The best stands on my farm overlook small staging areas. I never could have said that ten years ago because I didn’t know what a staging area was. I knew I was supposed to be hunting them, I just had no idea what they really looked like. This riddle has finally given up its secrets.
I am talking about a small food plot, an acre or less, located just a short distance into the cover from a larger feeding area – ideally sandwiched between a known bedding area and that larger destination field. All my favorite stand sites set up exactly this way.
These staging area plots are the last places the deer visit before going to bed in the morning and the first places they visit when rising from their beds in the afternoon. This means you will experience lots of daylight activity – a fact that becomes quickly, and happily, apparent during the rut when your staging area plots become the social hubs for at least a 20-acre area.
Most food sources don’t produce good morning hunting because the deer are already back in the cover, but these plots are the exception. They are just as good in the mornings as they are in the evenings.
Bow Shot Distance
When a buck makes his way into one of these small plots, he usually ends up within bow range eventually. Again, these spots really shine during the rut because bucks often work the entire area, checking for does and freshening scrapes around the edge. Large plots can be frustrating to hunt when your maximum range is just 40 yards, another reason why these small staging area plots are so refreshing to hunt.
Entry and Exit Routes
Deer only feed in staging area plots for a short time before they pass through heading to larger plots beyond. So they are generally gone shortly after dark. This gives you the perfect opportunity to climb down and sneak away without educating any deer. Again, this is a refreshing twist from hunts on the fringes of larger feeding areas where it can be nearly impossible to get away without alerting deer.
Find Them or Create Them
We are looking for openings just inside the cover from larger feeding areas. Often, in agricultural country, the farmer with his big equipment doesn’t mess with the very end of a narrow point field and eventually these areas grow over with brush and are forgotten. This is the perfect setting to create a small food plot tucked in close to bedding areas but directly in line with the primary food source – the perfect staging area plot.
My property had a number of these spots. All I had to do was remove some brush and trees with a chainsaw and I was ready for the RoundUp and the tiller. You can even do this, in many cases, when hunting on permission.
If your property doesn’t have such areas and you have the ability to create them, it is definitely worth it. Find areas where the wind, terrain and proximity to bedding and feeding areas (between them) all work together to your benefit. In fact, planting micro-plot staging areas is the single most important thing you can do to improve your hunting area.
Because they are small and deer can wipe them out quickly if planted to a grain crop, go with clover and then rotate to brassicas every third year.
How to Hunt Them
I am a fan of setting up on the opposite side of the staging area plot from where I expect the deer to come. This gives me a safe wind direction (a crosswind). In my best staging area plots, I have a Redneck Blind in this location so I can get great close shots without risk that the deer will see me or smell me. Let the deer work to you rather than set up right where they come out and you will have much better hunting over the course of an entire season.
It took years for me to figure out what a staging area was, but now that I know, I am making up for lost time. While they work well during all parts of the season, when the rut comes, I am glued to these perfect hunting locations.