A key element in hunting whitetails is being able to identify the different zones within their habitat. Understanding how whitetail deer utilize transition and staging areas is key to a hunters success. Just like humans, deer relate to different areas for different purposes. They have their bedding zones and feeding zones. While these zones are focused on the most by hunters and for good reason. The in-between zones deserve attention as they provide a great opportunity to ambush deer. Knowing when and where to find them starts with knowing the different zones they occupy, and the travel corridors they utilize.
Similar to how transition zones are important in the sport of fishing, they are important in hunting a well. These zones are places where there’s a specific change in the landscape, either in the vegetation or in the topography. The easiest one for me to visualize, is the zones between a mature stand of timber or forest and the perfectly groomed agriculture fields. These can be as simple as strips of brush along a fields edge. Big bucks will use these zones to travel to food sources both for nutrition and to scent check does in relative safety.
There are many types of transition zones, here are some of the more common ones.
The forest field transition zone is possibly the most hunted zone. The reason for this is simple, the deer will come out of the wood lots to feed in the field. Doesn’t matter what is planted in that field, the effect is the same. Not only is this zone a deer magnet, it gives hunters the ability to conceal themselves just inside the timber. The timber edge or transition zone offers potential stand or blind ambush locations.
Older bucks don’t usually feed in fields unless it’s dark, or there’s a field edge that offers cover from prying eyes. They will travel to fields through transition zones to both safely get to the fields This is why finding the transition zone is so important, the big bucks will be slow to get out of their beds and will hang up in these transition zones until dark to feed. These areas are heavily used during the pre-rut through the rut process as bucks will use these areas to leave signposts and check does.
This zone can be found where deciduous hardwoods meet coniferous evergreens. It can be a great zone to hunt from pre rut to post rut. The right mix of trees makes a world of difference. Mature nut producing trees provide high energy foods that bucks will gorge themselves on pre-rut. Some trees such as a white oak can even produce crop every year making it a very predictable food source. Conversely, having a crucial food source so close to the protection that evergreens offer makes this zone a sort of all-in-one type of deal. Coniferous forests make good bedding habitat due to the concealment and cooler temperature they provide. Hardwoods offer good travel and food. When hunting in this zone, look for scrapes and travel routes along and across this zone as it has the potential for being a great day-time hunting spot.
Unlike the field/forest zone, this zone is not usually a feeding area. Mainly found in areas with clear cut logging, or hydro cuts, this transition zone provides easy movement between areas of interest. In many cases, there’s some sort of shrubbery or tall grass that can provide travelling deer with cover and something to browse. In some clear cuts, the cover will thin out in the fall/winter which will reveal game trails. Find where the trails start/end at the forest edge and set up just inside the tree line. Keep an eye out for trails that run parallel to the clear cut as deer will use the cover of the forest as they keep an eye on the open cut.
This is just a few examples of transition zones; it is more important to consider what a transition zone is and what deer do in those zones.
Staging areas are best defined as areas outside of bedding zones. In a staging area whitetail deer feel safe and comfortable in daylight hours. These are usually areas of heavy cover, where deer can get on their feet browse and start the transition to food sources. These areas make great locations to create an ambush spot. These areas are usually not large in terms of average but offer great opportunities for hunters.
The next time you’re out scouting keep an eye out for whitetail deer transition and staging areas. You’ll be amazed at how different the land will look. By finding these areas, you will begin to unlock more of a whitetails travel routes and hot spots to hunt during the season. This gives you more opportunity when certain places are unfavorable due to wind, food availability, pressure etc.