ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- In terms of bedding for whitetails, elevation matters.
Deer are survivors, and the best way for them to survive is to cover as many bases as they can to avoid predators -- us included. Even flat land tends to have some sort of elevation that deer often take advantage of.
One area I scout and hunt frequently around Alexandria is what I would call flat land that has a bit of rolling elevation to it. There is thick brush on the south side of the property that deer bed in, and now corn on the north side. In between are two elevated knobs in the open woods that sit up about 10 feet higher. There are always four or five beds on the flat tops of those knobs in the winter. It’s the perfect lookout.
Move into hill country, and you certainly see patterns emerge with bedding based on elevation. That does not mean the bedding itself is only on those highest points. Definitely not. If you hunt hills that have benches -- flat shelves somewhere between the top and bottom of the primary ridge system -- those can be great bedding spots and areas of travel.
The hills I hunt the most tend to be much more vertical where those benches don’t exist. Deer will bed low here where cover is often thick, especially along waterways where moisture holds and an open canopy allows sunlight to hit the ground.
I really believe deer rely a lot on their ears for security purposes here because nothing gets through this cover quietly. Winds tend to swirl down low too, giving them another security blanket.
I have also seen beds perfectly positioned in low ground to see long distances up to higher topography that people are using for access. I was scouting an oxbow on the Red River in North Dakota on Sept. 6 when I bumped two bucks -- one mature and one young -- off their beds as I came in on a slightly elevated ridge. They were bedded in a low area of ragweed with dead timber that offered shade from the near 90-degree heat.
I think bucks and does use low areas especially early season as they try to escape some of the heat. Where I have seen high points in hill country really thrive is when the foliage falls to open up the forest and temperatures cool. They simply offer fantastic locations at that time where bucks and does alike use their eyes to see long distances in front of them while also using their nose with the wind positioned at their back.
So we know points in hill country are great areas to identify, but how do you hunt them? The safest way to do this without over-pressuring an area is to set up just out of sight and smell off of trails exiting those points in the evenings.
The Minnesota buck I shot in 2020 is a perfect example of this. A strong south wind meant there was potential for deer to be bedded on the north-facing points. I snuck in up a creek anticipating that and set up on the primary crossing that drops down low off those points. With less than an hour of daylight left, a big 9-pointer gave me a great shot at 18 yards.
I’ll also hunt right on or slightly adjacent to the tips of these points up high on morning sits. I shot a buck doing just this the first week of November four years ago. He was checking for does and had no idea I was there after using a portable climbing stand and getting in well before first light.
Points are also great intersections of travel. A lot of that likely has to do with them being such good bedding locations. There’s just deer congregating there more frequently, and bucks will check them during the rut phases as they search for does.
But the terrain often darts down into low ground sharply off of points. Deer typically choose the path of least resistance and they don’t usually want to walk the steep side hills off of those points. That means they are either going high or low around them. You will often find trails leading up to points from three or four different directions.
All of this is what drew me to this specific tree where I shot that buck in 2017. The two years prior, I had watched bucks during pre-rut come from down low. They checked those north-facing points for does during a south wind. That wind allowed them to smell that whole top area. Bucks would move parallel along that ridge line before dropping down low again.
The morning I shot that buck was my first sit in there that season, and it was based on nothing more than that knowledge gained from watching bucks on previous hunts.
There is another point on the opposite end of this property (pictured at the top of this column) that sets up well for a west, southwest wind that I’m excited to hunt for the first time this season.
This one is especially intriguing because it is right in the middle of multiple different terrain features. There’s CRP fields to my west and east, thicker bedding cover to my north and south and an agriculture field in soybeans this year to my southwest.
The point here that drops sharply down into a river bottom always has a huge rub on it each year. There’s multiple beds on it and trails leading up to it from four different directions. I’ll hunt this by accessing through the river down low well before first light and climbing up that steep ridge before getting into a tree I have prepared for my hunting saddle.
The key to all of this is having rock-solid access and not over-pressuring these areas right on top of the points. I once thought I could set a ground blind up months before the season in the same spot I shot the buck off of in 2017. Deer stopped bedding there on that point. I removed the blind that offseason and they were back. It just strengthened my belief in the power of being mobile and the importance of having that element of surprise.
I’ll hunt right on top of these points once or twice a year. The first time might be in September when I can try to catch a deer that is not used to pressure from the hunting season yet. A second time would be during the pre-rut of late-October and early-November when bucks should be cruising between all these different bedding areas around me.