How To Still Hunt Whitetail Deer Staging Areas

April 2nd, 2009 / Posted by
How To Still Hunt Whitetail Deer Staging Areas

Let’s face it. A whitetail buck rarely leaves anything to chance. To keep his whereabouts a secret for example, he will bed in the thickest tangles, and not enter an open feeding area until well after legal shooting light. In fact, if he arrives early he will dillydally in a safe area close to that field until he can time his arrival to the setting sun.

These safe areas are called staging areas, and they can often be identified by the concentration of buck sign located in the immediate vicinity, such as rubs, rub lines, large tracks or freshly browsed second growth. A stand of conifers, a wooded ridge, an uncut corn lot or even a small over grown field can all function as a staging area to a time-conscious whitetail buck.

Still-hunters would be wise to mimic a buck under these circumstances, and remain poised but out of sight in their own staging area until it is time to “sneak and peek” along a route a buck might take. Here are a few examples to keep in mind the next time you are afield.

Make sure your staging area is down wind and out of sight of any nearby deer.

Make sure your staging area is down wind and out of sight of any nearby deer.

Early Season
Feeding areas are often the key to locating deer in the early season. Bucks however will often exit these hot spots and be well on their way to a bedding area before first light. A trail leading along side a swamp and then up the mountain via a brush-choked ravine may just be the preferred exit route for a wary buck.

The trick is to position yourself in your own staging area near the buck’s bedding grounds well before sunrise. Choose your staging area carefully however. You must be able to reach your “safe area” without crossing any active deer trails or spooking any nearby deer—and you must do so in the dark.

A cluster of rubs near a feeding area is a dead giveaway. Bucks use this section of the woods as a staging area.

A cluster of rubs near a feeding area is a dead giveaway. Bucks use this section of the woods as a staging area.

Sit tight until legal shooting light, and then begin still-hunting slowly through the brush-choked ravine towards the feeding area. Hopefully, you will intercept that buck en route to his bedding area, meeting him head-on soon after first light.

My favorite early season staging area however is the down wind edge of a deep woods feeding area, like an abandoned apple orchard or stand of acorn bearing oak trees. Bucks, especially mature bucks, will sometimes sneak in to feed here before sunset if there is plenty of nearby cover.

Plan on waiting patiently just outside the feeding area until 45 minutes or so before dark, and then sneak in yourself to see what’s there. If the orchard or acorn grove is indeed attracting whitetails, even a racked buck can be difficult to spot however. So stop often and scan under the trees, dropping down to your knees if necessary, for a long look-see. Examine the cover carefully for a piece of a deer, like a rear leg or a bobbing set of antlers. Keep your ears open, too. Bucks munching on apples and acorns make a soft but very distinctive noise!

It is best to change tactics when scrapes and scrape lines begin appearing in your deer woods. Bucks are more active now during daylight hours making them more vulnerable to a ground attack.

The trick here however is to first determine when the scrape lines are being checked by the buck—early morning or late afternoon—and then be there the very next time you expect the buck to appear.

Generally, scrape lines found near feeding areas are best still-hunted in the morning, and those located near known bedding areas are better left until later in the evening. Nearby rubs, tracks and the direction the forest duff was tossed out of the scrape can confirm your suspicions.

I like to position myself in my own staging area down wind or even cross wind of the scrape line, but in sight of the scrapes. You must see the buck first before he sees you, and the only way you can do that is to always keep the line of scrapes in sight. I will still-hunt the line ever so slowly, taking an hour if need be to check out the line, beginning at first light if it is a “morning” scrape line or just before dark if it is an “evening” scrape line. The plan is to again time your arrival with that of the buck.

The real fun begins when the rut peaks. This is when bucks are moving about all day long in a never-ending search for a doe in heat. Your best chances of intercepting a buck now are to zero in on the does.

In the morning, position yourself in a safe area adjacent to a feeding area preferred by does before first light, but choose a knoll or high vantage point. This will let you glass the area carefully for bucks as they crisscross the field searching for does.

One morning I watched from a hilltop as a buck worked a green field for does, then disappeared just behind a group of does and fawns along the far side of the field. I could see tails flashing every now and then indicating that buck was probably having a field day with those does, then nothing. Reasoning the buck was cavorting about in a nearby overgrown orchard; ideal for still-hunting I tucked my binoculars inside my jacket, and slipped quietly into the orchard for a quiet look-see. It was very thick, but a half- hour later I caught that same buck bedded down on the far side of the trees, unaware of my presence. That nine-pointer’s rack now hangs proudly in my den.

As you can see, staging areas allow a bowhunter to keep tabs on his still-hunting route until “prime time”—the time a buck is likely to be positioned somewhere along that route. Only then should you be “sneaking and peeking” along that particular piece of turf. Good Hunting!

Check out this great short clip of some bowhunters stalking (still-hunting) for whitetail deer.:

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