Deer spend most of their daylight hours lying in their bedding, so it’s no wonder why so many hunters talk about whitetail bedding, specifically deer bedding. It is a deer’s home, essentially the place where they are safest and most secure. Because of this, they are often located in areas where humans are not likely to be, near food and water sources, and in places where they have sensory advantages over predators. Think swampy wetlands, hard-to-navigate scrub, or off-the-beaten-path ridges.
After you figure out where the beds are, your next step is to find out why and how they are using these areas. After putting a few of these pieces together, you can make reasonable assumptions about your next steps in forming a hunting plan.
Deer Sleep Cycles
According to the National Deer Association, a deer’s typical sleep cycle is about 30 minutes. During this time, the deer will doze for 30 seconds to a few minutes and then become alert for a few minutes. The deer jumps between awake and asleep for the duration of the cycle until it decides to get up and take a bite to eat, stretch or get out of harm’s way, until it lies down again.
This active sleep pattern reflects the prey’s natural instinct to flee rather than fight. Deer always maintain a certain level of alertness, such as never lowering their ears to ensure early detection of predators. Due to this well-adapted sleeping method, it is very unlikely that you will come across a sleeping deer. Their need to maintain sensory awareness also reflects the places deer choose to roost.
Where do the dollars sleep and do you sleep?
First of all, it is essential to understand the difference between deer and deer bedding. When you come across a bed, examine it for some features that will help you know if it’s a deer or deer bed.
Bucks goes to bed with a lot more intention than he has, especially when it comes to his sense of smell, sight, and hearing. They are larger and often have rubbing on their entry and exit paths. Buck beds typically have tremendous visual advantages with at least 30 to 50 yards of visibility. Also, they like to have the advantage of the wind at their back to protect them on their weak side where they are not looking. In mountainous areas, they will take advantage of rising thermal currents during the day to seemingly have every angle covered with their sense of smell. Lastly, they like to have a hearing advantage, so they often have a thick cover on their back to hear danger long before it reaches them. Not all deer beds will have each of these three senses covered, but I rarely find them with fewer than two of those senses going for them.
It tends to lie down in groups, so each doe does not need to have all of these senses covered because the others have their backs while lying in a circular fashion. They like to be closer to, if not within, the feeding area. I have come across numerous areas of doe bedding on the edge of an apple orchard or newer felling cut that offer excellent food options.
Where do deer sleep according to the time of year?
Whitetails seldom lie down in the exact same spot throughout the year. When you look at a bed, ask yourself why they are sleeping there. is it for lid? Food? These two essential elements, combined with impending human pressure, tend to dictate why a deer uses a specific litter.
In the summer, when foliage is thick everywhere, deer have many bedding options and like to be as close to food and water as possible. Remember that search options are higher during the summer, so your food source may not always be a large agricultural field. As the leaves begin to fall in the fall, deer bedding will move to areas with more cover while staying within reasonable distance of the main food source. This is where the thicker areas play a more important role. When all the leaves have fallen, the bedding is the most concentrated in the last areas of security cover. During the winter, coniferous trees that create a thermal cover, mountain laurels and beech thickets near food come to mind.
Predator pressure (including hunters) takes its toll on bedding no matter what time of year it is. So what does all this mean? When you find a bed, play these scenarios out in your head to try to connect the dots about when and why they would use it.
Specific Deer Beds vs Deer Bed Areas
Finding a worn deer bed is a phenomenal feeling when there are trails pounded with big rubs going in and out, and all the stars aligning. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. I find more deer beds that are slightly worn, but I do find several around the edge of a thicket. This is often due to the need for your senses to be covered no matter the weather.
If a bed is centered around a westerly wind, and that is the prevailing wind direction for that area, it will likely be used more than a bed set for an easterly wind. Also, I’ve found bucks to lie down on thick cover when they can’t find a good sleeping location depending on the wind. All this to say that walking around the entire area will help you put the pieces of the puzzle together and decide if you should be hunting a specific bed or the bedding area.
Whitetail bedding isn’t impossible to crack, but you should let them teach you by asking questions about each bed you find.
All images via Matt Hansen.