Deer hunting public lands is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences available to U.S. hunters. Although hunting pressure can be intense in some areas, bowhunters can find consistent success by targeting deer where they spend most of their time: in bedding areas. Although this aggressive tactic often spooks deer, it can pay off with a big buck and full freezer.
The term “bedding area” often describes any area where hunters expect deer to hang out. Don’t let such vagueness fool you. You can pinpoint specific bedding areas and strategically hunt them when conditions are right for waylaying resting bucks.
Bowhunters can identify a buck’s bed by its solitary position, and nearby rubs and scrapes. Although does usually bed in family groups, mature bucks bed by themselves, usually with cover at their back and wind blowing to them from that direction. This setup lets them smell approaching threats from upwind while relying on their vision to spot danger ahead.
The closer you can hunt to a big buck’s bed, the more likely you are to encounter him during shooting light. If you’ve spent much time watching deer in daylight, you know they often slowly and meticulously navigate their area. Deer can take an hour to walk 100 yards.
Because bedding areas are small, scouting is important. When finding a buck’s bed, mark it on a map. To learn what the buck is monitoring, lie in its bed and study the surroundings from its point of view. Look for cover you can use to your advantage when approaching the bed, such as deadfalls, cattails and other dense cover. You must close the distance undetected by the buck’s eyes, nose and ears.
Bedding sites often change with wind direction. A bedding area that lets a buck use north winds to monitor a distant parking lot might be useless in winds from a different direction. That buck likely rests elsewhere to keep conditions in his favor. Either way, bowhunters must often get creative to approach a buck’s bed without alerting it. Consider approaching from directions where deer won’t expect danger. Rather than walking a mowed path winding through a public property, try following a ditch, creek or thick woods to your spot.
Monitor the wind direction while approaching the bedding site. If that buck is lying there, it’s likely able to smell anything approaching from upwind while watching all the cover downwind. Use that insight to your advantage, and thread the needle to your setup. That means getting close enough for shots at possible escape trails but staying far enough to remain on the edge of the buck’s line of sight and wind direction so you won’t get picked off. This tactic is called “hunting off-wind,” and positions aggressive hunters where they’re most likely to encounter bedded deer. However, you’ll risk spooking everything nearby in the slightest swirling wind.
Bowhunters should try to find several buck beds during the season, which helps spread hunting pressure over several areas. A tree saddle, ghillie suit or lightweight treestand with climbing sticks help mobile bowhunters cover a range of habitats. Swamps and marshes often have few trees to perch in, but a ghillie suit makes many such sites huntable. On the other hand, hardwoods are ideal for tree saddles or lightweight treestands because they make it easier for bowhunters to hike into remote areas than they ever could with a ladder stand.
Whether you dive headfirst into new tactics or simply want to experiment, consider hunting bedding areas on public lands. For more tips and insights, go online and check out The Hunting Public on You Tube and Facebook, as well as Dan Infalt, a public-lands hunter from Wisconsin. Infalt has written countless articles detailing how to hunt pressured public lands.
Ultimately, though, nothing beats firsthand experience. Finding places to hunt can be challenging, so head to a public property and try to ambush a buck in its bed. You just might have a long drag and full freezer in your future.