The most important element to a deers survival is whitetail cover and bedding. Cover and Bedding areas are locations that deer feel safe and secure. If you can locate the whitetails security blanket you will consistently be successful on an ongoing basis. Security will trump the other elements (Food & Water) in almost all situations. I am going to list bedding characteristics below, but keep in mind that bucks and does will align in the preferred bedding sometimes and not in others.
Whitetail Preferred Bedding Characteristics
1. Vision – In general deer like to bed in areas where they have a view of the surrounding area. Does in general will bed in family groups, and they will all be oriented in different directions. That strength in numbers of eyeballs helps with the feeling of security. Bucks will prefer to bed solo with the exception of when they are in their bachelor groups. Bucks will be pickier than doe groups when looking for bedding areas with vision. It goes back to the numbers game for the doe groups. When a superior visual area isn’t available look for thick nasty cover.
Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!
2. Proximity of Food Sources – The doe family groups prefer to bed in locations that are close to evening food sources. This is something to keep in mind for the fall, as where the does are the bucks will be during the rut. Bucks prefer solitude over being close to the food source, as they would rather be left alone.
3. Comfort – This is where bedding areas can differ. There can be different preferences in the winter (north facing slopes for sun) versus summer (in the bottoms for shade). They prefer to bed on soft flat ground as opposed to rocky hillsides. These are generalities that impact the comfort of the bedding area.
4. Safety – How safe do the deer feel in this area? If this is an area where people are constantly invading, even if everything else is perfect, do you think the deer will bed there? Look for areas that not impacted or lightly impacted by people. Look for knobs or ridges that allow a buck to feel safe while having a good visual of the surrounding area. When those areas are not prevalent, seek out the thick nasty cover. Does will usually bed along the edges of this type of cover while bucks are more apt to bed inside the nasty stuff.
5. Wind Direction – Prevailing wind direction may be more accurate, but in general bucks will prefer to bed where they have great vision of the surrounding area and the wind at their backs. I believe this is less important to does due to the numbers game.
These characteristics are in no certain order of importance, but I would consider how safe they feel as the defining element that drives a whitetails decision to bed in a certain location. The characteristics above are just that, characteristics, whitetails like any other animal can make you think you know nothing about them when they decide to bed down in a spot you would have never guessed.
I harvested a buck around 10 years ago that broke a couple of these characteristics. It may have been due to the weather impact but he broke the wind direction, and the safety characteristics. I was leaving a stand in a corner of our property and heading back to the truck. It was a bit of a hike, but it was down wind of the bedding area I was hunting. I was glassing out into a couple of fields that have small areas of scrub brush when I saw antlers. This buck was bedded down in area that had little cover, he was facing down the hill and facing the same direction as the wind. The wind was crazy on this particular day and I am not sure if he felt safer watching that direction, but it was a fatal mistake. I stalked within 20 yards of this buck with the wind in my face. I waited and waited for him to stand up before sending an arrow down range. That was the first and only time I have stalked a whitetail with a bow and arrow. Clearly this was not part of my plan for that day, but I am not one to turn down an opportunity.
With all that said, at times animals do strange things that don’t necessarily fit in generalities or characteristics. They are animals after all, and these are not set in stone. The best way to locate bedding areas is to put boots on the ground in late winter or early spring. Once you have them located don’t go back into them, the more scent you leave the less safe the deer will feel.