There’s the assumption that big, old bucks live back in the deepest, nastiest swamps and thickets they can find. Maybe some do, but most don’t. Bucks develop personalities like any animal and the majority prefer to hoof around a bit to socialize and chase does. And because of their ranginess, they are not going to return to the exact spot every time they wish to bed.
No matter where you are in the United States, bucks are going to find similar areas to make their beds. These spots require the same elements, including ample cover, a good line of sight, the right wind and a little sunshine. Perhaps your mind’s eye can already see these places on your property. If not, a quick look at Google Maps can pay dividends in the big-buck-killing category.
Here is where you might start your search.
Around Food and Water
When bucks are unpressured, they will bed near food and water. Unless it’s the rut, when they’re not really bedding or feeding. During the rut, bucks need water more than food, so take a look at the map with that in mind. Every other time of the season though, posting up between a bedding area and an early-season beanfield or late-season cornfield is not a bad idea.
A southwest-facing slope provides two key elements a buck will look for in a bedding area: headwind and sunshine. This allows them to smell danger long before they see it and seek out a little warmth in the colder months. Mature bucks will typically lay down with a thick stand of trees at their backs. This helps shield them from a predator attacking from the rear. It’s also harder for a hunter to see them when approaching downhill.
Does are more likely to bed in the open than bucks. Once the hunting pressure increases, they may head to heavier cover. But until that happens, you’ll likely catch them in the headlights in open fields. Does will leave a body-sized impression in the field that you can easily spot in the daytime. Take a few minutes for a 360-degree view of the surroundings. If the cover is thick, sloped and near food and water, move a stand or elevated blind to this area pronto.
In areas with cover and food, you have a really good chance of finding a deer bedding area.
If you have a sanctuary established on your property, deer will bed there. If you haven’t designated one or more on your property yet, it's an important feature to add. Sanctuaries are places that see no human activity. Period. Don’t hang trail cameras or stands in the sanctuary… unless you have to. The one exception is if there’s a big buck you’re hunting that won’t leave that general area, and it’s getting toward the end of the season. Make sure the wind is right, and really plan your entry and exit. But don’t get discouraged if you never see that buck again for the rest of the season, because even the slightest feel of human presence can push him out.
Bucks will also bed in the open, especially when pressure is low and weather is pleasant. When the temperature drops and precipitation falls, that's when bucks head for the thicket. While an old buck’s bedding spots may change daily throughout the season, the landscape stays the same. At some point, he’s going to revisit beds. Hopefully, you catch him there.