Locating and Hunting Buck Bedding Areas
Why is it that the majority of hunting articles are strictly written about traditional rut hunting tactics? You know…the ones talking about hunting funnels, pinch points, ridge top runways, etc. While those tactics can certainly yield success, it’s always stunning how much content is focused around three weeks of the year when the archery season is, in fact, several months long in most states. Everybody looks forward to the beginning of deer season, so why not focus your strategy around where mature bucks are at all times of the year – by hunting buck beds.
The notion that bucks just don’t move much during daylight outside of the rut is absolutely true (there’s plenty of GPS deer collar data to back this up), but saying you can’t kill one at any point from September through January is ludicrous. It’s simple, if bucks aren’t going to come to you, go to them. How? Scout. Open up your HuntStand app and start deciphering aerial photos and then ground proof your theories by walking the areas you had marked. Take careful notes and drop plenty of waypoints. No detail is too small when it comes to successfully hunting buck beds.
Finding and Identifying Buck Beds
Scouting is the name of the game when it comes to getting on mature bucks outside of the rut. More specifically, scouting for individual buck beds is where you’ll find success. Most hunters will make the mistake of stopping short in their scouting efforts by identifying a bedding area, not the actual buck bed. It’s super easy to do, as by nature, hunters tend to be overly cautious not wanting to bump anything out of a good looking area. Typically, we see a thick patch of timber with more cover and instinctively put on the breaks, ultimately settling for a stand just along the perimeter of the “thick bedding area”. While this strategy may lead to success every now and then, finding the actual buck bed to setup on and hunt is a far more methodical approach that will lead to many more daylight sightings of mature bucks.
As was stated earlier, scouting is the name of the game. You want to find these buck beds before the deer season starts and devise a plan that puts you into position to kill on your very first sit. To do this, scout for buck beds right after the season and on into green up. By scouting during the offseason you lessen the chance of bumping deer during your hunt and can ultimately be more aggressive if you know the exact locations of buck beds. This being said, if you can’t get out before the season to scout, don’t be afraid to push into these areas and bump bucks even during the season. They’ll usually tolerate once or twice, especially if they didn’t smell you. Bumping a buck is sometimes the best thing a hunter can do because it shows you exactly where he was bedded. Give it a few days and there’s a good chance he will be back at some point.
Mature bucks are solitary creatures by nature. Unlike does which tend to bed in family groups and rely on each other for survival, a buck depends on his senses alone. He will use his sight, smell, and sound to stay out of harm’s way, and by dissecting his bed you can ultimately understand how and when he’s using it, allowing you to sneak in for the kill.
Now, back to finding buck beds. Remember, he lives a life of solitude and relies on his senses to survive. A buck will almost always bed in a position that will maximize his senses to alert him of any impending danger. This usually means he’ll bed with the wind at his back while facing the opposite direction. Think about it – he can smell anything behind him now and watches what he can’t smell, thus giving him confidence of nearly a 360 degree danger radius. If a buck thinks he’s bedded in a spot where he’s essentially untouchable, he’ll be much more likely to move during daylight and that’s precisely the reason you need to find and analyze buck beds before the season.
When you come across a buck bed, get down in it. Don’t worry too much about leaving your scent in his bed. Remember, you’re doing this months before the season as to not compromise his comfort level. By getting down in a buck bed as if you were him, it allows you to see what he sees and setup accordingly. For the most part, you’ll want to find a tree or area to ambush him roughly 50-75 yards from his bed. Yes, you’ll want to get that tight! Any further and you risk the chance of him not making it to you during daylight. Any closer and you’d be hard pressed not to bump him and end your hunt before it even started.
Why Do Bucks Bed | Where Do They?
Remember, bucks bed in certain locations based upon their senses – most notably, their sense of smell. It’s rare to find a buck bed that’s doesn’t correlate to a specific wind direction or directions. In the rare case that a buck bed doesn’t take into account the wind direction, you can bet they can either see or hear anything coming from a long ways off. However, nine times out of ten a buck will bed with multiple factors in his favor.
For instance, in hill country, you’ll often find a mature buck bedded on a leeward side of a slope, often 2/3rds of the way up and on a secondary point (see image below). Before jumping into why bucks tend to bed in these areas, it’s important to understand what the leeward side of a ridge is. The leeward side is the downwind side of a ridge top or slope. It makes complete sense as to why a buck would bed here for multiple reasons. First, they aren’t going to bed at the top of the ridge because they would be silhouetted from both sides, thus, they typically bed just over the crest from either side about 1/3 of the way down. Now, with the wind coming over the top and the buck facing downhill, he’s able to smell any danger coming from his blindside and has a great vantage point down looking down the side of the ridge. If any danger presents itself he can escape accordingly. In addition to bedding on the leeward side, mature buck beds will often have cover to their back that they like to bed up against – be it a downfall or a big mature tree. By understanding how a bucks prefer to bed in hill country, you can make a sound plan of attack without ever even spotting the buck and hunt accordingly because you’ll know the wind he’ll be there on and just how far he can see. Now it’s up to you to sneak in close.
Using the terrain image layer in HuntStand allows you to easily identify feeder ridge points that a buck may be using on certain wind directions. You can see the bedding waypoints are about 2/3rds of the way up the slope and on the leeward side of the main ridge (wind direction indicated by the arrows). Compare this to the map below where you now see the type of habitat that exists via the aerial photo.
Hill country bedding is one thing, but if you hunt flatter ground, you’ll want to focus in on transitions to find the bedding. Transition areas are distinct lines of habitat changes and often hold the cover big bucks are privy to. Transition lines come in all types of shapes and sizes from dogwood patches or oak islands in the middle of swamps, to interior conifer edges in large timber tracts. Fact is, these transitions can be spotted fairly easy with the help of the HuntStand aerial imagery. Finding transition lines is the first step, and the next is to hone in on where the bucks are most likely to bed along them. Ultimately this comes down to boots on the ground scouting again.
Transition Lines: Here you can see the transition lines (purple) of a few hardwood islands out in the middle of a cattail marsh. Focus in on the points of these when scouting for buck beds.
A mature buck bed will often be worn flat, have several spoke-like exit trails, and may even have a rubbed tree on the edge of it. If you find this, mark it in your HuntStand app and get ready to dissect it. Again, you’ll want to get in the bed to visualize how and when a buck will be using it. Remember, bucks almost always bed with the wind to their back so they can smell what’s behind them and see what’s in front of them. Use this knowledge to your advantage and come up with a game plan as to how you can hunt the specific beds you find.
Hunting Buck Beds
You’ve found the buck beds, now it’s time to capitalize on all your previous scouting efforts. If you’re new to an area, it’s a smart practice to start out with an observation sit first before moving in to learn any final details that may not have been obvious through the sign and intel you gained from scouting.
An observation sit will allow you to set up from a safe distance to see exactly where/which beds a buck(s) might be using, what time he got up, and where he traveled to. This is especially effective during the early season when patterns are still largely reliant on food and bedding. Hopefully, you’ll spot a buck you want to pursue, and be able to move in super tight in the coming days. Just remember, conditions must be perfect, along with your access and setup. This is where the scouting and marking of waypoints comes full circle. Don’t have these and you’re likely going to bust him.
By understanding how a buck uses a bed on certain wind directions and what he can see from it, you’ll now have the necessary information to formulate the proper access route and treestand location. Take your time as you move in and be super quiet and you’ll likely be tagged out before you even have to worry about hunting the unpredictable nature of the rut.