By: Josh Boyd
You gaze anxiously at your computer screen, clicking one photo to the next, hoping to catch even a fleeting glance of a buck noteworthy enough to cause an uptick in heart rate. Photo after photo of does and young bucks traverse your screen when suddenly, a velvet clad monarch of the whitetail woods graces your photo viewing with its presence.
There is something about the majestic qualities of a true bruiser whitetail buck that resonates deeply within a hunter and draws admiration at every turn. The appearance of such a buck upon a late spring or early summer trail camera survey certainly is cause for frenzied anticipation, and possibly some sleepless nights as season grows ever closer.
Trail cameras have advanced exponentially in the previous couple of decades. From early 35mm film cameras, to modern day wireless and cell phone compatible offerings, today’s trail camera versatility and ease of use have made them an indispensable tool in many whitetail hunter’s arsenals.
A hunter is able to take stock of the deer that are regularly using the property they hunt and catalogue bucks that frequent such areas. This is of great advantage when scouting whitetails during the summer months.
With many archery seasons across the nation opening in September, hunters are afforded the opportunity to hunt when the majority of deer will still be locked into their often predictable summer feeding routines. Because of this, a crafty hunter is able to use the information that they have garnered from summer trail camera usage and parlay it into an effective early season strategy.
By positioning trail cameras overlooking areas of high deer traffic and commonly frequented trails starting in late spring, an individual is able to monitor a property through fawning season and the earliest periods of antler growth.
As the summer months carry on, continued observation lends itself well to discerning the age class of bucks frequenting your property, as well as pinpointing trophy bucks as they progress in their antler growth. This information, once compiled, becomes a valuable resource that allows a hunter the ability to select specific deer that are of the age class and size that they desire to pursue.
Once a determination is made as to a specific buck or bucks that a hunter has chosen to target, trail camera usage turns from a method of inventorying your deer herd into a mission of intensive recognizance. To formulate a comprehensive strategy to harvest your targeted buck, you must first obtain every available bit of information regarding his habits.
By using multiple trail cameras situated strategically throughout a buck’s suspected home range, a hunter is able to paint a bigger picture of how the buck utilizes different features within the area. Running multiple cameras allows a hunter to cover ground quickly to eliminate areas of infrequent use and more thoroughly scrutinize highly traveled sectors.
The use of multiple trail cameras also makes it possible for an individual to take stock of a buck’s favored food sources. Agriculture fields, stands of fruit trees, and pasture ground are all probable locations to observe. As these favored food sources become evident, a buck’s direction of travel can often be concluded based upon where a deer enters or exits the food source as photographed on the trail camera.
During the summer months, a buck generally relies upon a bed to feed and back again routine to provide security within its travels. This level of predictability allows you to conclude that the direction from which a buck enters and exits a food source is likely the beginning of his travel corridor back to his bedding location.
Trail camera usage once again proves reliable in this scenario, as a hunter is given the ability to monitor the trails leading to and from a preferred food source. Through observation of these trails via trail camera, a probable bedding location can be established.
A hunter will now have a basic understanding of their target buck’s day to day routine. Once this pattern is established, trail camera usage becomes a statistical game enabling an individual to fine tune their strategy.
Time stamps on trail camera photos can be of invaluable use to a hunter at this point in the formulation of their strategy. By recording the times that a buck was present at a particular location, a log can be made by use of weather records to catalogue location, time of arrival, wind direction, and weather conditions. This makes it possible to compare forecasted conditions of an upcoming hunt to days of similar circumstances.
With an extensive understanding of a buck’s regular travel patterns, stand locations can now be determined and prepared as early archery season grows near. This is another time when the observance of the trail camera’s time stamp date can pay dividends.
Mature bucks have an uncanny ability to skirt daylight in their daily travels. By analyzing a buck’s average time of arrival at a food source and the corridor traveled on the way to and from, a hunter can hang stand sets along trails closer to the proximity of bedding areas. This increases the odds of encountering a buck in daylight upon his arrival to or departure from his bed.
With stands in place, trail camera strategy now relies heavily upon continued monitoring to ensure that no deviation from the buck’s established patterns are recognized.
It is imperative to avoid pressuring a buck as trail camera surveys are conducted. The use of external battery packs and sizable SD cards will go a long way to ensuring that no more intrusions are made than necessary. It is also advisable to check cameras during hours of infrequent deer travel as to avoid accidental startling of deer.
A trail camera photo is so much more than proof that a deer exists on your property. Rather, it is a puzzle piece. A puzzle that when completed tells a whole story and quite often can turn a deer hunting dream into reality.
This deer season, take a proactive approach to your hunting. Let intensive trail camera scouting be your guide. The filled tag, memories made, and fresh venison in the freezer will reward your efforts in earnest.