What We Know About How Whitetail Deer Sleep


Every animal has to sleep, but most of them do not sleep like humans do. With that being said, do you know how whitetail sleep? A big hunting strategy is to find out where whitetail bucks bed and try your best to catch them in the bed or on the way to their bed, but what do they do in their beds? As it turns out, a whitetail bed is a big deal, they spend about 70% of their time beddedOpens in a new tab. down (excluding the rut). So if we want to be good hunters, we need to understand the whitetail bed and everything that happens there. Here, I will go over what we know about how whitetail beds and how whitetail deer sleep so that you can use this information to your advantage and become a better hunter.

Do Whitetail Deer Sleep?

First, we must start with the basic question, do whitetail sleep? Odds are, you have never seen a whitetail deer actually sleep. You probably have seen a few bedded down, but do they ever really sleep? For all animals, sleep is necessary for life. They must have some sort of period where their brain rests and recharges. This is different from being unconscious by still having the ability to respond to a stimulus while in this state of mental recovery. 

Most prey animals have been forced to evolutionarily adapt to sleeping in a state of high awareness so that they are not eaten while they sleep. If whitetail deer, or other prey animals, just slept as we do for eight hours at night, they would likely be attacked and eaten by predators. So, yes whitetail deer do sleep, but they sleep nothing like a human. Although you may have a mental model of what their sleep should look like, let’s dive into exactly how whitetail deer sleep.

sleeping whitetail buck

How Whitetail Deer Sleep

Whitetail deer sleep by nodding or dozing off for anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes. While their eyes may be closed, their nose and ears are working perfectly. This allows them to rest while also smelling and listening for threats in the area. They are also very particular about how they bed. Whitetail deer bed in such a way that they are able to use their senses to their full potential, but we will talk more about that later. After they nod off for a few minutes, they will open their eyes and scan the surrounding area. If the coast is clear, they will nod back off to sleep. 

While they are sleeping, they will be laying down, typically with their legs folded up next to them or slightly under them, their heads will be erect so they can hear and smell as well as possible. Sometimes they may sleep with their heads tucked towards their back legs in colder weather, or have their heads lay straight out in the right conditions, or when they are exhausted. Bucks, during the rut, are known to bed with their heads straight out simply due to the fact that they are physically exhausted from chasing does. Obviously, these are not the only three positions deer put their head in but they are the most common.

Whitetail deer will continue this cycle of sleeping and scanning for about thirty minutesOpens in a new tab. according to the QDMA. After that thirty minutes, they stand up and reevaluate their bedding area. They will make sure there are no threats in the area, check on other deer that they may be in a social group with, and may even defecate or urinate. After they have checked all the boxes, they will bed back down and start the cycle over. The thirty-minute rule is not set in stone, some deer may take longer or shorter, but thirty minutes is a good ballpark number that you will see on most hunting websites or shows.

Bedding Vs Sleeping

Just because a whitetail is bedded down, does not mean that it is sleeping. Deer walk and move around the woods a lot, but they cannot do it all the time. They move to get to different places of interest, not for fun. So, it only makes sense that whitetail deer spend a lot of time in their beds. When they are in their beds, they do plenty of things. They could groom themselves, chew their cudd, simply rest, or sleep. Whitetail spend a long time chewing their cudd, after all, they have four stomachsOpens in a new tab.. They are also known to spend over an hour grooming themselves and other deer at their bedding areas. 

Personally, almost every time I have seen a deer bedded down, they were just simply laying there doing nothing. They were not asleep, chewing cudd, or grooming, they were just hanging out. That is the case most of the time with whitetail. They are smart, yet simple creatures that can spend every day of their lives staring at the same patch of woods for predators, only getting up to go feed and socialize.

You will know when you find a deer sleeping, that is, if you are ever lucky enough to. They nearly look like a child trying to not fall asleep in a car. They sit there with their eyes flickering from closed to open and are even known to bob their heads as if it were going to fall. Eventually, they may tuck their heads down and close their eyes for a few minutes. While that is just the start of sleep for a human, that is about as intense as it gets for whitetail deer.

Where Whitetail Deer Sleep/Bed

Picking out a bedding area is a big deal for whitetail deer. They will not just bed anywhere. Whitetail, especially if they are alone, require a location that provides a strategic advantage. They need somewhere that they are able to sense a predator coming, whether they can see, smell, or hear them walking. After they pick out a good spot, the habitual nature of whitetail will keep them coming back to the same spot nearly all year. Whitetail, especially bucks, will change things up a bit when the rut arrives.

How Bucks Use Geography to Their Advantage

Typically a lone deer, most often a buck, will bed in a geographical location that allows him to use his senses to their max potential. Typically, this is on points of hillsides, or just below ridges. 

If he beds on a point, he has great visibility of his surrounding area. The ideal situation for him would be for the wind to be blowing right down the hill. He would then bed with his back to the hill, and his eyes looking outward. This way he has around 270 degrees of sight, and the wind blowing on his back. This will let the whitetails’ incredible nose smell anything on the hill behind him, essentially giving him 360 degrees of coverage between sight and smell alone. Which makes for a very protected buck bedOpens in a new tab. and a whitetail that feels safe coming back to the same bed every day. 

Likewise, a hillside ridge will allow him to see around 180 degrees and smell what is on top of the ridge. Bucks will likely not bed on the very top of a ridge, which would make them very exposed. Instead, they bed just under the peak of the ridge. This keeps his back half covered by the hillside and he can use his eyes to watch his front side. He does not get as much coverage with his nose in this situation, but his ears make up the difference. 

One place you will likely not find a buck is in the middle of a “V-shaped” area made by two ridges. This would give him extremely reduced use of his vision where his ears and nose do not quite make up the difference. So, bucks are more likely to bed just below ridges and points, letting you quickly find areas of interest on a topographical map.

Check out my full guide to finding buck beds hereOpens in a new tab.

Other Factors That Influence Whitetail Bed Locations

With all of this being said, you will not find whitetail beds on every ridge and point. There are other factors that deer consider when finding a bedding area. To start, there needs to be a good amount of cover. If you think about it, no deer is going to bed down for an extended period of time in a wide-open field. They want to hide in thick, hard to get to places so that nothing can see them. To add to that, they will also bed next to some immediate cover, like a fallen tree, a large rock, or thick brush. 

This is where the idea of the ‘hinge cut” comes into play. A hinge cut is when a hunter cuts down a tree on private land in a strategic way that gives deer a safe area to bed in. This adds to the physical protection of the area. This way, whitetail know that nothing can get them from that particular direction. Typically, bucks will make a lot of sign around their beds as well. You can expect rub linesOpens in a new tab. and a scrape or scrape line close by. Although this is not a requirement, and some bucks may not leave any sign other than an indent on the ground.

A group of does have it a little better when it comes to bedding. They normally have numbers on their side all year round. More deer bedding together means more eyes, noses, and sets of ears. So they can afford to bed in a lot more places. They will probably not care as much about the geographical advantages of points and ridges, and may not care that much about wind direction. With multiple does laying together some of them are bound to be laying in a less than ideal direction for the wind, but with numbers on their side it doesn’t really matter. 

The Difference Between Buck and Doe Bedding Areas

You can normally tell the difference between buck and doe bedding areas by using some basic deduction. First, ask yourself, “Is the bed in a strategic place that we would expect the buck to be?” Then ask yourself, “Is the deer sign from a buck or general deer sign?” Every single buck is not going to tear up their bedding area with tons of sign, but it can be a good indication that a buck is bedding there if there are a few rubs around. Lastly, ask the simple question of “How many beds are there?” If there are three or four indentions on the ground then it is likely a group of does or a doe with fawns. If you only find one indention then it may be a buck. 

The only way to know for sure is to put up a cameraOpens in a new tab.. I would not suggest putting a camera directly over the bedding area or hunting over the bedding area. These areas are sacred, so if you manage to find the bed of a mature buck, you definitely do not want to scare him off with a camera or your scent. Instead, put your camera on a nearby trail that leads in or out of the bedding area.

Can You Sneak up on a Sleeping Deer?

The short answer is most likely going to be no. While deer are asleep, they are also very alert. Just because their eyes are asleep does not mean the same for their noses and ears. Is it possible to sneak within bow range of a bedded deer? Yes, but it is very difficult, especially if there are multiple deer. A successful spot-and-stalk archery harvest of a whitetail is a remarkable feat for any hunter regardless of how large the deer is.

Although if you are asking if you can sneak up on a sleeping deer and poke it, my answer would have to be absolutely not. Whitetail deer have some of the best senses in North America and are hard enough to outsmart while in the stand, but that does not seem to matter to this hunter on youtube:

He did manage to sneak up on this doe in a fairly comical way, but I do not think 99.999% of hunters will ever have this opportunity. This doe had her nose tucked, sleeping about as hard as a whitetail can, and she was lucky that this hunter was only after a buck.

Conclusion

All animals have to sleep at some point. It is absolutely necessary for them to sleep, not only their bodies, but also for their minds. Even though whitetails and humans both sleep, the way we sleep is quite different. Deer sleep in a state of high awareness, only closing their eyes for a few moments at a time. This helps them constantly be on the lookout and stay safe from predators. Whitetail deer only sleep for about thirty minutes at a time before getting up and making sure everything is safe. Although whitetails lay in their beds most of the day, they are not always sleeping. They spend a considerable amount of time chewing their cudd, grooming themselves, and just hanging out. There are also many factors that go into where deer sleep. They consider things like geographical location, provided cover, social traffic, hunting pressure, and how many deer are with them. Lastly, you will likely never sneak up on a whitetail deer while it is asleep. They are very aware of their surroundings and are likely to bust you very quickly. Hopefully, you learned something and can use these tips to hunt whitetail in their bedding areas, and become a better hunter.

Patrick Long

I am a college student and avid outdoorsmen in the great state of Georgia. I killed my first deer at the young age of 5 with a .243. Since then i have hunted nearly every year. I love hunting whitetail, ducks, and turkey, but most of all I love to learn. My goal is to teach every single one of my readers something new in every piece of content I make. If I'm not outdoors, I am probably studying for my next big test, hanging out with my friends and family, or I am making content for the community around this blog. If you have any questions or would just like to strike up a conversation feel free to shoot me an email at Patrick.long@omegaoutdoors.net

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