Thirty years ago I had one of those “aha!” moments that change the way you view things. I was shed antler hunting in a state park in Iowa, following muddy deer trails as the snow was melting off on this March day. As a trail led me into a thick area, a deer jumped up right in front of me and crashed off through the woods. He was out of sight within seconds, but he left something behind. At my feet was my very first matched set of sheds that would score above the Boone and Crockett minimums.
I had enough sense to carefully study my surroundings and learn what I could from the situation. His bed was at the base of a fallen tree, and it was clear he bedded there a lot. The bed was on a small knoll with raspberries and multiflora rose. From this bed, his back was covered by the fallen tree and he could see well to the south and east, which would be downwind the majority of the time. The only reasons I walked up on him were because I came in at an odd angle and the wet ground made for a stealthy approach. I just got lucky.
What I found that day was a nearly ideal bedding area. And it raises the question — if ideal bedding areas are not found on my property, can I create them? Of course the answer is yes. If you build it, they will come. Here are six specific things you can do to significantly increase the number of deer bedding on your property and lower your risk of losing your prized bucks to the guns and bows of the neighbors.
Deer need to feel safe and secure in their bedding areas. They will not tolerate much human intrusion. The best thing you can do is create inviolate areas on your property. That means once the bedding area is established, no one goes in there for any reason. The only exception would be to blood-trail a deer. You don’t put trail cameras in there and you don’t go in there to check to see if the deer are taking advantage of your improvements. Have confidence that they will.
The inviolate areas do not need to be large; 5 acres is enough, but 10 acres is better. Stay out of there and make sure that everyone that uses the land knows it. Minimal intrusion is a buzzword among land managers, but in this case, we are using a NO-intrusion policy. Now that we have established the importance of this, let’s look at the things we can do to make the area more attractive to deer.
Whitetails will bed in areas with little to no grass, but they much prefer to lie down in a soft spot if one is available, particularly when it is cool. During the hot summer months, they will often choose to lie in bare dirt, where a breeze can move around them and bugs are not as much of a problem. But during the cooler weather of fall, when we have an interest in controlling their movements, a grassy bed is what they look for. Grasses will not grow where there is no sunshine. Letting the sunshine get to the forest floor can be as simple as dropping a few trees. This allows the ground cover to grow up, which provides bedding cover and food. You can also seed warm-season grasses in this area to provide a nice mat for the deer to lie on.
Keep in mind that bedding areas do not need to be large. In fact, putting several small improved areas in your inviolate area is better than making it all into bedding cover. Tom Mesnard, owner of Total Land Management, a whitetail habitat consulting and improvement company, told me that he has a 16-acre piece of property that produces nice bucks year after year. He has four small pockets of perfect bedding habitat on that property. He says that the biggest bucks will choose the premiere spots, and other bucks must have some place to go. He doesn’t want the 3-year-olds to get shot by the neighbors. In order to keep the bucks on their property, those four small bedding areas allow them a place to go.
Hinge-cutting trees is another great way to enhance bedding cover, but don’t overdo it. A small tree cut just over halfway through drops to the ground and provides a backing for a buck to put his back up against. The tree will continue to grow and the branches will grow straight up, which adds to the thick look and feel of the area that a buck likes.
It might be tempting to drop too many trees, but bucks can be a little claustrophobic — they do not like to be pinned in with no visibility. They like to be able to put something at their back and see downwind so they have all angles covered. Keep this in mind as you hinge-cut, so you drop the trees the right direction and in the right locations.
A whitetail blogger at www.bowhuntingroad.com, Jon Tharp, has a following of readers that he keeps informed about how he manages his property for whitetails. He consistently holds big bucks on his Iowa farm year after year, and one of the ways he does it is by creating the actual beds. He put a trail camera on one of the beds he created just to prove that it works. Here’s his strategy.
Jon says that a deer will lie where it is comfortable and will almost never lie down on a stick or a stone. By understanding specific spots where deer like to bed, he makes the bed for them. He picks out areas where they can put a log, bush or stump at their back and where they can have some visibility downwind. He makes several beds for several wind directions. Also keep in mind that during the summer, the bucks want to lie in the shade, while in the cold weather months, the bucks want to lie where they can take advantage of the sun’s warming rays.
He clears out the areas so the beds are rounded and smooth. If he needs to drop a tree to create a backing log or hinge-cut a small tree, he will. Then he trims brush downwind of the bed for visibility. The deer plop right down and take advantage of his invitation.
Nothing will screw up the safe, secure feeling of a bedding area faster than having a predator cruise through it. That goes for both four-legged predators as well as the two-legged variety. Coyotes mess with deer, and the more you have of them, the less secure your deer feel. Fortunately, there are ways to control coyotes and reduce this problem.
Trapping coyotes takes time and skill. If you do not have the time or the skill to do it, you best find someone who does, because all you are going to do is educate the crafty canines and make them that much more difficult to control. If you choose to control them yourself, spend some time watching videos here on www.predatorxtreme.com and reading books about coyote trapping and snaring. Check your local game regulations and make sure you are not restricted to a trapping season. In most states coyotes are not considered game animals, so you can trap and hunt them anytime — but not all states see it that way.
Foothold traps work well if set correctly with the right bait and lures. Many first-time trappers find it is easier to catch coyotes in snares by setting them in trails through thickets and in fence crawl-unders. If you or the neighbors have dogs that like to roam, take that into consideration before setting. Controlling the coyotes serves two very important purposes. First, it reduces the problem with the predators driving your deer off your property, and second, it will significantly decrease your fawn mortality rate. Control your coyotes.
Of course it stands to reason that these bedding areas aren’t going to benefit your hunting much if they are not in the right locations both for the deer and for you. It would be a mistake to randomly build great bedding cover without considering how you will hunt the property and how you will access your hunting without spooking the deer using the cover.
One the flip side, the ability to have some influence over where the deer bed can be a significant advantage when the hunting season rolls around. Before building your bedding cover, take a look at an aerial photo of the entire property and think about the deer’s movement pattern between feeding and bedding areas, and try to get a feel for how you could capitalize on specific movement patterns. Then choose the areas you will enhance based on that.
Remember, you need to be able to access your stands without your scent blowing into the bedding area. These are all considerations that need to be taken into account.
Once you have enhanced the bedding cover in these areas, you can further influence deer movement patterns by creating trails and blockage. Jon Tharp mows trails from food plots and CRP fields to the bedding cover. Deer will take the path of least resistance, readily following his trails. If there are trails they tend to take that make them more difficult to hunt, he blocks them. This can be as simple as dropping a large tree across the trail or building up a longer series of logs and downed trees to funnel the deer where you want them to go.
In one extreme example, I have hunted a property that is joined by a large block of land owned by a well-known TV hunting personality. They used a bulldozer to pile up a long barrier of oak trees 15 feet high and nearly a quarter-mile long. All the deer from the bedding areas on one side of the barrier must go around the ends or through the one gap in the middle in order to access the crop fields on the other side.
That is an extreme case, and most of us will never go to those great lengths to influence bedding cover and the deer’s movements in relation to that cover. But if you take a chainsaw, a seeder and a rake into the woods with you, you can entirely change your hunting chances for future years in one weekend. Use these six tips for enhancing the bedding cover and influence the deer to bed where it works best for your hunting interest, rather than the neighbor’s.