Two or three weeks before each deer hunting season begins, my sons, grandsons and I spend considerable time scouting off-trail in search of secluded bedding areas of mature bucks. The first clue that tells us we may be near one is a newly made antler rub, bright and easily spotted over a considerable distance.
There are three kinds of antler rubs. One kind is made on small diameter tree trunks or clumps of woody shrubs by bucks about September 1st to strip deteriorating, insect-attracting velvet from their then fully developed antlers. These are usually made within or very near their bedding areas.
More commonly seen are single rubs made on larger diameter tree trunks adjacent to well-used deer trails after weather cools in mid-October. These function as visible, musk-laden signposts of intended breeding ranges.
The third kind is made off-trail by mature bucks in their bedding areas during the two weeks before much anticipated breeding begins, a means of releasing pent up energy and aggressiveness by via mock battles with tree trunks. Where one rub of this kind is discovered (commonly within 100 yards of water), several more are soon likely to be discovered within the surrounding acre or two — the usual size of a buck bedding area. Six to twelve rubs are most common. Some older bucks will make thirty or more.
Wherever several off-trail rubs in a small area are discovered, we then search for deer beds in fallen leaves or deep grasses, 45–56 inches long for bucks 2-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age (few live longer). They will all be the same size because older bucks generally bed alone at this time. We also search for and find lots of droppings, commonly clumped, 5/8 to 1-1/4 inches long, because whitetails generally empty their bowels upon rising from their beds.
Now this might seem strange, but the main reason we search for buck bedding areas while scouting preseason today is to avoid them during following hunting seasons. Before 1990 I made it a point to hunt near bedding areas of older bucks (with limited success) after breeding came to an end on November 17th because at that time it was the only spot I knew of where such a buck could be counted on to show up after feeding in the morning. My studies after 1990 convinced me this was a terrible mistake.
As I had noted earlier, bucks I didn’t take, that discovered me stand hunting near their bedding areas, with or without my knowledge (tracks discovered later in snow revealing what had happened) not only abandoned the bedding areas they had been using spring, summer and fall but abandoned their entire home or breeding ranges until well after the hunting season ended. In fact very few ever used the same bedding area again during following years.
As further studies finally revealed, most mature bucks that have safe bedding areas throughout a hunting season will generally remain within their home or breeding range throughout a hunting season, or at least until becoming alarmed enough by hunters to raise their tails and flee with all possible speed, after which most quickly abandon their ranges and/or become nocturnal.