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Hooks-Antlers outdoor column

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White-tailed deer are ruminants. This characteristic allows deer to take in food over a short period of time and then retreat to safety while the digestive process takes place.

During hunting season, this behavior presents challenges for hunters because deer are capable of feeding for very brief periods and then spending the majority of legal hunting hours bedded safely from human intruders. In essence, when hunter presence increases in a given area, the amount of daylight time a deer spends bedded down also increases.

When one considers that survival is a deer’s number-one instinct, it is easy to see why hunted whitetails spend so much time in their bedding areas, which are essentially self-selected sanctuaries.

Bedding Areas

Under the cover of darkness, deer will typically bed directly at or very near food sources. When selecting bedding areas during daylight hours, though, deer seek out locations where intruders cannot enter undetected.

For the most part, deer like to bed in relatively high ground. Ridges are popular as deer can watch for approaches from below while placing the wind at their backs to smell intruders from the rear.

Thickets on high ground are also prime spots. Here, deer rely on their senses of hearing and smell rather than sight.

As hunting pressure increases, deer seek out the thickest bedding spots in a given area. Too, deer may bed on adjacent properties where hunting doesn’t occur although deer still must deal with natural predators such as coyotes and free-roaming dogs. Bedding areas always have several escape routes, and deer routinely exit a hunted bedding area undetected by the intruder.

Locating bedding areas is a fairly routine task for hunters who are familiar with an area. To identify bedding areas, a hunter simply has to locate thick habitat. Two additional clues are the direction from which deer enter a feeding area in late afternoon and the direction in which deer head in early morning. One way to guarantee that deer remain in an area during the hunting season is to leave bedding areas undisturbed. This practice is referred to as having sanctuaries on a given property.

As a general rule, doe groups (does, fawns, and some young bucks) get the prime bedding locations in a given area. This is nature’s way of protecting its young. Such areas are often thickets adjacent to prime food sources. Mature bucks, on the other hand, are typically solitary creatures who bed in secondary areas and isolated covers.

Hunting Strategies

While identifying bedding areas is a reasonable task for hunters, shooting a deer in a bedding area remains challenging. The accepted strategy for hunting bedding areas is to set up on travel routes to and from the bedding area. In theory, a hunter enters the woods undetected, takes his watch on the downwind side of the trail, and leaves the site undetected. In reality, this practice is easier said than done.

Another strategy calls for a hunter or hunters to walk through a bedding area while other hunters set up on possible escape routes. This strategy is one that hunters often reserve for late season as bucks pushed from their beds in early season may opt for safer locations on adjacent properties.

During the peak of the rut, bucks will stay with does in heat in their bedding areas so that is a time when hunters want to focus on known doe-bedding areas.

Mature bucks are challenging to hunt once the firearm seasons get underway, and these deer are especially challenging when hunkered down in their bedrooms. The sobering truth for hunters is that these bucks spend a lot, if not all, of the daylight hours safely bedded from unwanted intruders.

Outdoors Calendar

Saturday—Regular Deer Season opens in Southern Zone.

November 18—One-day closure of Canada Goose Season in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

November 19—Public hearing on boat launch facilities at Massena Town Hall at 7 p.m.

November 30—Traditional bass season closes in New York State.

December 8—Regular Deer Season closes in Northern and Southern zones.

December 14—Waterfowl Season closes in Northeast Zone.

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