Habits are things that are done on a repetitive basis in a predictable manner. So, when you are hunting mature whitetail deer, habits are exactly what you look for. Here are some habits that you will want to look for as you are scouting and hunting.
It can be difficult to get near mature bucks. It is definitely a task that is not accomplished with attention to detail, sound judgment, terrain-reading skills, habitat awareness, and special talent. Without a true understanding of bedding behavior of mature bucks, it is incredibly difficult.
Below, you will learn eight different bedding habits that prime bucks follow. More often than not, it is these habits that tend to keep them alive.
#1: Utilizing Beneficial Terrain
When it comes to hunting deer and mature bucks, it is important to understand that there is a difference. Deer, which are young bucks and does, tend to bed nearer to food sources than mature bucks do. In most cases, they will bed in locations which offer far less security as well.
Mature bucks, on the other hand, will choose bedding locations that offer a gain over predators—often specifically related to the land. For instance, bucks tend to bed at the very end of the ridge and on the point. In doing so, they are able to see, hear, and smell danger before it can get near enough to execute them. So, seek areas that provide deer the edge when you hunt since this is where you will likely find them during the day.
#2: Staying Near Food When Not Pressured
Bucks that feel pressured will behave significantly differently than bucks that don’t feel pressured. It’s just how it is. Outside of deer hunting season—spring and summer—almost all mature bucks will stay near food sources due to lack of fear. Hunters are not actively chasing them, and this is seen in their behavior. For individuals who hunt areas where there is controlled hunting pressure, it may be promising to hunt mature bucks as soon as the season starts that show similar irresponsible behavior.
#3: Bedding in Remote Areas When Pressured
As soon as hunters get out into the woods and the mature deer catch the scent of the hunters, everything starts to change. The deer will change their bedding locations to areas that offer better sanctuary and security. They will start to move less during the day. For hunters, this means that the game gets harder.
#4: Remaining Near Water Sources
Hunters often overlook the fact that mature bucks remain close to water source. Hunters are so worried about deer staying close to food sources that they forget about water sources. Studies have shown that deer will head to water prior to food when they wake up in the evenings. While it is not nearly as vital as security and cover, water sources play an important role when bucks are selecting a place to bed.
#5: Backs to the Wall
Bucks tend to sleep with their backs up to a rock, log, or some other kind of object, providing them extra cover and shielding their presence from predators that may come into the area. If half of a deer’s body is covered, it is nearly as easy for predators or hunters to see them.
#6: Facing Downwind
Often, bucks will sleep against rocks, logs, and other solid objects, cover their rear (which is upwind), and keep an eye out downwind. Of course, don’t assume that they aren’t listening for any indication of danger. This type of “system” that deer have ensures that they are able to defend themselves against danger that is lurking around them.
#7: Keeping an Eye on Their Back Trail
It is ridiculous to assume that deer will always walk straight into the wind, so it also ridiculous to assume that deer will always follow the rules outlined above in #5 and #6. However, majority of the time, deer do practice those habits. Even when they do not, bucks tend to bed down and keep an eye on their back trail for anything lurking in the shadows.
#8: Caution Often Varies
It will vary from one buck to the next how cautious they are. Each whitetail deer has a diverse personality. Some bucks tend to be more vigilant than others. In our experience, we have noticed that bedded bucks tend to be more vigilant during the morning than the afternoon, though we aren’t sure why. Maybe it is because they are hungry and restless by the afternoon and are quick to go for it. Or maybe it is because they are scared a predator could follow them to their bedding quarters in the morning, so they are more cautious of their habits. Nonetheless, bucks tend to be more cautious as they return to their bedding locations as opposed to when they leave them.
When it comes to deer hunting, food is incredibly important. After all, it is at the heart of virtually everything. This is true even during the rut. Therefore, when you want to bag a big buck, you must consider the feeding habits of deer.
#1: They’re Considered Concentrate Selectors
All deer are concentrate selectors, which means that deer consume foods that are highly palatable and rich in nutrients. More often than not, this means that the deer will bite the tip off a brand-new shoot of grass, top of a plant, or bud of a plant or tree. Deer don’t typically eat the whole plant—just the absolute best part of the plant. Then, once they have bedded down, they will regurgitate what they have consumed, chew it up, and then digest it more prior to swallowing it once again.
#2: Food Drives Absolutely Everything
Food is at the top of everything; it is king regardless of the time of year or season. Absolutely everything revolves around food. Aside from mature deer who select their bedding areas based on security, most deer, such as those who are not pressured, will choose their bedding based on how close food sources are. In areas where deer are pressured, they won’t be near food sources and will travel for their food, meaning that you will need to hunt further away from sources of food and nearer to bedding locations.
#3: They’ll Eat in Staging Areas Initially
Though rare, you can catch a hasty buck in a large field during the day. Nonetheless, it is far more likely to spot a big buck in a staging area for a daylight feeding. These may be smaller plots of food, dropped acorns, etc. Locate these areas between major food sources and bedding areas, as this is the ideal way to get a mature buck while he’s eating.
#4: They Will Take Roundabout Routes to Food Sources
Young bucks and does tend to take a straight course to the food source. They do not take the same precautions that mature bucks do. With mature bucks, though, they will take roundabout routes to the food. They will play the thermals, window, etc. They will travel strategic routes. This can be confusing, so in order to get a grasp of all this and how it applies to the location of where you are going to hunt, you need to scout the area and think like a cautious deer.
#5: Most Don’t Get to the Food Source Until It’s Dark
As a general rule, mature bucks will not get to their food source until it is dark out—and this is because of the indirect route that they take to get there. It is ultimately a survival tactic. They move less during the day, which allows them to run into fewer hunters. As a hunter, how do you overcome that so that you can get that prize buck you’ve been waiting for? You must stick to hunting further away from the food sources.
#6: Deer Move After the Rain
In our experience, we have noticed that mature bucks—but deer in general as well—like to move following a nice rain. Though we do not have any science or data to back up why the deer do this, it’s just what we have experienced in the past.
#7: Preferences for Sources of Food Vary
Due to the fact that the personalities of bucks vary, it goes without saying that the food source favorites will also vary. Some bucks will prefer beans over corn, while some bucks will prefer corn over beans. Some may not prefer either one and like to browse for their food. The point of the matter is that every deer out there is different. In order to determine what the deer likes that you are hunting, you must spend time scouting.
#8: Deer Enjoy Going on Vacations
Studies have recently shown that deer go on expeditions. They will leave their home range behind and go out into the wilderness for a period of time—possibly hours, possibly days. Research has shown that deer will take these little vacations from time to time. No one is sure why deer do this, but they have to eat somewhere while they’re gone. If you are hunting a deer and it unexpectedly disappears or if a new deer pops up for a little while, you will know why.
#9: Feeding Habits May Not Be True Habits
Deer tend to be fickle animals, and one thing that is always changing is food sources. Due to this, bedding areas, their behavior, and travel paths are constantly changing as well. You must stay ahead of the deer and be familiar with the food sources that the deer may hit before they hit them.
#10: Deer Feed During the Daylight Hours
Don’t assume that deer do not move while it is daylight outside because they most certainly do. They don’t lie down from the time the sun comes up to the time the sun sets. They have to get up to hydrate themselves, eat, and use the bathroom. However, once mature bucks feed when the sun is up, it is typically only within 100 to 150 yards from the bedding area. With that being said, if you can locate a solid food source to a bedding area, you are almost guaranteed to spot a buck.
It isn’t easy to kill a mature buck. In fact, it is pretty difficult. For that reason, you need to put yourself in the head of the buck, which means understanding their bedding, feeding, and watering habits since these are three basic needs of a white-tailed buck.
#1: They’ll Drink Multiple Times a Day
Deer are relatively large animals, so they drink a decent amount of water. In fact, the average buck weighs about 200 pounds and will drink roughly three to five quarters each day. This number tends to fluctuate, but it typically falls within that range.
#2: Temperature Will Dictate Quantity
The quantity of water that a deer drinks varies, as previously mentioned. Temperature plays a huge role in determining the amount of water that deer drink. The hotter that it is outside, the more that deer will drink in order to remain hydrated. So, make sure that this is something you incorporate into your plan.
#3: Buck Bedding Areas Will Be Near Water Sources
Research shows that most deer—particularly mature bucks—tend to bed near water. Most buck beds that we have seen are within about 75 yards of a source of water—even if the water source is relatively small.
#4: Deer Tend to Go to Water Before Food in the Evening
Studies also know that deer, particularly mature deer, typically will visit a water source before a food source in the evening. You can use this to your advantage by hunting close to a source of water that is nearby a bedding area.
#5: Large Water Sources Aren’t Necessary, Puddles Will Suffice
Deer don’t need a bubbling brook or a big, nice pond to drink out of. Deer are fine with a puddle from a rain storm the day before. This is what makes it so difficult to use a deer’s dire need for water to get your kill when it is raining. However, when it is dry, it can be used to your gain. Place a small water source on travel routes, outside of sleeping areas, within food plots, and in staging areas for increased success.
It isn’t often that you hear two words within the same sentence: habits and rut. However, there is one thing for sure—during the rut, bucks will do specific things routinely every fall. You just need to be familiar with what to keep an eye out for, and you must know how it relates to your hunting.
#1: They Faithfully Look for Does on Their Home Range
During the rut, bucks are incredibly devoted to locating does. It is just what they do, and they will cover their entire home range—and then some—as they look for does during the fall. Of course, each buck’s individual personality is unlike another buck’s, so some will trek more or less depending on their individual inclinations.
#2: They Eat Less During the Rut
While it depends on the personality of the deer, the majority of bucks will eat less throughout the rut. They tend to spend most of their time locating does. During this period, they will lose weight and use the summer as well as the pre-rut period to build up fat stores so they can make it throughout the rut. By the time the rut is over, bucks may lose up to 30 percent of their entire body weight.
#3: They’ll Move More During the Midday Hours
Bucks will adapt when they need to. They will become skilled at how to move when humans don’t. Pressure tends to impact them. As a result, bucks will move a lot during the day.
#4: They Will Travel Specific Areas More Than Other Areas
Mature bucks typically know how and where they can locate does throughout the rut. This is why you will often locate bucks traveling through doe sleeping areas, field edges, leeward ridges, saddles, pinch-points, etc. To target bucks, try to focus on conventional stand locations for the rut.
#5: They’ll Spend Less Time Focusing on Scrapes and Rubs As Does Enter Estrus
As soon as does begin to enter estrus, bucks will start spending far less time laying down signs of rut. Instead, they will spend more time devoted to the does. Once breeding is over—or most of it is—they will simply start tending scrapes again.
#6: They Will Drive Estrus Does to Thick Cover
Mature bucks are familiar with the fact that estrus does mean they will be competing with other buck. For that reason, when mature bucks locate an estrus doe, they will push her to thick cover, which helps them defend her as other bucks attempt to close in.
#7: They Will Spend One to Two Days with Estrus Does
Mature bucks generally send a day or two—possibly more—with an estrus doe. This time period is known as the lock-down period, and it is an incredibly difficult time for hunters to hunt. You are either actionable or you aren’t. The best thing that you can do during this time is hunt near or in thick cover.
For more information about hunting mature whitetail deer and/or their habits, contact us at Full Draw Archery. We can also help make sure that you are set up with the right gear.
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