Hunting Whitetail Bucks in Feeding Areas — Part I

Texas doe-family whitetails, three taking their turns as sentinels while the others feed.

With a few exceptions, unless it is unseasonably warm, very cold, stormy or very windy whitetails spend half of each 24-hour day feeding, about six hours in the morning beginning about 4 AM and about six hours in the evening beginning about 4 PM. Half or more of their AM or PM feeding occurs in darkness. When hunting pressure is great — where numbers of hunters are roughly equal to numbers of deer, where any number of hunters aggressively hunting whitetails on foot, still-hunting or making drives, or where deer are hunted year around by large predators such as grey wolves — daylight portions of feeding hours are shortened, nighttime portions lengthened. In wolf country where I hunt, mature bucks and many does begin heading back to their bedding areas at sunrise and don’t move again until about thirty minutes before sunset. Our best hunting times are the first 2–3 legal hours and the last legal hour of the day.

While whitetails are feeding, they move slowly from place to place, often lowering their heads to rip off mouthfuls of green vegetation (lacking upper front teeth) or tear off tender woody tips of browse. Whitetails are most visible then and most vulnerable to skilled stand hunting. In no other place during the course of a hunting season are whitetails as apt to be seen and as apt to be unsuspecting of danger as in a feeding area. For these reasons, hours whitetails feed are the most productive for skilled stand hunting — up to a certain point.  

With few exceptions whitetails bed between hours of feeding, moving little where they bed except for chewing cud. They typically bed where their bodies are well hidden and where they can see, hear and/or smell approaching hunters before they are near enough to be a serious threat. While slumbering, their senses of hearing and smelling remain alert and they awake about every fifteen minutes to briefly assess their surroundings visually. Their bedding areas are generally located adjacent to proven escape areas where they can quickly disappear when necessary — areas where hunters are not inclined to follow, or can’t, being posted for example. Whenever a mature whitetail, especially an older buck, is forced by a hunter to flee from its bedding area, it is likely to abandon its entire home range for the rest of the hunting season. For these reasons midday hours are not particularly productive for stand hunting whitetails.

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