Are bedding areas a jackpot or a nightmare?
If you've been hunting for any appreciable period of time, chances are that you've made up your mind about the above question. Yet, in wider hunting circles, the debate rages on. Is hunting whitetail bedding areas the best way to score a trophy buck, a buck that will cause all manner of glory to rain down upon you? Or is the invasion of a bedding area merely a way in which hunters can botch the whole season and send an entire herd of deer packing for good?
Indeed, both sides of the argument have their vehement supporters, and both sides also bring a number of good points to the table. On one hand, it is easy to understand why some whitetail enthusiasts believe that bedding areas are the jackpot as far as bagging mature bucks is concerned. If you've ever sat up in your tree stand all day, waiting for a buck to wander into your sights, but only catching does or fawns - which approximately every hunter has - you can probably at least sympathize with this side of the argument. That's because many bucks never stray far from their bedding areas during the day, and since human hunters don't have the same diurnal - verging on nocturnal - clock as many male deer, waiting until the buck does emerge in the middle of the night is not a preferred course of action.
Unfortunately, in cases such as the one outlined above, the preferred course of action then becomes a "home assault" of sorts. It stands to reason that, if the buck rarely leaves the bedding area, that's the best place to hit him. However, many hunters believe that bedding areas should be sacred sanctuaries of sorts, places where bucks and their does feel safe and secure. In order to provide secure bedding areas, many hunters and property owners support the idea of making those bedding areas "sanctuaries," or pieces of the property that are completely off limits to hunters.
For property owners, if quiet, nicely covered areas on their land have earned the presence of a buck's bedding rituals, the sanctuary rule makes a ton of sense. After all, no one wants to scare a herd of deer off their land just to score a single mature buck kill. Instead, hunting property owners stress the bedding sanctuary idea as an attempt to establish said bedding area as a place that deer will want to gravitate toward for years to come. This policy can result in many more mature buck sightings on the property over the years, and can keep the land as a place that hunters will flock to in an attempt to score a trophy animal. All of this can be spoiled by hunters who disrespect the sanctuary and invade the bedding area for an easy - and arguably, cheap - shot.
Furthermore, most pro-sanctuary hunters argue that people who scope bedding areas are not only causing mature bucks and entire deer herds to abandon areas where they once felt safe, but that they are also the reason why most bucks are leaning more and more toward the nocturnal side of the diurnal coin. Bucks who feel less pressure from outside threats will brave the areas around their bedding areas more frequently, in turn allowing hunters to get clean shots without going stomping into the bedding area. The argument for sanctuaries, then, ultimately comes down to one point: at best, taking a shot at a buck in his nesting spot will get you one buck, but force you to hunt elsewhere for the rest of the season - and probably for future seasons as well; at worst, a hunter can miss the shot, alert the deer in the bedding area to his or her presence, and cause the whole herd to take a hike while simultaneously going home empty-handed.
Our instinct is to say that yes, bedding areas should be held as wooded sanctuaries. Hunting these areas is a selfish practice. Sure, whitetail hunting is, by definition, a competition that pits hunters against one another for the biggest trophies in the forest, but invading the bedding area is sort of like taking a short cut to trim the last three miles from a marathon. You aren't playing by the same rules as everyone else, and you're doing something that, while it may serve you well, won't be looked upon kindly by most of your competitor. Scoring a buck, but spoiling a bedding area - or an entire hunting property - in the process is one of the hunting world's biggest party fouls. Do it if you want, but don't expect to build or keep a kindly rapport with the owner of the property that you just wrecked as a deer hunting destination. As a rule of thumb, with private property, respect the landowner's wishes.
On the other hand, if you are hunting on public property that sees heavy gun traffic anyway, the ethics of hunting a bedding area become a little bit easier to manage. Open-to-the-public properties are free-for-alls, and chances are, if you don't go after the bedding area, someone else will. In such areas, taking shots at bucks in the bedding spot might actually be your only chance to bring down a mature buck. Since the prevalence of hunters and gunshot sounds will already have spooked most of the deer in the area, chances are good that mature bucks will do most of their wandering after dark.
With all that said, establishing a bedding area as a hunter-free zone doesn't mean that hunters can't use that bedding area to help organize a strategic shot at a mature buck. Again, hunters who choose to avoid bedding areas do so under the hopes that the extra security will bring mature bucks out of the woodwork in the daylight hours. Bolder bucks, meanwhile, mean more deer wandering the other parts of your hunting property, which in turn gives way to more golden shot opportunities. Set up your tree stand near the bedding area and catch bucks as they make their way in and out, or scout the area to find food sources and build a blind nearby so that you can take a few deer down as they gorge themselves. No matter your preference of hunting style, there are plenty of ways to play the bedding area without breaking sanctuary rules and going in like Rambo.