One of the best ways to hunt deer, or find deer travel patterns, is to find their staging areas. A staging area is a spot that deer use prior to moving into open areas to feed. They are established when deer have all the advantages in their favor including sight, sound, smell, cover and escape. Truly, a staging area is hang-out zone where they can bed, feed or socialize prior to dark and before they move out into the open. Now, deer don’t always use a staging area when the conditions are right such as the food source offers excellent cover, such as a mature stand of corn.
Most of the time staging areas are easy to spot on a map because they are always within view of the nighttime food source and they always have a clean getaway path to dense woods or cover. Often a staging area is just inside the woods next to a field pocket or corner. Because field pockets offer more cover on all sides and more visual coverage of the field they generally offer the best solution. Although, factors like terrain or wind sometimes make field pocket less attractive.
Therefore looking at a topographical map with an aerial map overlay is a great way to find deer honey holes. By looking at this map you can see cover and getaway spots that protect the deer. If you draw the prevailing winds for the time of year you will be hunting on the map then you can narrow down the search for these staging areas.
Now it’s time to hit the woods and find these areas.
Once you find a great staging area you need to do some spring prep work by finding the best deer stand locations. These stands must only be hunted when the wind is crossing the staging or blowing out toward the open field area and not when it is blowing into the woods or down the trails leading into the staging area. Your stand shouldn’t be in the staging area but rather 2o+ yards up the predominant trail. It is okay to keep the staging area in sight but remember you want to see the deer up the trail before they stage and go on high alert.
I rarely hunt the actual staging area but rather locate them and know that this is where the deer will likely end up at sundown or where they will be in the early morning. I always try to find better stand locations between bedding areas and staging areas that offer the best means for my stand approach. What this equates to is that I almost always have a 9am stand and a one hour before dark stand.
However, if you find a staging area and you know you are going to hunt the staging zone it is best to use a deer decoy out in the field. This will draw the deer past your stand and take their attention off the staging zone itself.
Staging areas are very important and should be kept scent free and disturbance free. They are just like deer hubs in that they will be checked by bucks during the rut and the pre-rut many times a day as they look for does coming into the heat.