trail camera survey create buck hit list | Bone Collector

Run a Trail Camera Survey to Create a Buck Hit-List

How to Create a Buck Hit List | Running Trail Camera Surveys

The 2016/17 deer season is almost upon us. Have you created a buck hit-list yet?  For some white-tailed deer hunters that can be a rather tough question to answer.  To truly develop an accurate buck hit-list, a deer hunter requires more information than you might think.  Sure, you can run a couple of trail cameras and decide on hunting the biggest buck you have on film or the deer with the most character. To be honest, there is nothing wrong with that!  However, if you truly want to manage deer and benefit the herd dynamics in a positive way that will keep your farm stocked with mature deer each and every year, there is a little more detail that goes into how to create a buck hit-list. Knowing how to run a trail camera survey could be that key that opens this season’s door to success.

Why Is a Buck Hit-List Important?

No matter who you are, there is almost certainly that one member of your deer camp that doesn’t put a whole lot of thought or care into the development of a hit list.  Chances are you have heard this person say something like “if its brown it’s down” or “if it has horns I’m putting a Hornady in it”.  Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with these two philosophies, however, if your goals are a healthy and more robust deer herd, then you might want to try to pursue ole’ Uncle Ted to hold off on torching just ANY deer.

Creating a buck hit-list requires a deer hunter to take their time and truly inventory what deer are on their farm.  Deer hunters typically determine this by running a trail camera survey.  A trail camera survey allows you to census the deer herd on a property. Once you have identified what you have, you can begin to strategize based upon your observations and your goals.  In short, creating a buck hit-list takes some of the “randomness” out of deer hunting and by default, causes a hunter to be a little more selective. Developing and following a buck hit-list can generally lead to some pretty amazing results in just a few short years and is something that every deer hunter should consider doing each and every season.

How to Run a Trail Camera Survey

In order to accurately create a buck hit-list, you have to know what deer are using your farm and when. Trail cameras have changed the way that many deer hunters manage the whitetails on their farms, and have allowed more hunters to not only improve the health of their herd, but also allowing for the growth of more mature bucks.

The absolute first step in creating your buck hit-list is to complete a trail camera survey.  The first thing that you should keep in mind when running a trail camera is timing.  You can certainly complete a buck hit-list at any given time throughout the year, in fact it isn’t a bad practice to to complete multiple surveys (pre-season & post-season) in any given year. However, having your trail cameras out early (prior to the season opener) is critical in developing a buck hit-list in time for the season. The end of August can be an excellent time to complete one of these trail camera surveys.

trail camera survey create buck hit list bushnell trail camera | Bone Collector

trail camera survey create buck hit list big and j bag | Bone Collector

Trail camera surveys can provide a hunter with a wealth of information ranging from what deer are on their farm, where they are frequenting, and the exact time they are, to the number of fawns that made it through the spring.  Though there is a wide range of information that a trail camera survey can provide, for the purposes of creating a buck hit-list there are a few basic parameters that you need to review. The first, is to identify the individual bucks, determining the age of each buck on your property, determining the buck to doe ratio, and finally trying to estimate the overall herd population.  This is all important information that can help you better manage the deer herd on your farm, while at the same time creating a game plan for opening day.

Running a Trail Camera Survey

So, how in the world do you correctly complete a trail camera survey?  It is pretty simple.  There a few different methods for completing a trail camera survey, however, the easiest way is to follow a basic guideline and set of directions.

  • Setup a trail camera survey site for every 100 acres. So if your property was 200 acres, you would need two camera sites, etc. You can select a higher density, especially when terrain or habitat diversity is involved.
  • Setup bait at each camera site usually in the form of a 50lb bag of attractant like Big & J. The best way to figure out your baiting locations is with a good map of your property. Using the map, you can take a good look at your property and determine the best locations for your camera sites in each 100 acre block. For this, just remember you want to maximize deer traffic and encounters with the bait.
  • Be sure to check the baiting regulations of the state that you are hunting.
  • Set the camera settings to 1 photo burst every 5 minutes. This is in line with the research originally to develop this technique. If you simply want to find out how many and which bucks you have, selecting a 3 photo burst might be better to identify individuals.
  • When it comes to trail camera survey timing, you will run the survey for 3 weeks. This includes the pre-bait period (the first week) where no data is taken, to allow the deer to find and use the bait. The following 2 weeks is for data collection.
  • After the survey is complete count the number of unique bucks, does, fawns, and unknowns in each picture. Write these numbers down.
  • Calculate the data using a trail camera survey calculation sheet.
  • Form a Buck Hi-List in which you identify “hit-listers” and bucks to pass on.

A trail camera survey might be going overboard in your opinion. It can help you determine how many deer you have on the property and how many does to shoot, but if you are just simply wanting to create a buck hit-list you don’t need to run the calculations.
If you just wish to simply gather intelligence on the bucks on the farm without running a complete survey, then skew the above directions by doing the following:

  • Still setup on camera site for every 100 acres, the density should allow you to capture every buck on the farm.
  • The longer you leave the cameras out the better chances you have of capturing all of the animals on your farm.
  • It is always a great idea to label the SD cards of your cameras or mark each site in some way that is unique to avoid confusion, this is especially important when identifying core home ranges of hit-list bucks.
  • Set the trail camera settings to video or a 3 photo burst to capture different angles of a buck’s body and antlers.
  • Once you have completed your survey, it is time to review the footage and start naming your bucks!

Age vs. Size: Critical Factors for Hit-List Bucks

Once you have pulled all of the date off your Bushnell’s then it is time to really start developing your buck hit-list.  The first facet to developing a hit-list is to remember that it is yours and yours alone. You need to make sure that you are setting up the list to achieve your goals, so stay true to what you desire and not what you think you should do based off of “what people kill on social media”.

That being said, there is a big debate among deer hunters in regards to harvesting a deer based upon antler size and harvesting a deer based upon age.  While you can certainly argue that there are pro’s and con’s to both, the reality is that sometimes it can be a judgement call.  All in all, most literature will tell you that harvesting a mature deer, based upon age is the better choice for overall herd health and antler size.  That being said, it is awful hard to put a 140s 3 ½ year old buck as number two on your hit list only to move a 120s 5 ½ year old up to number one, but sometimes to accomplish a long term goals you just “have to do what you have to do”.  At the end of the day, harvesting a buck is a thrill regardless of the antler size!

trail camera survey create buck hit list | Bone Collector

Age and antler size are the two primary factors that drive the development of a hit list for most whitetail deer hunters.  A good rule of thumb is to focus on harvesting a mature deer, which typically be considered anything over 3 ½ years of age.  From there, it really comes down to your preferences. However, there are still a few criteria that you can use to help narrow your list down even further.

Removing older deer can be very important to your hit-list development.  Deer that are up there in age, regardless of antler size have a tendency to run off other bucks.  Additionally, they are often more prone to predation and disease. The main reason however is simply, they are mature bucks, wise true trophies of the woods. These factors are a couple of reasons why older deer tend to make it to the top of a whitetail hunters hit list, despite the antler size.

If you have the chance to bring the Hoyt to full draw on one of these deer, it can be a once in a lifetime feat so let the G5 broadhead fly.

Injuries happen, and sometimes you will find a buck on trial camera that has suffered a pretty significant injury for one reason or another.  Depending on when the injury occurred, the buck may not have much of a rack to speak of, as his body would have been run down dealing with the injury.  Deer in situations like these can often work their way up the hit list just simply out of a need to put the animal out of its misery. Keep this “ethical hunting mindset “in mind this season.

The New Advantage: Wireless Trail Cameras

One way to cut out the trail camera survey, and simply be able to continually keep tabs on your hit-list bucks is to employ a wireless trail camera or two.

Bushnell 2016 Wireless Trophy Camera
(video) – Michael Waddell explains the new 2016 wireless trophy camera from Bushnell. This could make the difference this fall.


Utilizing trail cameras to develop a buck hit-list can sometimes be just as fun as hunting the deer themselves.  Have the ability to watch a specific deer grow and mature over time is a very rewarding feeling. Being able to finally put that deer in the number one slot on the hit-list can get any deer hunter excited, actually harvesting the animal is a story for another day.  Take some time this month to run a trail camera survey and develop a buck hit-list for your farm.
If you need would like some more tips on how to set up a trail camera click the blog below.

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