Hunting Bedding Areas for Trophy Whitetails
Have you ever just about given up on a trophy whitetail? Have you spent hour after hour on stand and wound up with nothing to show for it? This can be really frustrating when you know there is a trophy whitetail buck living on the property you are hunting. Big buck sign can be everywhere, but for some reason, you just canít seem to connect with the deer, or even see it!
Trophy class whitetails are experienced and have learned to avoid human pressure. Some of them go nocturnal. Others find the perfect bedding area (see Interstate 72 Monster) where they can detect any intrusion into their world, and vanish with out you ever knowing they were there.. At times they just seem to disappear off of the face of the earth, but they are still leaving sign, and you know they are using the area you are hunting.
I am fortunate to work for a whitetail-hunting outfitter in Pike County, Illinois. IMB Outfitters (www.IMBMonsterbucks.com) has over 50,000 acres of leased hunting ground in five mid-western states. Pike County Illinois, Northeast Missouri, South Central Nebraska, zone 5 in Iowa and Kansas. I know of no other whitetail hunting outfitter that offers the flexibility to hunt the different areas of prime whitetail habitat that IMB offers itís clients.
Working in Pike County Illinois affords me the opportunity to be a part of many different hunting situations for trophy whitetails. Pike County Illinois has a tremenedous population of mature, trophy whitetails. During the season we are constantly working with our hunters, strategizing to get them a chance to harvest a trophy whitetail.
Pike County Illinois also has more whitetail hunting outfitters than any county in the nation, so the trophy bucks have a lot of experience with hunters and not too many of them are killed by accident.
All of us have read articles about scouting and figuring out the travel patterns of the deer we are trying to kill. When the first hunter enters the woods, and the mature whitetail has his first encounter of the season with a hunter, everything starts changing. He slips into survival mode and changes his habits to avoid us. He knows what has worked for him in the past and becomes a different animal. Instead of hitting the food plot or alfalfa field an hour before dark or fooling around out there after daylight in the morning, they stay in their safe zone until dark, and are back there by daylight.
This past season in Pike County Illinois, we had a 180-class buck coming out in the field beside the lodge. Before the season started, I saw him in the field a number of times before dark and after daylight. As soon as the season started, he stopped coming out before dark and was long gone by daylight. We saw him under the neighborís pole light at night a number of times during the season, but it was always at least an hour after dark.
There has always been a debate among hunters about hunting bedding areas for trophy whitetails. Some experts say to totally stay away from bedding areas. Their main reason for this is the fear of blowing the buck out of the bedding area and forcing him to totally change his territory. For the hunter who uses conventional hunting methods, this is often the case, but there is a way to hunt these bedding areas for trophy whitetails that is effective and could reward you with the buck of a lifetime! Using this method takes a lot of dedication and patience, but for the hunter who is willing to go the extra mile and do things right, it will pay off.
Such was the case several years ago. I was hunting a property that belonged to a friend of mine in Virginia. I had hunted this property for several years and had taken several trophy whitetail bucks while hunting there. This particular section of property was fairly small, about 100 acres and was a mix of pasture and timbered hillsides. The simple fact that I had been the only one hunting this farm for several years, and had been selective about what I shot there, made it one of my favorite places to hunt. If I saw a good buck, I took it, but I let all of the small bucks walk. If I wanted venison for the freezer, I shot a doe.
There are a lot of advantages to hunting the same property, year after year. You become familiar with the movement of the deer, you understand where they are coming from, where they are going and why they are doing it.
You can also key in on the hot spots and are able to fine tune your stand placement according to the travel patterns and wind direction. After several years, I figured I had my stands set up in the ultimate places on the property so, I wouldnít even bother to scout it prior to the season. I had four different stands set up, knew where the deer were coming from and going to and knew the area well enough to know there was always a trophy buck close by. Thatís all I needed.
Opening morning of bow season that year found me sitting high in a white oak, adjacent to a thick bedding area. The bedding area was on a hillside that had be burned about 15 years ago, and it had grown up into a 5 acre tangle of bull pines, honeysuckle and blackberry briars. It was the major bedding area on the property, and once the deer made it to that, they were pretty much gone for the day. The main entrance for the bedding area was at the top of the hill where the main timber connected with the bedding area.
After daylight that morning, I had a number of deer file past me, including an eight point that was probably about 115Ē. What really got my attention that morning was a cedar tree about twenty yards behind my stand. I wouldnít say it was huge as far as rubs go, about four inches in diameter, but it was just about worn in half, and the top had been pushed over and twisted to the point it was canted at a crazy angle. What this meant to me was that the buck that was doing that was spending a lot of time there. Without ever seeing the buck, I decided this was the place for me and dedicated myself to killing that buck.
As it was early season, and I didnít want to blow the buck out of there, I decided to wait until the rut was starting to hunt there. The entrance to the thicket was a high traffic area for the deer to enter the bedding area so I just left it alone until I was sure the boys were really getting interested.
Along about the last week of October, things started to pick up. On my drive up there that morning, I saw several bucks following does in the headlights. When I got to the property, the wind was right for the stand and I hunted the stand for the second time of the season. I saw a lot of deer go into the bedding area, but no sign of the monster. This went on for the next several weeks and after passing up a number of smaller bucks, I really started getting frustrated. Even though I knew the buck was there and only hunted the stand when the wind was right, I just couldnít seem to connect. To make matters worse, the cedar tree was getting still getting hammered on a regular basis.
One thing I noticed though, after it happened several times, was that in the mornings when I went to the stand, I ran a single deer out of the area the rub was in, as I approached my stand before daylight.
Then the thought struck me that the buck was setting up there before daylight and checking all of the does coming into the bedding area. If anything interrupted his activity, all he had to do was take a jump or two and he was gone into the thicket. Once I got that figured out, he was a dead deer. The next morning found me getting into the stand at 3:45 am. Itís pretty hard to sit in the dark for a couple hours, but itís also pretty interesting to hear everything thatís going on in the woods in the dark. One thing that really caught my attention around 5 am was the sound of a single deer moving past me and going to the rub. The sound of antlers rubbing on wood, in the dark is enough to get your heart beating fast, even when you canít see whats doing it. I was sure it was my boy. Between 5 am and daylight, I heard several other groups of deer work past me and go into the thicket.
The gray light of dawn began to appear around 6 am and I couldnít see him anywhere. The eight pointer that I had passed up several times showed up and began feeding on the white oak acorns, right under my stand. I really contemplated shooting him as rifle season was fast approaching and I had a bow tag to use. All at once, the eight point started getting nervous and looking at the thicket behind me. When I turned, there he was, at the edge of the thicket about 50 yards away, staring intently at the eight pointer that was standing under my tree. The posture of the eight point immediately changed to a submissive slouch and he began slowly walking away. It kind of reminded me of the sixth grader, who looked down the hall and saw the bully of the eight grade class standing there, waiting for the next unfortunate sixth grader to come along. Better not go there!
After several intense minutes of posturing by the buck, he finally moved into the shooting lane I had, and I buried an arrow in his chest from 45 yards. Even though the 13 point, 190 lb, field dressed buck wasnít a monster by mid-west standards, he was a great bow buck for Virginia. The best part of the hunt for this buck, were the lessons I learned from the experience.
Lesson#1 Know the property you are hunting.
I think we all know that the more time you spend on a piece of property, the better you know it. Keeping a logbook of what you see and where you see it is very important and will pay huge dividends. It may take several years of hunting and scouting, but patterns will emerge over time that will help you identify the hotspots on the property.
If you are hunting with a whitetail hunting outfitter, its not always possible for you to be that familiar with the property you are hunting, so it is the whitetail hunting outfitters job is to know what is happening on every property they have.
As the division manager in Pike County, Illinois, for IMB Outfitters, the logbook we keep is the most important scouting tool I have. With over 6000 acres of property in Pike County, Illinois, its impossible for us to know every detail of every piece of property we have.
But, every day of the season, we ask our hunters to give us a report on how many deer they saw from their stand, how many shooter bucks they saw and how many shot opportunities they had. Itís basically a stat book for our properties and stands, and it tells me what is going on with each property and every stand we have on our properties. I can also look at logbooks from past years and have a history of stats for every stand that we have.
Lesson # 2. If what you are doing, isnít working, do something different.
If I would have kept going to the stand, Ĺ hour before daylight, I would have never seen that buck. I was basically chasing him out of my stand area and into the bedding area each morning, as I was going to my stand. Letís face it. Most of us tend to be lazy. Getting up at 3 am and sitting in the dark for several hours isnít much fun, but the rewards can be huge. Just think of it this way. The deer you are busting out of the stand area at 3:30 in the morning probably werenít going to be there at daylight anyway. By getting to the stand early, you give the area time to settle down and that allows for more deer to filter into the area by daylight.
If you are going to hunt in or near a bedding area, you have to get there before the deer do. Beat them there! Itís that simple! If a deer starts snorting and raising cane, Ĺ hour before daylight in your stand area, chances are your morning hunt is over before it ever gets started.
On another section of the same farm, I located a buckís core area on the front side of a large, wooded hill. This buck was bedding on a brushy point, near the top of the ridge. There were rubs everywhere. I knew it had to be a bucks core area, so I decided to hunt there. The easy way to the stand involved crossing a large, open pasture, going into a mix of pasture and woods and climbing the hillside to the stand. I soon found out it was virtually impossible to get to the stand without spooking a number of deer, Their snorting and stomping alerted every deer on the front side of the mountain to my presence. After trying this several times, I decided to do something different. I changed my approach to the stand. This meant having to get to the stand from the backside of the mountain. Then I had to go straight through a huge laurel thicket. The point he was bedding on was on the front edge of the thicket. From the point he was bedding on he could watch about twenty acres of open timber in front of him, and in one jump, disappear into a huge laurel patch.
After screwing the area up, by going to the stand the wrong way, and blowing all of the deer out of there, I decided to stay off the hill for two weeks, and let things settle down. The next time I went to the stand, I climbed the backside of the mountain. It took me more than an hour to get to the stand that way. The first approach I used only took 15 minutes. I left the truck that morning at 3 am and was seated in my stand shortly after 4am. At first light, the nine pointer made his last trip up the ridge, to his safe zone.
Lesson #3 Patience is a virtue!
In order for this tactic to be effective, you must be willing to only hunt the bedding area for trophy whitetails under ideal conditions. Realizing where the buck is coming from to get to his bedding area is the first step. This can normally be figured out by finding rubs and scrapes. Once you are confident you know this, make sure you find an approach to the stand that doesnít go through the area the buck uses to approach the bedding area. If you find a core area with a lot of rubs and beds, go ahead and check it out while you are there. You have probably already chased him out of there anyway. I like to pick at least two stand sights while I am there (according to wind direction) and mark them with bright eyes. Then I mark my approach trail. Then, forget about it for week or so. Wait for perfect conditions for your next visit to the stand. Another great aspect of this is if you find a spot where a monster is bedding, and he is killed, another big buck will likely take up residence there in the future.
There are advantages and disadvantages to hunting bedding areas for trophy whitetails.
In order to be effective, here is a list of items to be considered.
Know the property you are hunting inside and out. The best way to accomplish this is by spending time there and keeping an accurate record of everything that happens on the property. On an Ariel photo of the property, identify food sources, travel corridors and bedding areas. Pay particular attention to the thickets on the downwind side of the travel corridors used by the does. Very seldom will you find a trophy buck using the same bedding area used by a doe group, unless the rut is on.
Without a doubt, the best time to scout bedding areas of trophy whitetails is during the off-season. If a trophy whitetail is using a bedding area, he will leave sign. I always look for the bucks core area. Look for concentrations of rubs adjoining heavy cover and then go to the nearest thicket and scout it out Scouting after the season will also afford you the opportunity to investigate his travel routes and the approach he uses to get to the bedding area. Knowing this is an important aspect, as it will identify the approach you should take to get to the stand. Go out of your way to avoid the approach corridor to the bedding area and pay attention to wind direction during your approach. Staying out of the approach corridor means nothing if you are flooding it with scent during your approach to the stand. . Become familiar enough with the property to get to the stand from several different directions.
Only hunt the stand under ideal conditions. If the wind direction is wrong, stay out of there.
#4Make sure you beat them there! If you arenít motivated enough to get there before the buck, you shouldnít even try this! If you are running late, hunt a travel corridor or feeding area away from the bedding area.
#5 Only hunt bedding areas of trophy whitetails in the morning. Getting there before the deer do is of up most importance. Once you are in the stand undetected, itís a great idea to stay there all day, but trying to get there after the deer are there is impossible. During the rut, the deer are active in and around the bedding area throughout the day. We kill a lot of bucks in bedding areas during the 10 am to 2 pm time frame, especially during the rut.
# 6 Do not over hunt the stand. It takes very little human intrusion into a trophy bucks area to alert the buck that somethings just not right. Once a week is a lot. Also make sure you are as scent free as possible. Wear rubber boots so you donít leave any ground scent. If Iím hunting in an area with cattle, one of my favorite tricks in to step in manure on my way to the stand.
#7 Realize that it may take a year or two for a bedding area stand to pay off. A trophy whitetail may have as many as four or five bedding spots that he uses according to wind direction, pressure placed upon him by hunters and the stage of the rut.
#8 Make sure you donít disturb the area any more than you have too. Setting up a stand in the bedding area of a trophy whitetail is tricky business. Try to minimize the intrusion into the area. Unless you do it in the off season, cutting shooting lanes is a definite mistake. Thatís comparable to some one rearranging your bedroom furniture while you are at work. You are going to notice it the second you walk into the room. Iím not saying you canít cut yourself a couple holes to shoot through but cutting an avenue, through the brush in the bedding area of a trophy whitetail is going to be noticed. If you do cut anything, get it out of there. Donít leave a brush pile laying on the ground.
If you are hunting with a whitetail hunting outfitter and want to hunt in or near a bedding area, tell them. They canít read your mind. Some of our best hunters are the guys who want a stand that they can stay in all day, especially during the rut.
. Just ask Larry Adams. The first day of gun season in 2005, we placed Larry in a stand adjacent to a bedding area on a property we have in Pike County, Illinois. During bow season a true monster buck had been seen a number of times on the property but the giant whitetail had never presented a shot opportunity. We placed Larry in the stand at 3:30 that morning and shortly after daylight, the 210Ē, double drop tine monster whitetail from Pike County, Illinois, ran out of luck. Larry beat him there!