find areas that held mature bucks. I would then key in on those areas in hopes of catching the bucks on the move.
Well, as simple as that sounds, remaining undetected in a buck’s core area can be pretty complicated. In fact, just about everything I had ever read on the topic indicated that bowhunting close to a buck’s bed was dangerous! Bump him once, and he’s gone for good. Let him see he’s being hunted, and he’ll turn nocturnal for the rest of the season. These ominous warnings about the pitfalls of hunting buck bedding areas made me nervous, to say the least.
Still, I had long wondered whether these theories were as accurate as conventional wisdom would have you believe. In fact, I had a personal experience with a particular buck that changed my thinking on the matter entirely. I bumped the buck numerous times while walking in or out of a stand in a particular area, only to then see the very same buck the very next day in the very same area. So, if what I had read was true, why did the buck come back? He clearly knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, because he ran away when he saw me. Something wasn’t adding up, so I decided to experiment with hunting close to these bedding areas.
The Boomerang Effect
As the sun started to peak through the trees on that frosty, late-October morning, I could hear the unmistakable sound of hooves moving through the leaves on the forest floor. As I slowly peeked to my right, I caught my target buck slipping through some small oaks about 70 yards away. Unfortunately, he was not going to offer me a shot, but it was awesome to watch him bed down about 150 yards away. I planned on hunting all day anyway, so I was happy to simply sit and wait to see what he would do when he got up.
About 30 minutes later, I heard running and yipping from down the ravine and immediately knew what it was — coyotes were heading my way. I frantically got my binoculars out to watch and see how the buck would react. Quickly, he got up and took off! The buck knew exactly what those sounds were and that he needed to leave the area. My heart sank as I watched him head over the saddle to my east, sprinting away from my position. I watched the coyotes hunt their way up to his bed, smell it and continue on. At that point, I figured I may as well get down and change locations for the remainder of the day. Then, something happened that changed my view on buck beds forever.
About 20 minutes after the coyotes passed, I was getting ready to climb down when I caught movement to the south. Peering through my binoculars, I was dumbfounded to see the buck sneaking back into his bedroom! Why would the buck come back when he knew danger had just forced him to leave? The answer was simple: that spot had kept him alive! The buck’s chosen bedding area had served its purpose, which is exactly why he came right back. Since that time, I’ve experienced this scenario repeatedly while hunting buck bedding areas.
How Bucks Choose Beds
After this little drama played out, the buck bedded again. Although I didn’t kill him that evening, I learned more valuable lessons while sitting in the tree that day than I could have imagined. After seeing what this buck did, it really made me question everything I’d ever heard about buck bedding areas and how to hunt them. This buck and his actions are a classic example of why mature bucks bed in certain spots and continue to do so year after year.
This spot allowed the buck to hear, see and smell those coyotes coming well before they were close enough to pose any real danger. He slipped out the side, made a big circle and came right back to where he started because he felt confident in the advantage his bedding area provided. As the old adage goes, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I guarantee that morning wasn’t the first time that buck had been bumped from that spot. He knew the drill, and he knew exactly what to do to stay alive.
As bowhunters, we often fall into the trap of thinking only of human pressure while forgetting that deer are pressured every day by other predators such as bears, mountain lions, coyotes, dogs, etc. And the pressure these animals exert is likely far more intense than that applied by a bowhunter. When you think about it, the conventional wisdom that says a buck bumped from its bed won’t return makes no sense. After all, if that was true, it would mean that a buck would never bed on a particular farm or in a particular piece of timber more than once in its lifetime, and I’ve already proven that false!
What is true is that whitetails are creatures of habit. They learn from experience and figure out how to adapt and survive in a world where they are constantly being hunted by something. Human hunting pressure is just a small portion of the total pressure they feel every day. Once I fully understood this, it really made me wonder how many times I bumped a buck and quit hunting only for that buck to come right back to the area hours or days later. The problem was, I wasn’t there to capitalize, because I thought the game was over!
Bedding Area Tactics
Outside of the rut, when breeding consumes his thinking, staying alive is the No. 1 job of a mature whitetail buck. And yet, numerous studies have shown that as bucks get older, they tend to travel less and inhabit smaller core areas. In my opinion, this happens because once they identify an area with good security cover and terrain features that allow them to repeatedly elude danger, they tend to stay there. Given that, it only makes sense that hunting these areas presents a prime opportunity for bowhunters. So, what are the keys to doing it successfully?
First, we need to figure out where a buck is bedding. I like using trail cameras, maps and glassing from afar to pinpoint buck bedding areas. Once I have done that, I start hunting from the outside in. I methodically pick and choose my spots — based on trail-camera intelligence, wind direction, thermal currents and what I’ve observed on previous hunts — until I feel that I’m close to where the buck is bedding. For this style of bowhunting, I highly suggest a lightweight, mobile treestand or saddle setup. These allow you to change locations daily, or even during a single day, while maintaining the element of surprise.
What I’m trying to do is get close enough to the buck that once he gets up and starts to move, I am in position to potentially get a shot at him — it’s a chess match that takes patience and persistence! However, I love these spots because I feel like bucks let their guard down a bit more there, as these areas are where the bucks spend most of their time and feel very comfortable. To me, this is the perfect scenario for catching an old bruiser moving around freely in an area that he knows very well and considers secure.
Most bucks will get up before sunset, but the problem is they rarely make it to the ag field or other food source before dark. Instead, they linger around the fringes of their core areas. Rub lines and scrapes will be present nearby, both of which are clues that you’re close to a mature buck’s bedding area. Hunting these spots gives you the best possible chance of seeing a particular buck on the move during daylight.
Now, what if you do bump the buck while hunting? Well, do not give up! Again, this spot did its job and kept the buck alive; he’ll be back. Simply change locations slightly and be ready for the next encounter.