Where Do Deer Sleep? It May Surprise You

by Derrick | Last Updated: October 24, 2021

Where do deer sleep? The most common spots in which deer sleep are around feeding and water sources or located in established sanctuary areas. A sanctuary area is an area where the deer feel safe and somewhat protected from both animal and human threats.

These types of places could be thickets of brush, stands of thick spruce trees or a swampy area that is hard to traverse.

As we will discuss further in the article, deer may choose to sleep in different areas based on the season or even different weather conditions.

In the winter they’ll simply have a different place than in the summer or spring of the same year.

The bedding pattern is unique across the genders with deer often finding time for sleeping based on the mating season (or not).

Generally, mature bucks are cautious animals and are more selective where they select a bedding spot.  They usually find areas that offer nearly perfect protection, often finding a bedding spot that is accessible, has a cover and is situated on higher ground.

Does are a little less selective and will often bed down with other does almost creating a “safety in numbers” to go along with the advantages terrain and vegetation offer.

When Do They Sleep?

Deer will often adjust when they sleep depending on the time of year and the pressure they are receiving. For example, throughout hunting season when more people are moving around within the woods during the legal hours to hunt, you will find deer will often bed down during the day and become more active at night.

Whereas throughout the course hunting off seasons, you will see deer nearly all times of the day and many also sleep at night.

Physical Appearance Of A Sleeping Whitetail Deer

Deer will often bed down with their back facing the wind.  This will ensure that the deer’s head position would be facing anything that may get a scent of the deer from the blowing wind and may want to come and investigate.

During cold seasons, if you happened to stumble upon a sleeping deer you would likely see it tucked almost in a ball, similar to a sleeping canine using the center mass body heat to help keep its legs, neck and head warmer by curling up.

Do Deer Sleep With Their Eyes Closed? 

A bedded deer will also generally sleep with its eyes closed, but still lightly sleeping enough to use other senses to detect pending danger. With eyes closed a sleeping deer will utilize its sense of smell and keen hearing to help protect itself.

If a bedded deer has its eyes open it is usually a sign that they have detected something to potentially be concerned about but aren’t 100% sure and are keeping eyes alert looking for any possible movement.

Terminology – Deer To Bed Down – What Does It Mean?

Bedding down is simply the deer choosing a spot to sleep for the day or you may hear it in the context of deer (or other animals) bedding down for a bad storm that is brewing. Deer will bed down not only to rest, but also to protect itself and find a secure spot to hide so it can sense a predator coming, avoid human traffic within the habitat, or protect itself from bad weather.

Deer Safe Sleeping Area

Deer rest where they feel protected.  It is estimated whitetail deer spend 70% of the average day sleeping. The location in which the deer bed is usually determined by a combination of thermal dynamics with protection from air, wind and oftentimes rain or snow.

Deer can sleep alone with others or in groups, so if you stumble on sleeping deer often the area will contain more than a single deer.

Deer are creatures of habit and will often rotate between a few areas within the range they roam to use suitable bedding areas. They do this with eating and drinking as well often utilizing the same areas with a strong food and water source over and over.

Changing Seasons Determine Where Deer Sleep

In most cases deer sleeping locations change according to seasons. In spring and summer deer prefer areas where they can smell fresh air and cool breezes.

Of course when we enter fall and/or winter approaches, deer hide deeper in thick forests or in an area that has direct sunlight for warmth but is visually obstructed to help avoid detection.

Winter: How Do Deer Sleep In Snow?

On long winter days with heavy snow deer often find shelter or rest under a dense stand of coniferous trees like pines or spruce. The thick woods of the forest provides a defense for the bedded deer against the falling snow, heavy wind and a cool breeze, while also helping them remain hidden from predators.

The dense foliage of the coniferous forest will also assist in animal scents not traveling as far, again providing some level of protection over predators, combined with the added ability to protect against when the temperature drops.

Spring and Fall Rainy Season

During spring and fall if you are in certain parts of the United States you will experience a lot of rain and dreary weather.

Humans will often spend more time indoors and change outdoor pursuits around the rain. Deer are similar where they will change movement and feeding patterns with the rainy weather.

Deer either bed down in thick evergreen tree stands to shelter from the rain or you will often find them laying in thicker brush that helps shelter them from the elements.

Common Characteristics Of A Deer’s Bedding Area

Protection From Humans

Deer will avoid areas with high human traffic, often looking for an area that is isolated from direct human traffic and an area thick enough where it is harder for any humans in the area to see them. Deer will also generally leave an escape route in case human activity is too close for comfort.

Protection From Animal Predators

A bedding area will general help deer avoid predators as much as possible.  The deer will look for places that offer good cover such as thick bushes, tall grasses and low hanging branches. 

They will also look at terrain features that provide natural barriers such as cliffs, ravine walls, steep slopes and large rocks.

Deer will also bed and utilize their senses in combination with the bedding area.  They often using lines of sight and wind direction which benefit the deer’s incredible sense of smell .

Protection From Weather

Wind Protection

Cold and winter weather can impact deer mainly during rest periods.  Deer will often utilize where they bed to help shield themselves from windy weather.  Similar terrain that protects deer from predators can help with wind control. 

Cliffs, steep slopes and evergreen trees can all be favorite locations of deer when looking to shelter from a windstorm.

Air Temperature

Similar to the wind protection, when air temperature reaches extreme heat or extreme cold you will often find deer bedding in different areas.  During really hot periods you will find deer seeking shade and sleeping during the daylight hours and moving around more at night when the temperatures are more moderate.

In extreme cold you will often see the deer out more during daylight hours and bedding down at night in groups usually using terrain, brush and trees to create a wind break.

Will Hunting Pressure Impact Where and When Deer Sleep?

In his recent paper, “Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Deer and Deer Hunting Pressure,” Dr. Peter Parnell from the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale analyzes the effect hunting pressure has on deer densities, distributions, nighttime behavior patterns, and other important factors we take for granted when we hunt deer. This study is the first of its kind to explore these topics.

The main conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that human hunting pressure does affect the distribution and density of deer populations.

But it does so in an interesting way. Hunting pressure tends to reduce deer densities within a 100-yard radius of the increased activity but seems to have little effect beyond that radius. Beyond the 100-yard radius, deer return to their normal densities. Hunting pressure has the greatest impact on deer at night, when they are more active and therefore more sensitive to human activity.

Utilizing Deer Sleeping Habits For A Successful Hunt

A successful deer hunter will need to know where the deer are bedding down at night. Understanding these habits is crucial to an effective hunt .

To be an effective deer hunter, you will need to know the areas deer frequent, common areas where deer travel and bedding areas. This can be done by exploring the area where you hunt and observing where deer are sleeping. When locating a bedding area, you should keep in mind that it is often relatively close to a food or water source so the deer do not have to travel far for sustenance.

By understanding the habitual patterns of deer, you can use these to your advantage when hunting and greatly improve the odds of a successful hunt.