By Mark Kenyon:

One of the great debates today in the world of hardcore whitetail hunters is what to do with bedding areas. Today, we’ll wade chest deep into the fray.

One side of this debate, we’ll call them the Home Team, believes that to get a shot at a mature whitetail your best odds are targeting them right in their own home – that being their bedding area. The other side of the divide, we’ll call them the Away Team, believes that hunting inside a mature buck’s bedding area is too risky and will most likely just cause that deer to relocate to another area. The better option, according to the Away Team, is to leave these areas as “sanctuaries”, which are never encroached upon. When hunting, you’ll only hunt the edges of these zones.

So which team is the winner? Interestingly enough, I’m not sure there is one. When you talk to hunters on either team you’ll find success stories on both sides of the aisle. I’ve come to find that there is a strong case for both strategies, and which way you go probably depends upon your experience level, the area you’re hunting, and the competition you have for the local deer. Let’s take a look at the two schools of thought and what situations favor each strategy, then I’ll let you make the decision on which is right for you.

The Case for the Home Team – Hunting Bedding Areas

Moving in close. The Home Team believes this is your best chance at killing a mature buck. Some people claim that certain mature bucks can become nocturnal, but bed hunters typically don’t necessarily believe this is the case. A buck may move very little during daylight, but he will move some, and when he does, it is very near his bedding area. That’s why it’s key to move into these areas to hunt. A smart hunt near a bedding area can offer some of the best chances you’ll have at seeing and killing a big deer, especially in October before the rut. The key here though is “smart”. Hunting bedding areas can be high risk, high reward. The key is to get in close without bumping the buck. So how do you do that?

The key is scouting. Successful bed hunters, such as W2H contributor Dan Infalt, scout for buck beds all year long. When Dan finds one, he’ll actually kneel down in the bed and try to determine how far and in what directions a buck can see. He’ll then find a tree to hunt from just outside of the range he thinks a buck would notice him. By the time the hunting season arrives, Dan has many different possible bedding areas already located, then depending on conditions he can choose which one to hunt on a given day.

Another occasional bed hunter is John Eberhart. John scouts these areas in the off-season as well, looking for the thickest hardest to reach areas, but then waits for the rut phases to move in and hunt all day in these spots. His belief is that mature bucks will corral does into these areas to breed them, so you’re best chance can be waiting for them in the bedroom.

Keep in mind though that on any bedding area hunt, your chances are limited. After a hunt or two, most mature bucks will be on to you.

The Case for the Away Team – Leave Bedding Areas As Sanctuaries

Sanctuaries. This term has been quite popular in deer hunting literature as of late, as many experienced hunters/habitat managers are finding the benefits of keeping parts of their property “human free”. A sanctuary is any space on a hunting property designated completely off limits to hunting or human intrusion. Usually these sanctuaries are bedding areas, provide thick cover, and offer supreme security for whitetails.

Mature buck’s need a very “low pressure” environment to move freely or in daylight at all, so the purpose of a sanctuary is to provide this kind of area to lure and keep a mature buck/s on your property. By never entering the sanctuary, you are creating a space that is completely pressure free, which a buck can always count on. The thought process here is that if you can provide this sanctuary and attract deer to it, you then have a better chance of seeing these mature bucks on the outskirts or on other areas of your property that you can hunt. Most members of the “Away Team” will try to hunt travel corridors leaving the sanctuary or food sources that are just outside of the safe area.

If a bedding area or sanctuary is not kept safe, the concern is that bucks will either become nocturnal or completely relocate to other properties, making it impossible for you to kill them, regardless of where you’re hunting.

Situations That Favor The Home Team

There is obviously some merit to both schools of thought on this issue, as I know many hunters that have been successful using both strategies. That said, which situations favor each case? I believe the bedding area hunting strategy favors those that hunt heavily pressured or public grounds. In these areas it’s obviously hard to keep any area completely free of human intrusion, for that reason bucks will move very little during daylight anyways. You’re almost forced to move in close to these bedding areas if you want any chance of a mature buck sighting. The risk is also much lower if you’re hunting public or high pressure areas, since if you move in on a buck and blow it, you can just move on to a different piece of ground. It’s not as if you are limited to just hunting your own piece of ground in this case.

Situations That Favor The Away Team

On the other hand, the sanctuary strategy seems to be much more appropriate for private land hunters or land owners. In these cases a hunter typically is primarily hunting their own property or lease, and they want to keep deer on that property. Keeping that sanctuary is a great way to do this. If access and hunting pressure is kept to an absolute minimum, a real sanctuary is possible and will definitely achieve the expected results of holding more deer. If you want to keep mature deer on your own property, this is the way to do it. As soon as you start creeping in close to beds on your private farm, there’s a good chance you’ll bump a buck over to the neighbors or even farther.

My Thoughts

That said, I’m a believer in using a mixed strategy. I have a number of different properties I have permission to hunt on. Some of them I share access to, some of them I have sole permission to hunt and I also hunt public land. For the main property that I have sole access to I’ve created a sanctuary, and this has definitely helped me keep good deer in and around this property. But on the other farms that have more pressure/hunters, I’m beginning to become more bold with moving in close to bedding areas.

For most of us the right decision probably lies somewhere in between the Home and Away Team. If you’re a land owner, a sanctuary might be a good idea. If you’re hunting public land, getting to know those bedding areas could be key to your success.

Either way, no matter which team you’re on, you need to have a strong understanding of where bedding areas are, how deer use them, and how you’ll plan your hunting strategies around them. Whether you hunt “home” or “away”, remember at least this. Bedding areas are absolutely key to hunting mature bucks, there’s no debate about that.

So what do you think? Should you hunt bedding areas or keep them as sanctuaries? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!