HUNTING BUCK BEDDING IN PENNSYLVANIA HILL COUNTRY
One of the most consistent patterns in a mature buck’s daily routine is his bedding pattern. He may gobble up food in various places through out the night time hours, sometimes wandering through areas he doesn’t always relate to, but where he plans to spend his day is a well planned process.
BIG WOOD BEDDING COVER
It doesn’t matter where you hunt whitetails, wherever you pursue them you’ll find that the majority of their feeding activity takes place at night. As for mature bucks, they move even less during the day hours! At least outside of the rut. But no deer lays on its belly for 12 hours a day. They all get up at times. But rarely do they leave bedding cover and high elevations during the day.
At the age of 14, I made it my lifelong goal to pursue whitetail deer at an extremely high level. To this day, that hasn’t changed at all. If anything, the amount of time and effort I put into hunting and scouting whitetails somehow increases as the years go by. But one of the biggest keys I’ve learned is the importance of hunting in or around bedding cover.
Mature bucks will spend more time inside of cover than anywhere else. But a lot of hunters have it wrong. They think bucks bed in the thickest, nastiest areas we can find. That’s rarely the case. I’ve observed hundreds if not thousands of buck beds in the big woods of northern Pennsylvania. Almost all buck beds have one thing in common. And that’s the visual. Even though their greatest defense is their nose, they use their eyes just as much. They want to be able to see!
When I’m looking for big buck bedding cover, I’m looking for cover that offers visibility of 20-50 yards. A good example would be 15-20 year old clear cuts. Somewhat open, but still thick. But sometimes there’s areas that don’t have the most ideal bedding cover. Sometimes the only cover available is extremely thick. In this case I’m looking for openings inside of the thicket. Somewhere that you can at least see 20 yards. That’s where the bedding will often be.
Another hot spot for bedding is under lone pines and hemlocks inside of clearcuts. Often loggers will avoid cutting these kinds of trees because they are usually low value timber. But to whitetails, they are the perfect spot to rest under.
AT WHAT ELEVATION
Another huge factor for hill country bedding is elevation. Outside of the winter months, it’s almost always towards the tops of the ridges. I don’t even look for bedding below the middle of the hill. And the majority of it is along the ridge tops.
Deer, and mostly mature bucks, bed near elevation drops. Many believe they do this because of thermals. I don’t entirely agree. I believe it has to do more with visuals and escape routes. Most of the time when I bump a mature buck out of a bed, he heads downhill and out of site. These bucks are bedding right near the tip of a ledge. Bucks can get out of site and away from predators in a split second from these kind of locations.
WIND, THERMALS, AND WHERE TO HUNT
So do I believe wind and thermals play no part in hill country bedding? Absolutely not. But, not enough for me to base my hunts around them. Where I hunt, we don’t have hills, we have mountains. And where you have mountains, you’ll find the most inconsistent wind and air currents over anywhere else. So how can I plan my hunts on something that I can’t rely on? I can’t!
My approach is on the cover the bucks are bedding in. And I don’t always know which bed the buck may be using on that particular day, but I’m willing to bet I know what patch of cover he is using. And possibly other bucks as well. My biggest key to hunting bedding is to avoid getting too close. For me, 100 yards is too close and 200 yards is ideal.
Setting up too close to a bed is not so much of an issue with noise as it is with wind. I might have an idea on what the wind will be doing in the area I plan to hunt, but it’s almost always shifting at times while I’m in a stand. If I’m less than 100 yards from a bedded buck and he catches my wind, he’s gone!
Now what I’ve learned is that I’m not getting picked off as often during wind shifts when I’m around that 200-yard mark from bedding. I believe my scent starts to scatter more the further away I am from a buck. I picture it like shooting a shotgun. The further the distance, the wider the shot pattern. I believe my scent molecules are doing the same thing. And at 200 yards or further, as well as throwing trees and foliage in the mix, my chances are greater of a buck not smelling me.
A question I get asked a lot is where do I set up when I hunt mountain bedding. Well like I said, I prefer to back off a good distance. And I don’t see a lot of predictable travel activity around bedding. Bucks don’t always take the same routes in and out.
The benefit from staying back from a buck’s bed is that you might be closer to the edge of his core area. This is an area where he often meets up with other deer, especially other bucks. This is a magical spot for a mock scrape. And often I find real scrapes in these spots. Usually community scrapes! This is exactly my kind of set up. These scrapes might be just what it takes to get in the path of the buck you are hunting. Especially as you get closer to the rut, a late October scrape near bedding will get more active and produce a ton of day light activity!
So in my 30-plus years of hunting mountain bucks, the two most consistent things I’ve learned is to hunt high and hunt around cover. Don’t bank on the wind, and back off a good distance from bedding, then you can have great success in hill country.