Trail Camera Strategy | How to Pattern Deer with Trail Cameras
Since its creation, the trail or game camera has totally changed the way we hunt. Not only can they be used to identify the bucks roaming the woods in areas we hunt, but we can use them to pick up on travel patterns specific bucks are using at different times of the year that often lead to his demise. But what if you aren’t getting the bucks on camera you were hoping for? Are they even still around? While trail cameras play a major role in how we plan to hunt certain deer, they don’t always tell the whole story. By choosing the right camera and adapting our trail camera placement and strategy to several factors that change with the environment and time of year, we have gotten better trail camera pictures of mature bucks in areas we hunt.
Bushnell has been the industry leader in optics for over 65 years and they make one mean trail camera. They have a huge variety of settings that let you adapt the trail camera to be most advantageous to the type of pictures or videos you are trying to take with it. We use Bushnell trail cameras because they are durable, versatile, and are within the price range of most hunters today. Whichever camera you choose, make sure that it will do what you require of it and is easy for you to use because once you start getting pictures of big deer where you hunt, you’re going to start relying on it more than you ever have before.
When you think about the “best trail camera pictures”, what comes to mind? For most, your thinking about the picture of that 160 class buck flaunting his headgear in full velvet your hunting buddy got over a salt block a few summers back. Granted, neither of you ever saw that deer on the hoof or maybe you did but it was in an area totally different from where the picture was taken. For us, the best trail camera pictures are not about the glamor shots the buck happens to give us, it’s about the information contained within that image. Don’t worry! With the right camera placement we get the best of both worlds, great pictures that contain a wealth of information. This is the idea behind our trail camera strategy.
Some guys don’t get their trail cameras out until a month or so before the season starts. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, but with the Bushnell’s 6 months of battery life, why not leave it out year-round and get all the information we can about how deer use our farms at different times of the year? Besides, nothing gets us pumped like seeing the bone start to pile on in June and July. And now for the strategy.
From about the first of April to the end of August, we run cameras in what we call summer trail camera locations. About this time, bucks have reunited with their bachelor groups, moved back into their summer home range, and are trying desperately to pack on the pounds after the harsh winter months. Our trail camera strategy during this time of the year typically involves a mineral attractant of some kind. Deer need the trace minerals found in a quality mineral source for optimal fawn and antler development and are drawn to the sodium it often contains, hence the attractiveness of a salt block. However, a standard salt block, while it is attractive to deer, doesn’t offer much more than sodium in terms of nutrition. We use the Rack Rock by Evolved because it has all the attractive qualities of a salt block and a huge variety of trace minerals to keep your deer herd healthy. Again, check your state regulations before you go tossing Rack Rocks all over your property!
When deciding on a summer trail camera location, think about where the deer are going to be during this time of the year. Think food, water, and cover. Obviously, we don’t want to disrupt bedding areas or core areas of the farm, so we set our trail cameras near water and food sources, making it easy for deer already using the area to stop by for a lick and a quick photo session compliments of the bone collectors.
Now comes the tough part, September. About September first, bucks start to lose their velvet and testosterone starts to build. Certain bucks from the bachelor group you’ve been watching might start to disappear from the group. Think about this like your buddy in high school that hit puberty before everyone else and left the group to see what was going on over at the cheerleaders table. He gone! One by one the other bucks will follow suit, moving into their respective fall ranges where they will spend a majority of their time for the remainder of the year.
This time of year can be extremely upsetting for hunters, as the bucks they’ve been watching all summer seem to have suddenly disappeared into thin air. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! Just expect the pattern or deer you’ve seen all summer to change about this time of year. Depending on when the season starts in the state your hunting, this gives us about a month to pick up a fall range pattern before the first day of season. For us, the go to trail camera location is staging area food plots. Bucks are still in feeding mode in September but the food sources and deer in the area have changed slightly. By hanging trail cameras in staging area food plots near larger food sources, we can usually identify a fall range pattern in time for hunting season, making the first time in one of the best chances you’ll have to kill a patterned buck all season.
We’ll leave these cameras where they are for most of the fall months and into the rut, moving them only slightly for one reason. Scrapes! When mid October rolls around, you are missing out by not having cameras running over scrapes, but not just any scrapes. Chances are the staging area food plot your camera is hung in is loaded with them. The buck using them has a routine. He beds during the day and stops at a few scrapes on the way to feed in the evening. If you pick up a pattern like this in mid-October, it’s time to get in there and hunt it!
The rut is a different beast and requires a camera strategy all together. Don’t expect to find a deer on a pattern during November. It just won’t happen. Move your trail cameras closer to bedding area travel routes. Areas that you can still get into without alerting all the deer in the area but that are heavily traveled by cruising bucks. The downwind side of bedding areas, pinch points, and water sources prove to be some of the best trail camera locations during this time of the year. Ideally, these cameras are close to a tree stand location, which makes them easy to check on the way into your tree stand. There are lots of ways to run cameras during the rut and not enough time to discuss them all here so we will discuss them in more detail closer to that magical time.
December is here and rut activity has died off for the most part. Bucks are laying low and licking their wounds from the marathon they’ve just endured. It’s time to pull the cameras near those bedding areas and get them back to a food source. This time, it’s a winter food source. Corn, soybeans, and brassicas are great areas to hang a trail camera at this time of the year. If allowed by the state you’re hunting, a pile of corn in front of your camera will bring deer from all around. Stick to the winter food sources with your trail camera strategy until the bucks shed their antlers, then it’s back to the beginning.
Every property is different. The amount of food or cover available may be different than someone in a different state or even from your neighbors. Use these recommendations as a guide but figure out what works best for the area you hunt. Trail cameras are the most valuable tool in our scouting arsenal. Use them correctly and you will benefit greatly come hunting season.