The Basics of Deer Bedding Behavior
It’s no wonder then, that bedding behavior remains a bit of a mystery for hunters since most deer are on their feet, feeding, traveling, chasing does, or scampering away.
Whitetail deer are crepuscular animals, which means they typically move around dawn and dusk. They like to sleep during the brightest daylight hours and periodically at night. Having to feed so much in a short period is a survival strategy since deer are more susceptible to predation when on the move. They climb up and feed quickly and then stop to chew the cud.
We know where deer bed because serious whitetail hunters tend to be very good Scouters. It is common for nighttime bedding to be close to feeding areas and for daytime beds to be hidden in thick security cover or rugged terrain. When temperatures plummet, deer seek shelter in dense conifers to avoid precipitation and frigid winds. They prefer north-facing slopes when it’s hot, and they lay down beside cooling water sources when it’s cold.
It is estimated that a mature buck drinks 3 to 5 quarts of water per day, and some of that is in the daylight. For this reason, they usually sleep close to a water source, even if the source is small and stagnant.
Most of us keep a mental list of bedding areas based on our basic knowledge, scouting info, and hunting experience, including cedar thickets, grasses, cutovers, ditches, leeward benches, marshes, oxbows, ridge points, and swamps. It’s often harder to pinpoint exactly where bucks lie down, but what they do while lying on their bellies is the biggest mystery.
A Look into the Life of a Bedded Buck
Most bucks bed alone, unless they are in a bachelor group or tending a doe. Does usually sleep in groups and face different directions for protection Lone bucks tend to face downwind. Their eyes allow them to detect danger from downwind and their noses to detect danger from upwind. Sometimes, deer will move to a new area when the wind shifts. Sometimes, they will move a short distance.
Deer don’t have to sleep against physical structures in areas with good habitats. In poorer habitats, deer prefer to sleep against boulders, logs, and other objects that break up their outline. Their posture can be upright, on their sides, or on the ground. In cold weather, deer may tuck their nose underneath their hind legs.
A deer often spends the first few minutes monitoring its backtrail for predators. Once they settle down, they focus on rest, digestion, and sleep.
Dr. Grant Woods, wildlife biologist and host of Growing Deer TV, says deer bed more than they sleep. A few hunters have approached deer that appeared to be in deep sleep. Deer are ruminants that spend hours digesting food. Most deer beds I find in the snow or leaves do not show any sign of a deer laying down. It is especially common for deer to groom themselves before and just after getting out of bed. Deer alternates between dozing, chewing cud, grooming themselves, and simply being still.
According to Kip Adams, chief conservation officer of the National Deer Association, a deer sleeps for 30 seconds to a few minutes followed by a brief alert period. The cycle typically lasts 30 minutes. Deer may urinate or defecate once every 30 minutes before lying back down.”
While deer sleep, Adams says they constantly monitor what is happening around them. “Their ears are never lowered, and they can wake up instantly. That’s why sneaking up on a sleeping deer is so rare. You are unlikely to ever see a sleeping deer up close, but you can view one from a distance. During the day, deer sleep in secure cover, so it is the best way to see one from a stand when it moves into view and beds down. This is especially true if you hunt in heavy cover. “You may have even seen it before without realizing it because they can sleep with their eyes open.”
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