For all the running around deer do in a constant state of awareness, it can sometimes seem as if they’re always on the move. But like any creature, deer need sleep, although as prey animals they don’t get as much sleep as predators. According to the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) and lead researchers across the country like Charlie Alsheimer, a deer’s version of sleep is much different from the deep REM sleep we sometimes blame for not going out on the morning hunt. It’s more like dozing, where the deer will typically sleep for 30 seconds to a few minutes.
A deer’s dream bedroom
Deer look for bedding areas that feel safe — places in which they’re not exposed, places that offer good cover. They like to bed down in locations that allow them to take advantage of thermals and prevailing winds. Does also look to bed near food sources. They may sleep alone, or they may bed down in groups. Deer also tend to be creatures of habit and will, once they find a good bedding area, sleep in the same spot repeatedly.
As for mature bucks, buck-bed expert and Bowhunting World contributor Terron Bauer contends that bucks bed in different places in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer. In the summer, he believes bucks bed in open places to keep away from bugs and get access to cooling breezes. As the weather turns cooler, however, bucks look for bedding areas with three things: high ground, side cover, and easy entrance and exit routes.
(Want to read more about Terron Bauer’s insights on buck bedding habits and learn how to make a certain spot into the perfect buck bed? Check out his article in the September/October issue of Bowhunting World.)
What does a sleeping deer look like?
Keep in mind that a bedded might not be sleeping. Typically a bedded deer is resting and chewing cud. Whitetail experts who have managed to observe sleeping deer report that deer sleep with their eyes open and closed, and in a variety of positions: noses tucked up under their hind legs or on their sides, laying with their heads up, etc.
How long a deer sleep varies. Generally, they sleep less than five or 10 minutes, although some trail camera evidence has shown deer sleeping for nearly 20 minutes. A typical whitetail deer sleep cycle includes a cyclical routine of dozing, then snapping to attention.
Deer may be at their most vulnerable while they sleep if it were not for one thing. Thanks to their consistently swiveling ears, deer know what is happening around them at all times. If they hear the slightest noise out of rhythm with the woods, they can quickly bolt from their beds.
A whitetail’s ability to maintain a constant state of awareness while drifting in and out of sleep makes them one of the most formidable game animals one can pursue. It is highly unlikely you will see a deer sleeping in the wild, but if you do, take a moment to appreciate just how unique of an opportunity you have to witness this deer behaviors.
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