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Locating Trophy Buck Bedding Areas & Patterning Bucks


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#1 TRMichels

TRMichels

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Posted 03 November 2008 - 12:18 PM

This article is an excerpt from the Complete Whitetail Addict's Manual, available on computer readable CD or in soft cover.

If you have questions - fire away...


I'll warn you - it is a full lenght feature article.

Locating Trophy Buck Bedding Areas to Pattern a Buck
By T.R. Michels

I first picked up the deer trail as it came out of a finger of woods and entered a cornfield. I had seen a ten point buck come out of the finger shortly after sundown on three different occasions in the last two weeks. After the third time I decided to find out where the buck had come from. As I walked the edge of the cornfield the next day I had seen the trail that led down through the narrow finger of oaks. Thirty yards from the cornfield I found a small opening in the woods with a scrape under a low hanging red oak limb. The trail continued beyond the scrape and led deeper into the wooded hillside.

At first the trail had been fairly easy to follow, I saw the occasional large tracks of a buck, grass and leaves pressed into the dirt, and a few scattered rubs. Some of the rubs were on large trees six to eight inches in diameter, but most of them were on one to two inch saplings, often with their branches broken or mangled. Now, as the trail led farther into the woods and uphill into the thick undergrowth it became harder to follow. It became more vague, and I had lost it at least twice as it traveled along a bench below the top of the hill, after a few minutes of searching I had found the trail both times.

When I picked up the trail the last time it led into thick stand of saplings under a canopy of large white oaks. Twenty yards into the thick underbrush the trail seemed to split into several lightly used trails, which all seemed to disappear within a few yards. Thatís when I knew I was close. I squatted on my heels and closely examined the brush around me. A few yards ahead and to my left was a rub, there was another one farther along the bench, and one fifteen yards away just over the side of the bench.

Within thirty yards I found what I was looking for, three large beds that appeared to have been used on different days. I also found a total of seven rubs, several large tracks with rounded toes, suggesting that a buck had made them; and near one of the beds a large clump of deer pellets, almost a sure sign that the beds were made by a buck.

I began writing this article after one of my editors mentioned how many articles he had read that said the best place to hunt a buck was near its bedding area. But, he said that not many of the articles talked about how to find buck bedding areas. Before we get into how to find a buck bedding area, letís discuss why you should hunt near a buckís bedding area.

Throughout the year deer travel more during the day than they do at night. But, as fall approaches this pattern begins to change and deer, especially bucks, begin to travel less during daylight hours and more during the one to two hours before and after, dawn and dusk, with continued movement throughout the night. The increasing late evening, early morning and night time movement is caused by a decreasing amount of forage in protected or wooded areas and by the defoliation of trees and shrubs. The increasing need to find food causes deer to look for food in open areas; the lack of leaves on the vegetation makes the deer feeling less secure, which causes them to move more at night, when they feel secure under the cover of darkness.

Whitetails are a creature of habit, they spend most of their adult lives within a home range that may be as small as forty to fifty acres, or as large as several thousand acres, depending on the diversity and quality of habitat. The more diverse, and the better the quality, of the habitat the smaller the home range needs to be. Whitetail home ranges in mixed agricultural/hardwood forests, where there are alfalfa, soybean, wheat, oat and corn fields intermixed with hardwoods providing acorns, maple leaves and seeds, hazelnuts, berries, and honeysuckle, can be small because there is a variety of to eat. Home ranges in areas where the habitat is not as diverse, such as mature northern evergreen forests; western river bottoms where there are scattered cottonwoods cedar and prairie; or Midwest agricultural fields, where there are few wooded areas, may be as large as several thousand acres.

Within this home range the deer will have a core area, a place where it can feed, water and bed without moving too far. This is where the deer will spend most of the spring, summer and early fall. They may or may not have also have a winter range. Within the core area the deer will have preferred bedding areas where they can find security and shelter. Depending on the habitat, terrain, weather and time of day used, there may be one or many bedding sites.

Reading Bedding Areas
When you find deer beds at the edge of fields, or in thickets near food sources they were probably made at night, deer often bed in open areas or near feeding sites during the night. When you find beds in woods they were probably made at night, or used during severe weather. When you see several beds in an area they were probably made by a doe group, bucks usually prefer to bed alone, especially during the fall.
Deer often bed on the downwind side of the hills or woods, or in low-lying protected areas, to get out of cold winds. They may bed on open shaded benches with cooling breezes, or low-lying damp areas when the weather is hot. On mild, cloudless winter days I have seen deer bed on an open hill, where they are out of the wind but receive warmth from the sun.

When you see one large bed with several smaller beds nearby they were probably made by a doe and her fawns. When you see numerous beds of different sizes in the same area they may have been made by several doe/fawn groups, or they may have been made by one doe and her fawns on different nights. Yearling and doe beds of most northern deer are less than 40 inches in length, northern adult buck beds are generally longer, 45 inches or more. If you find one single bed longer than 40 inches, it was probably made by an adult buck. If you find several beds over 40 inches they were probably made by one buck on different days; you have more than likely found a buck bedding area.

Buck Beds
Adult bucks usually choose the most inaccessible portions of their core area for bedding sites, often with the wind at their back and a clear view in front of or below them. In the midwest, where the wind blows primarily out of the northwest during the fall rut, I often find buck beds on the east side of a hill on wooded benches full of undergrowth and dead leaves, where I canít move without alerting the buck by the sound I make. Iíve kicked bucks out of tall grass, cane and cornfields in the middle of the day because they heard me coming while I was several yards away. IĎve found buck beds in plum and alder thickets so dense I had to get down on my hands and knees to get through them, often tearing my skin and clothes in the process. How the bucks get through with a rack on their heads I donít know.

Iíve seen bucks bed on high spots in cattail sloughs and tamarack swamps, where they couldnít be approached without them hearing the splash of water. Iíve also seen bucks bed down in the middle of a CRP field or prairie, where they could either smell me, see me or hear me long before I could get close enough for a shot. These are some of the places bucks choose as daytime bedding sites, and where they spend the majority of the day until the rut begins. Because these areas are so inaccessible the bucks often uses the same general area, but not necessarily the same bed, on a regular basis.

Buck Sign
To be sure that you are in a buck bedding area look for buck sign. Large beds of uniform size in a small area indicate that a large deer, possibly a buck, has used the site on several occasions. Several small rubbed trees or saplings near the bedding area are a good indication of buck use. Large rounded front hooves as a result of the buck scraping are an indication of a dominant buck. Rear hoof tracks that land ahead of or in the track of the front hoof indicate a buck; because of the wider pelvis of a doe its rear tracks often land outside of or behind the front tracks.

Tracks wider than 1.25 inches in width when the deer is walking on hard ground (not running or walking on soft ground) indicate a buck. Drag marks in the dirt or snow usually indicate buck tracks. A concentrated urine stream stain near the middle of the bed indicates a buck; doe urine stains often splash the ground and appear at the back of the bed. Large, cylindrical clumped deer droppings an inch or two in length indicate a buck. I often find this type of dropping in buck bedding areas and at scrapes.

Travel/Rub Routes
The best times to look for buck bedding areas by walking a rub route are; during the fall, when new rubs and scrapes begin to appear; right after the hunting season, when the bucks may still be traveling their rub routes and leaving fresh tracks in wet ground or snow; in the early spring, when rubs, scrapes, and trails are still visible; any time it has rained or snowed in the last twelve hours, when fresh tracks are easy to see. To keep tabs on the buck and itís movement you check itís scrape line once or twice a week between the hours of ten in the morning and two in the afternoon, to see which scrapes it is currently using. Bucks may have more than one rub route. When you follow a rub route to a bedding area check to see if other routes lead in different directions.

As the rut approaches bucks begin to move outside their core areas, traveling their rub routes, making scrapes, and searching for does. Most of their movement, and the activities of rubbing and scraping, occur from an hour before sunset, through the night, to an hour after sunrise. During the day the bucks generally limit their movement to the core area, the bedding site, and surrounding areas that provide secure cover and feeding sites. Depending on the quality of the habitat, the core area may be as small as a few acres to larger than two hundred acres; the better the habitat the smaller the core area. Since most of the activity of the buck occurs after dark (even during the rut) the best place to see the buck during the day on a regular basis is in or near its bedding area. That's why so many articles suggest getting close to the bedding area when you hunt bucks.

Although a buckís rub route may be a mile or more in length, the buck may use as little as a few hundred yards of the route during legal shooting hours as it leaves itís bedding area in the evening. It may also use a few hundred yards of itís route during legal shooting hours before it gets back to itís bedding area in the morning. This means that your best chance of seeing the buck during legal hours is along itís travel/rub route at dusk as the buck leaves itís bedding area; and along itís travel/rub route in the morning as it returns to itís bedding area. The bedding area is where the buck may spend up to seventy-five percent of itís time during daylight hours.

Patterning Deer & Locating Buck Bedding Areas
Now that we have established why you should hunt near a buck bedding areas letís discuss how to pattern a deer and locate buck bedding areas. The incident mentioned above shows two of the best ways to locate a bedding area. The technique most talked about for patterning deer is back-tracking a rub route. Most rub routes are oblong in nature; long narrow routes offer the advantage of covering the greatest possible area, while minimizing the distance traveled. The travel route of a deer generally follows the path of least resistance, but it is governed by the need for security. Daytime deer trails wind through wooded areas, along overgrown roads, parallel river and creek beds, along benches just off the top or bottom of a hill and through low-lying areas.

Because older bucks are more concerned with security than does they seldom travel heavily used doe trails, preferring to use their own trails in deeper cover, higher or lower on the side of a hill, or they wait until dawn and dusk before moving. You should also realize that a rub route may be traveled by one deer, in one direction, one time a day. When you come across a heavily used deer trail look farther up or down the hill or into deeper cover for a lightly used trail that a buck might use. Then look for buck tracks, drag marks, rubs, and scrapes to confirm it is a buck route.

The rub route generally leads from the bedding site, through several doe use areas, and ends up at a food source, where the buck may find several does during the night. The buck may spend the night and bed down near the food source and the does until early morning, when it begins to make itís way back to itís bedding area. Because the buck is now traveling under cover of darkness it does not feel the need for security cover and often walks across open fields, meadows and clearings. If there are no trees in these areas there are no rubs, which makes it difficult to determine the route the buck uses on itís return trip to itís bedding area. The buck usually tries to make it back to cover within an hour of sunrise, and if the route travels through wooded areas it may be marked with rubs that can lead you to itís bedding area.

You can follow a rub route in the direction the buck was traveling by walking down the trail and looking for rubs. This may eventually lead you to a food source and back to the bedding area. But, because the route back to the bedding area may not be marked by you may lose the trail. For this reason the best way to walk a rub route is backwards. When you find a rub, or series of rubs, along a trail, all facing in one direction, turn around and walk down the trail with the visible portion of the rub at your back.

When you come across a rub route and are trying to determine where the bedding area is remember that the rub route generally leads from a secure area (woods, thick brush, swamp, the middle of a fallow field) to a food source (agricultural field, mast site) If the route comes out of a wooded area and heads to an open area containing a food source, the bedding site is usually in the secure area, where the buck can find security from predators, and protection from the elements. When a lightly used deer trail comes from or leads into a secure area and the trail splits into several less used trails, or the trails seem to disappear, you are probably entering a bedding area, start looking for buck sign. If you are down on your hands and knees, trying to get into thicket where you swear a buck couldnít go, thatís probably where heís at.

Observing/Glassing
A variation on backtracking the rub route is to watch for deer in the evening. I picked up this technique when I first began guiding for elk in New Mexico. I would go out in the evening, choose a spot on a mountain where I could watch several different openings in the forest, and wait for the elk to come out to feed. When I saw a bull I would either try to get to it that evening or I wait and come back the next morning, hoping the bull would spend the night feeding in the area and return to the bedding area the next morning. When I use this technique on whitetails I may watch a field from a road, or sit on a hill or in a treestand, where I can overlook one or more open areas where the bucks travel or feed.

The advantages to this technique are that whitetail bucks often use the same bedding area day after day, and they donít move very far from their bedding area during daylight hours. If you see a buck within an hour of sundown itís a good bet the bedding area is not far away along the buckís back trail. When I see a buck come out of the woods in the same area, cross the same road, or step out of the corn, several nights at about the same time I begin looking for itís tracks, trail or rub route. Then I back track the buck until I get into a secure area. When I find rubs on several small trees, large tracks with rounded front hooves, large beds, and large cylindrical clumps of deer droppings I know I have found a buck bedding area.

Hunting Strategies
When you enter a buck bedding area during the day you will more than likely spook the buck. As long as you do it long enough before the hunting season; do it after the hunting season; or do it only once or twice during the hunting season, the buck should return within a day or two. Once you have found the bedding area, you should enter it only as a last resort to hunt the buck, or to confirm that the buck is not using it and has moved elsewhere. If you feel you need to scout near the bedding area do it infrequently, stay as far away as you can while still learning something of the area, and try to stay downwind and out of sight of the buck. Remember, there is no good time to scout a buck bedding area, because the buck should be in it all day. The only time you can be fairly sure the buck is not there is at night, and when it is with an estrus doe.

The two best places to set up are along the buckís route as it leaves the bedding area in the evening and along the route as it comes back in the morning. In many cases the buck will use the same route when entering and leaving the bedding area. Try to get as close as you can without alerting the buck. The closer you are the better you chances of seeing the buck during legal hunting hours.

When I setup along a known evening travel route I like to get between the bedding area and the first large opening the buck has to cross, because the buck is probably traveling through the opening after dark. If there is a scrape in semi-open woods not far from the bedding area I setup ten to twenty yards down wind of the scrape; bucks often check their scrapes from downwind before working them. I donít like to setup near scrapes in open areas because they are used primarily during the night. I try to get to my evening stand two to three hours before sunset, so the area has a chance to settle down, and just in case the buck comes out early. When you are hunting near buck bedding areas in the afternoon, the chances are the buck is still there. Approach the area quietly from downwind, and stay out of sight.

When I setup along known morning travel routes near buck bedding areas I try to get there well before daylight, and before the buck gets back. Bucks often return to their bedding areas after sunrise when they are actively scraping, or when they have been looking for or been chasing does at night. I wait until the wind is blowing toward the bedding area, then setup along the travel route and hope the buck comes by. During the scraping phase and peak rut I often stay in the stand all day, because the bucks may return home at any time.

I hope it helps some of you.

God bless,

T.R.
T.R. Michels
TRMichels@yahoo.com

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