By Cole Daniels
Game cameras were a luxury item for hunters just a few years ago. Now you can pick up a digital game or trail camera for as little as $50. The higher priced models seemingly do it all, including high definition video. Video is great, but many hunters just want to get an idea of the quality and quantity of deer moving through their property. Game cameras allow hunters to scout 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Mid-summer is the best time to start putting your cameras out. Bucks are in bachelor groups and their antlers are really taking off this time of year. They are also a bit easier to pattern in the summer than they will be when testosterone begins making decisions for them. One of the most productive setups for getting great pictures in the summer is mineral licks. The trick to quality trail camera pictures is getting a deer to stop. If you stop a deer, even a less expensive camera will take good pictures.
A mineral block will stop a buck and he will move his head up and down as he licks. This gives your camera multiple opportunities to photograph the buck. Hopefully, you will get several photos and really be able to get a good sense of his size. If a given mineral site isn’t productive, move it. Look for deer trails and if you’re familiar with the property, put the block along known funnels.
Another good site for trail cameras in the summer are food plots. However, a lot of hunters make the mistake of setting up their camera on a large food plot. This results in long distance pictures, blurry pictures, or no pictures at all. Set the camera up along transition area food plots or smaller plots inside heavier woods. It’s easier to predict where deer will be in smaller plots and there is a good chance they will be feeding right in front of the camera instead of just passing by.
Watering holes, springs, and fruit trees are also great summer time photo hotspots. If you are still having a hard time getting deer to walk in front of your camera, build your own funnels. Move some deadfall trees to direct deer to a certain area. Another good trick is to tie some wire from the top strand to the middle strand of a barbed wire fence. This will drop the top strand a few inches and bucks will use that spot to cross the fence. Does and fawns will do the same with the bottom strand. If it is a shared fence line, be sure to talk it over with your neighbor first. Moving the wire a few inches won’t affect livestock like cattle or horses. But it’s better to ask your neighbor than to have them discover it. While on the subject of humans, sometimes game cameras can catch trespassers in the act. My friend has yet to identify this horseback rider caught deep within his property.
As hunting season approaches and temperatures begin to cool, bachelor groups break up. Bucks begin to focus on creating a pecking order for mating. Filling their bellies becomes secondary to breeding. Bucks become territorial and you will notice that some of the deer you saw all summer long are gone. They have either been run off by bigger, more dominant bucks or decided to pursue does in another area. Strategies for capturing bucks on trail cameras also change.
In the fall, set up cameras along rub lines and scrapes. Scrapes work a little better because bucks spend more time at a scrape and will hold their head still while they check out the licking branch. A lot of hunters will use a mock scrape early in the season. As the season progresses, real scrapes will be easier to find and they are more productive photo sites in my opinion.
A trail camera’s effect on deer behavior is a heavily debatable topic. Some deer hunters don’t use trail cameras because they believe they spook deer. I think the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks. However, I turn off the flash on all my cameras that don’t have infrared technology during deer season. Yes, it would be nice to continue to monitor all the deer moving through the property at night, but at what cost? Knowing where they are at night is valuable. Knowing where deer are during the day is much more valuable to a hunter.
In my opinion, your presence is going to have a bigger effect on deer behavior than a camera will. Be sure to wear rubber boots and be as scent free as possible when checking your cameras. If a particular camera takes the bulk of it’s photos in the evening, check that camera in the morning. During the season, I usually collect memory cards as I’m walking in and out of the stand. Try to be as low impact as possible.
When the season is over, a lot of hunters pack up their cameras and head off to their recliners. Those hunters are missing out on one of the most rewarding aspects of owning a trail camera. Winter photos give you an inventory of what deer survived the season. Creating next year’s hit list is what gets me through the winter blues. Another great aspect of winter trail camera use is collecting sheds while checking your cameras. I’ve learned more about the deer on my hunting property during the winter than any other time of year. It’s easy to spot bedding areas and deer trails in the snow. Yes, their habits will change slightly during the season but established trails are established for a reason.
Some people will continue to monitor deer throughout the spring. They like to see deer all year long. I have to admit it is fun to see fresh fawns in the spring. But in my experience, this time of the year is tough. Does are more careful about moving with their fawns and bucks are antler less. Sightings are fewer and the payoff of spotting a giant rack is absent. True fanatics are still watching, but I’m usually chasing a gobbler in the spring.
Trail cameras are a great tool for whitetail hunters and property managers. They offer an around the clock view of what is happening on a given property. They also extend my deer season by a few months on either side. Photo collecting trips are almost as exciting as hanging from a stand.