A Man and his rakeSeptember 16, 2013 - Jay Ellioff
In Fall 2012, I introduced a multi-staging system that has generated a lot of interest (See my article “Set the Stage” on Page 66 in the Fall 2012 Mathews Bowhunting Whitetails edition). A multi-staging system consists of three main areas — a destination food source, a kill plot and a series of one or more spot plots or staging plots. A variety of food is planted to entice deer to move to predetermined locations that connect their bedding area to the destination food source. This then becomes their preferred way to enter the kill plot and the destination food source. Using the system, you have the ability to somewhat manipulate deer movement. I like to hunt deer on my terms, not theirs.
Readers wanted some more details on the spot plots, or staging plots, so I’ll focus this article on how to make the staging plots and what products to use on them.
Stage 1: The Destination Food Source
Although deer are browsers, they will have a favorite food source in the area. This is what is known as the destination food source.
The destination food source can be anything from an oak tree to hundreds of acres of agriculture or anything in between. The food that deer are feeding on can also change rather quickly depending on what food is available at that time of year. If you live in farm country, the destination food source will be easy to find by glassing fields and seeing where deer are eating. In the big woods, it will be much harder to define the destination food source for the time of the year you’re hunting. In this case, the destination food source can be skipped, and the next two stages can be planted.
I generally rely on the nearby farmer to provide my destination food source. Doing this just makes economic sense because of the costs that would be involved to plant your own.
Stage 2: The Kill Plot
A kill plot is usually ¼ acre or smaller, but they can be larger depending on the situation. You should plant the kill plot in spring with a perennial, such as alfalfa or clover, because those plants are easy to maintain. Products such as Deer Creek’s Perennial Plus Wildlife Food Plot Mix work well for this. If you want to plant an annual, Deer Creek also offers Beets & Sweets, which will keep deer coming through late season. Keep in mind that just about any crop can be planted. It should just be something different than the destination food source.
If the deer density in your area is high, browsing will keep the kill plot at a good length without any mowing. If you have a low deer density, you might have to mow to keep adding new growth to the plot.
When choosing the location of the kill plot, remember to try to take advantage of natural deer movement. Areas such as inside and outside corners and breaks in cover work well for the placement of the plot. Plant the kill plot adjacent to the destination food source in an area that provides some cover while also allowing enough light to get to the plants. This is where I want deer to enter the destination food source. Because I hunt from the outside in, I’ll be hunting over the kill plot mainly during the rut.
Stage 3: The Spot Plots, or Staging Plots
A spot, or staging, plot is a small area of food that encourages deer to move from the bedding area to the specific locations I have created. Think of the staging plots as connecting the dots, with deer going from one staging plot to another. It’s in these locations I will wait with my Mathews Z7 for some amazing early-season hunting.
A staging plot can be planted in spring or fall. You can also split them up with one planted in spring and the other planted in fall. When planted in spring, the staging plot is more likely to become the deer’s preferred way to enter the kill plot before moving to the destination food source. When planted in fall, it will be attractive to deer because of the new growth.
I hang my X-Stand Tree Stand in a tree about 50 yards from my kill plot. Then I rake out two spots that are 15 to 20 yards away and 20 yards apart. The shape of these staging plots can vary, but I find that a 3-by-6-foot oval on the upwind side of the prevailing wind will help position a deer for a broadside shot.
The canopy might have to be cleared to allow adequate sunlight to the ground for proper plant development. You also might have to spray a week before raking out a staging plot. This will make the raking process easier when there is a thick understory.
By putting in multiple staging plots and placing them 50 to 100 yards apart, it will offer plenty of fresh tree stand locations throughout fall. Deer like a variety of food and will feed toward staging plots and take a few bites on their way to a destination food source. It’s at these locations that I want the deer to give their final performances.
Stage 4: The Final Stage
If you would like a buck to perform on your stage, try the multi-staging system. Always try to hunt deer on your terms, not theirs. Creating an environment that deer will likely respond to can be very rewarding.
The multi-staging system connects the bedding area to the destination food source through a series of staging plots that will help move deer past your tree stand. Remember, all it takes is a man and his rake.
10 Easy Steps for Making a Staging Plot
1. Define the bedding areas and destination food source for the time period that you’ll be hunting. This will help in the placement of your staging plots and kill plot.
2. Find an area that already has natural deer movement through existing land features. Some examples are inside and outside corners and breaks in cover. Use the staging plots to move deer through these areas and have them stop long enough for a shot to be taken.
3. Plant your spot plots on the upwind side of the prevailing wind and 15 to 20 yards from your tree stand. This will help you from being winded, but scent control is still a must.
4. Try to put the staging plot by an overhanging branch. I have found that a buck can’t resist making a scrape here.
5. Start by using a metal rake to vigorously remove any grass or debris from an oval area of about 3 feet by 6 feet. The oval should be positioned so that the 6-foot side of the oval is broadside to the tree stand. This will aid in positioning the deer for an ethical shot.
6. Work the staging plot to a depth of at least 1 inch by raking back and forth.
7. Any oat, wheat or rye blend will work, as will clover. Deer Creek’s Wildlife Mix or Berseem Clover are good choices.
8. Broadcast the seed by hand and rake it in. I like to over-seed these staging plots so they come in nice and thick.
9. Add pelletized lime and a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Rake them in.
10. The final step is to sow the seed in with about 2½ gallons of water. The stage is now set for deer to perform.
Enhancers Can Increase Your Odds
Try using products such as Code Blue’s Urge to enhance or sweeten any food plot. Spray generous amounts of Urge on the vegetation that connects the two staging plots at your stand location. This is what will help position deer for broadside shots.
Strategies such as adding a staging plot to the kill plot will provide a variety of new growth and make it more desirable to deer. You can also plant a staging plot beneath an overhanging branch to encourage bucks to scrape there when the rut starts kicking in.