By Bernie Barringer
Many people have the mistaken notion that mature bucks have one area where they spend their days; some deep, dark thicket where no hunter will ever find them.
In most cases, that's not reality. All bucks are individuals and have their individual preferences. Some seem to gravitate towards heavy cover, while others prefer to have a view of their surroundings.
Those bucks which live long enough to reach maturity have learned how to play the cards they have been dealt with regards to habitat and cover. Each habitat type will offer the bucks some basic options, but there are some tendencies that seem to show up anywhere a whitetail lives. Let's explore this in more detail.
Finding Preferred Beds
Bucks and does don't often bed in the same areas, although there is some overlap. Most bucks will have 3-5 places they prefer to bed, and they will use them in various conditions at the different times of the year. We can group bedding areas into two basic categories: Thick and Open. Yes, these two are polar opposites and bucks may use both, even during the same day when the conditions change.
Open areas are most often the back sides of ridges where a buck can lie with his back to the wind and survey the area in front of him. The wind coming over the top of the ridge will carry the scent of danger, and he can see any danger that is coming from his front.
Thick areas are more often used when it is exceptionally windy, or cold, rainy or if the buck feels threatened by human intrusion. He will not like the way the strong wind curls and eddies over that ridge — he can't pinpoint the source of the scent of danger. He'll head for the thick stuff. It's likely to be in a creek bottom, a raspberry patch, a multiflora rose thicket or a cattail slough.
Find these bedding areas and they will be good year after year. Generations of bucks have bedded in these areas, because, for the most part, the terrain features do not change. Once you know where they are, you have an advantage over the bucks because you can predict with some degree of regularity where they will be on any given day considering the weather and wind conditions.
Improving Bedding Areas
Once you know where these bedding areas are found, you can improve them to make them even more attractive to the deer. This is a great way to hold bucks on your property and make sure they do not get to comfortable at the neighbors.
One way to improve a bedding area is to hinge cut a few trees during the winter. These trees will make the area feel thicker and more secure. Another way is simply to stay out of the area. Having an inviolate bedding area where you are careful to never bump a buck can be a big help in making the buck stick around.
Like a big old bass that likes to lie beside a stump, bucks often like to put themselves up against some sort of structure. They seem to love having their back up against a downed tree, log or brushpile. I suppose it makes them feel secure to have their back covered. You can use this information to your advantage in making individual beds more attractive.
Bucks do not like to lie on rocks and sticks. By finding these beds and keeping them clean, you will endear the bucks to them. Once you get a feel for where a buck likes to lie down, you can create individual beds and bucks will readily use them.
Look for some sort of backing and clear out a nice place to lie. You can even plant grass in the beds to make them look appealing. This may sound a little off the wall but trust me it really works.
Keep Tabs on the Bucks
During the spring and early summer, I don't mind having a few scouting cameras right in the bedding areas as long as they are not checked more than once every 2-3 weeks.
A little human intrusion during the summer months is not going to displace those deer. But by the time August rolls around, my cameras will be on the trails leading to and from the bedding areas, and on the trails leading to the food sources.
After mid-summer, I prefer never to violate a bedding area. At that time my intrusion might be just enough to cause them to bed elsewhere or become more nocturnal in their movements.
Since you know exactly where they are bedding, it's a lot easier to find where they are feeding and locate the travel corridors that connect the two locations.
By the time archery season is getting close, the bucks are on predictable patterns. Having the knowledge of where they are bedding, and putting cameras out that will help you track the times and locations of their movements, you will significantly increase your odds of taking a buck home as soon as the season opens.