October 20, 2023
A leaf flattens underneath my boot, but it doesn’t make a sound. A half-inch of recent rain saturates the ground, making conditions near perfect for slipping into a known buck bedding area. My destination — a nice poplar tree that’s 45 yards from the exact spot a 150-inch 8-pointer calls home. It takes nearly two hours to cover the final 50 yards to the tree, but I get there. Ever so slowly and quietly, I ascend the backside of the tree, positioning climbing sticks as I go.
I halt just high enough that I can see the tips of the buck’s tines, and that’s where I hang the stand. It takes another 30 minutes to get gear in position. Then, after several hours of waiting, the buck stands up, shakes off, grooms for a bit and slowly meanders away from me. I never get a shot. That’s what most successful bedding area invasions look like. Even when you slip into position undetected, the odds are against you. But when it works, man, does it work. And you feel like a true hunter when it does.
I’ve had the opportunity to experience the above scene numerous times, and I’ve been quite successful at slip- ping ultra-close to bedded deer. But I’ve made mistakes, too. On either end of that spectrum, it takes serious effort and mental grit to keep your composure.
STEP 1: FIND THE BEDROOM
Before anyone can hunt a bedding area, they must first understand the needs of a bedded deer. Generally, mature whitetails require areas with higher stem counts that provide the thick cover they like. Oftentimes, they like heavier cover to their rear with more openness in front. Of course, they need a flat area to lay down on, and minimal human intrusion is best.
They must also under- stand where deer bed in specific habitat types. In hill country, they tend to bed along ridges and points. Because deer bed looking downwind, it’s more common to see mature deer bedded on ridges and points that run somewhat parallel to the wind, and that which “point” down- wind. When the wind is perpendicular to the ridge line, expect bucks to be bedded on the leeward (downwind) side.
Other places mature deer frequent include marshy, swampy areas. Oxbows, peninsulas, islands and other spots protected by water are advantageous for whitetail survival, too. Naturally, CRP, cutover timber and other jungles can be harder to scout and seem more random. A buck can seem to be just about anywhere there. Still, look for the areas that seem to benefit a deer the most. That’s likely where they’ll be.
While in the field scouting, look for oval beds. Multiple beds of slightly different sizes generally signal doe groups. Small single beds are usually loner young bucks. Pinpoint the beds with large singular beds with rubs nearby, or large beds of the same size where a buck has risen and shifted due to changing wind directions. These tend to be the larger, more dominant bucks in the herd.
For those having a difficult time finding beds, it starts with food. While deer might travel up to a mile or more to reach destination food sources, most of the time, deer bed closer than that. Therefore, the search for bedding areas starts with good grub. Find that, and then work backward. Consider the wind and other relevant factors while homing in on bedding areas. As previously mentioned, topography, habitat type, wind direction and human intrusion are the primary influencers.
Once in the bedroom, it’s crucial to find and drill down on the exact beds. While scouting, always pay attention to detail. Look for matted vegetation, depressions in the soil, white belly hairs on the ground and other things that exemplify a bed. Mark these on a hunting app. As made known by Dan Infalt and other expert deer hunters, lie down in them to see what the deer sees from that location. Look around, and then ask yourself why a buck is bedding here. It likely can smell, see, and hear danger coming well before it gets within striking distance.
After you’ve discovered each specific bed in the area, back off just far enough from each one that deer can’t see the tree you pick for your perch. If the situation calls for it, go ahead and hang a tree stand so you can quietly slip into position without making noise during the hunt. Naturally, choose spots that work and that take advantage of the target animal’s natural line of movement.
STEP 2: GET THE RIGHT GEAR
Certain gear is more appropriate for sneaking around bedding areas. Quiet clothing is a must-have. Go with a soft fleece or a different super-quiet material. Boots that are flexible, and sensitive soles that allow plenty of feeling through the bottom of the boot, are important for walking quietly. Quiet, compact hunting backpacks and gear are necessary, too. Bulky, loud packs that catch on briars and brambles won’t work. Once a quiet pack is chosen, fill it with only the necessary items. Reducing weight is important.
In the optics department, quality binos are great, but high-powered glass can prove too much. The same is true for scopes. Use glass with low to medium power and that offers a wider field of view.
Regarding tree stands, the best play is a pre-hung stand positioned strategically to capitalize on a specific bed or bedding area. However, that’s not always possible, especially on public land. Therefore, choosing a mobile elevated hunting perch becomes crucial.
Of course, climbing tree stands are very popular, but most hunters aren’t stealthy enough with these to invade a bedding area undetected. If a compact climber won’t work for you, that leaves two options. First, a very compact, lightweight hang-on stand. Or, second, a tree saddle. A set of lightweight sticks are necessary for either of the latter options. A good safety harness, line- man’s belt and safety line are must- have items for any elevated hunting device.
STEP 3: PLAN THE APPROACH
Once you’ve found the bedding areas, and assembled the necessary gear, it’s time to plan the approach. The most difficult aspect of hunting bedding areas is getting into position without alerting deer. This is true for several reasons.
First, as mentioned, deer select bedding areas that are advantageous for them. Oftentimes, you can’t get within close proximity to a bedded deer. Secondly, deer tend to bed in layers. Young bucks, does and fawns tend to bed closer to the food, while mature bucks bed beyond them. In hill country, this is likely at slightly higher elevations, with does and fawns at lower altitudes. Because of this, getting past non-target animals without alerting them is very challenging. In most cases, it’s better to circle wide around them, or come from the opposite side of the ridge, because most of the herd will be on the more advantageous slope.
As you ease into the bedding area, keep a regular check on the wind. Test it at least once every minute or two. It likely won’t be perfect for you, but that’s okay. Mature deer likely won’t be there if it is. Still, if the wind is mostly bad for you, but just-off enough that deer can’t smell you, keep going. The odds of seeing your target during daylight increase dramatically.
Overall, charting your way into a bedding area is a surgical art, regardless of whether attempting to reach a tree stand location, or still hunting toward a known buck bed. Due to being so close to bedded deer, it’s important to chart out your exact entry and exit routes. These might need to be altered on the fly if you encounter deer along the route, or if the wind shifts.
STEP 4: EXECUTE THE PLAN
Once the plan is in place, wait for the right conditions. Crunchy snow or frost won’t work. Neither will dead-calm winds. You need visual and audible cover. Just after or during a light rain softens the ground. A soft snow can work at times. You also need moderate to high winds, as these will muffle your sound, and movement from the limbs and leaves will give you cover to move.
Once you have the route planned, and the right conditions, it’s time to execute. Make like a snail; slow movement is key. The approach takes hours, not minutes. Even if you aren’t still hunting, and the destination is a tree stand, the walk in (and out) should be as if you are still hunting. If you move stealthy enough, you never know when it might turn into a ground stalk.
Glass often as you slip into position. Look for the tips of tines or moving ears — not entire deer bodies. Even in more open areas, it pays to think small. You’re more likely to spot a deer using this approach, rather than looking for a broadside profile.
If things don’t look right, or bedded deer are in your way, call an audible. Don’t force it, especially if time is on your side. Either find another route, or slip back out and return another day.
DON’T GET DISCOURAGED
Hunting in bedding areas is a high-stakes game. It’s a high-risk high- reward style of hunting, but it’s fun and super effective. You will spook deer, though. Still, don’t get discouraged. Spooking a target out of its bed is inevitable, especially while learning how to hunt bedding areas, and if you attempt it long enough. Rest assured, that deer will come back, maybe even that same day or the next.