By: John Eberhart
Have you ever sat along the perimeter of a bedding area during the rut phases only to suffer through the telltale sounds of bucks chasing does within them? If you’ve hunted the edges of bedding areas very many times, you certainly have.
Here’s a hypothetical question: If I wanted to take an individual out, wouldn’t my best plan be to get inside their house while they’re not home and wait in ambush for them? After all, they would come into their house at some point, and I would be patiently waiting. Many movies have been produced using the same plot.
Notice I mentioned in their home and not at one of the two or three entry doors. My house has a front door, back door, and entry door from the garage so the odds of an encounter at an entry door would be 33%, as opposed to inside where the odds would be 100%. A bedding area is definitely larger than the inside of a house and there are typically dozens of entry and exit routes or doors leading into – and out of – a deer’s bedding area.
Our homes offer us the same securities that interiors of bedding areas offer deer: secure places to move around in, bed down, and breed. If that hypothetical plan works for humans, hunting within bedding areas will and have certainly proven to work for me, for taking mature bucks, especially during the rut phases.
Bucks and particularly does for this conversation, typically bed in known bedding areas and during the rut phases bucks search for and breed does, therefore, bucks search bedding areas for estrous does. Once does are searched out, most breeding takes place within the confines of the secure cover of bedding areas.
If you don’t believe this, count the actual times you have witnessed a mature buck in a pressured area, breed a doe in an area with minimal if any security cover. Even though mature bucks breed throughout the day when with an estrus doe, I bet it isn’t many.
To the best of my recollection, I have taken two mature bucks while they were on top of and breeding does, three I stopped with a vocal doe matt as they were chasing does past me, three came into active primary scrape areas, five others were enticed within range using soft sparring/rattling sequences, one by using a fawn in distress call, and 2 followed a real (cut from a deer) buck tarsal drag line to my tree. What all these kills had in common is they were all within the confines of bedding areas. That’s 16 book bucks taken within bedding areas and I only hunt interiors of bedding areas on a very limited basis making them my highest percentage areas to make kills.
Bedding areas have many perimeter runways that traverse into a network of interior trails. I am a percentage hunter that sets up in areas and specific locations offering the best odds for the time of season and time of day and the odds of intercepting a buck along a perimeter runway leading into a bedding area is far lower than within the core of the bedding area where the many solitary perimeter runways intermingle within the bedding area. The closer you can get to the core of any known destination location, the better your odds, and a bedding area is a destination area for mature bucks during the rut phases.
So why do so many hunters obsess about staying out of bedding areas and treat them as sacred sanctuaries? The answer to that question is simple and should totally depend on the nature of their hunting area.
What is meant by “the nature of a hunting area”? Having bowhunted in several low-hunter-density states and many differing hunting density areas within Michigan I can state without reservation that the type of hunting pressure or lack thereof has more to do with how, when, where and why, mature bucks move during daylight hours, than any other factor, PERIOD, END OF DISCUSSION!!! So, the nature of your hunting area and what is to be expected should be based on the amount and type of hunting pressure it receives.
Hunting areas differ tremendously and all anyone must do is watch just about any hunting TV show or video for confirmation of that fact. As hunting personalities and large parcel high end management hunters prove year after year, when there is little or no hunter competition, or their large area of land has kill criteria’s in place, they do not need to hunt interiors of bedding areas because; there will be many mature bucks in the area, they will roam outside security cover at will during daylight hours due to lack of danger from previous hunter encounters while growing to maturity, and the stiff competition for breeding rights amongst so many mature bucks, causes them to drop what little daytime guard they do have, for the rights to breed.
For those that have the luxury of owning or leasing enough land, they don’t have to be concerned about a buck leaving a bedding area and getting whacked by a neighbor. They can feel comfortable leaving bedding areas as sanctuary havens where hunting within them is prohibited. Any hunter that thinks heavy consequential hunting pressure has nothing to do with the amount of time mature bucks move during daylight obviously isn’t hunting in such areas.
When bucks sporting their first, second, and in some instances third set of antlers have knowingly passed by hunters with no negative consequences, they have no reason to alter their daytime movement habits.
The types of hunting areas I am referring to when suggesting hunting within the confines of bedding areas are heavily pressured areas where hunting parcels are small in acreage, hunter densities are high, and most hunters are targeting any legal antlered buck. In such areas forget the “I leave my bedding area as a sanctuary area” statement. In such areas, not strategically taking advantage of secure bedding area hot spots can be a huge mistake.
Deer behavior from area to area can be staggeringly different and if there were a word stronger than staggeringly, I would use it. In heavily pressured areas, no matter the time of hunting season, mature bucks are typically bedded down or within the confines of a secure area well before first light unless with a hot doe, and even then, they will try to corral her into areas with heavy security cover.
Even if a mature buck doesn’t bed in a specific bedding area, if several does do, the odds of him passing through during shooting hours to scent check the area or of him being locked down with an estrus doe that does bed there, are much greater than the odds of him passing down a perimeter runway, into an exposed short crop field, or moving through open timber.
Never forget that no matter the number of buck rubs, scrapes or large tracks at a location, it should mean absolutely nothing to you as a hunter if that sign wasn’t left or being revisited during daylight hours. And typically, the reason for the nighttime activity is the location lacks the security cover requirements for a daytime visit by a mature buck.
Since enclosure studies are done in non-hunting captive environments and the herd has a balanced age and sex structure, I render them relatively meaningless for hunters in heavily pressured areas where none of the same criteria exists. Concerning doe estrus cycles however, whether captive or not they are standard in the species and studies show that estrous cycles last between 28 and 36 hours. The majority of does in an area will enter their estrous cycles during the main rut and whatever mature bucks that exist in a pressured area will be spending most of their daytime movements, within the secure confines of bedding areas, searching for and breeding them.
On several occasions while hunting perimeters of standing corn (which deer bed in) I have witnessed, and on two occasions taken, a mature buck while encircling a doe to force her back into the security of the corn after the bucks’ chasing episodes had pushed her out of the security cover of the standing corn. The point is that normal routine movement patterns of does, and bucks come to a screeching halt. The frenzied chasing by mature bucks in open areas during daylight that we are led to believe is the norm by most of the print and film media, just doesn’t happen in pressured areas.
In 1987 on state land in Michigan I was perched in my saddle on the edge of a dense bedding area of spruce trees and there was a 40-yard opening of waist tall weeds to my left and a acres and acres of dense swamp/brush bordering all the other sides of the opening. For nearly half an hour I watched as a monster buck bred and chased a doe back and forth in the bedding area of tall marsh grasses. At one point the doe ran out and stopped in the center of the opening and looked back for the buck. I was ready and expecting the buck to continue the chase into the small opening. Not!!! He came to the edge of the dense brush, stopped, and glared at her for a minute or so before turning around and heading back into the trash. Her twitching tail and persuasive posture couldn’t entice him out, and shockingly to me, she turned and followed him back into the bedding area. That was definitely a learning experience.
During many of my out of state trips to lightly hunted states, I saw mature bucks chasing does at will in open areas seemingly with no fear of potential hunter consequences. On some of those hunts I would see as many P&Y caliber bucks in a single week as I would see at home in five entire seasons.
If hunting in a pressured area and you are an astute observer, you will notice a sudden decline in mature buck and doe activity as well as signposting around the second week of November indicating the main breeding phase has begun.
In the rural areas there can be 20 or more small parcel property owners per square mile and in such areas the odds of the buck you may have on camera being taken by another bow or gun hunter beyond your property line during the rut phases is high, so why not consider taking advantage of the situation and plan a couple strategic bow hunts within any bedding area you may have access to.
Interior bedding area locations should be hunted during the rut phases and are situations where all day hunts are advised. You should commit to being set up and quiet by at least an hour and a half prior to daybreak and not leaving until half hour after dark. The early arrival should assure that you do not spook deer with entries and late exits should be after the deer have left the bedding area.
All day hunts are grueling, but if you do them tactically and in the right types of locations, a kill opportunity could occur any time of day. Also, if you have other prime rut locations outside bedding areas, give them the opportunity to produce before hunting bedding area interiors.
There is one exception to hunting within bedding areas. If there are several hunters on the same property and they all have equal authority, if you decide to hunt the bedding areas, they may want too as well. Interiors of bedding areas are not for party hunting, but rather for very specific and strategic solo hunting. So, if that’s the case, leave it alone.
For decades I was aware of the furious rut bedding area activity but knew from previous experiences that I couldn’t go in due to the likelihood of getting winded. My scent control regimen was simply not adequate for the unpredictable movements that happen within bedding areas, because in bedding areas, deer can come in from any direction, I couldn’t count on deer only being upwind of me. After several hunts where bucks would chase does to my downwind side and then one or the other, or both would spook, I quit hunting bedding area interiors.
During my first 35 bow seasons I tried sprays, baking soda washes, washing my clothing in non-scent detergents, cover scents, airing my clothing outside, smoking my clothes, and whatever else was available, but nothing kept me from getting winded by downwind deer. I always hunted the wind.
But for the past 21 seasons since properly caring for, storing, and using ScentLok’s activated carbon lined garments, I pay absolutely no attention to wind direction and never get winded. Having a serious scent control regimen that works is a must when hunting interiors of bedding areas where deer can move in any direction and where the chasing and breeding of does, has no routine.