Hunting > Whitetails

Offseason Trail Cams: Digital Buck Surveillance

Trail cameras have not only made hunting more productive, but they have actually made it more enjoyable.


Trail cameras have not only made my hunting more productive, but they have actually made it more enjoyable. Now I have a way to figure out which bucks are “killable” and which ones are likely to cause frustration, so I can focus my time on the right bucks. The cameras have also allowed me to learn the personalities of the bucks I hunt, making my deer hunting a true one-on-one experience that is much more engaging and rewarding. 

Each season now feels like paging through a great novel or piecing together a beautiful jigsaw puzzle. There is always the feeling of anticipation and excitement that was sometimes missing in the past. When you are hunting two or three specific deer, and especially when you are getting regular daylight pictures of those deer, you are in the game—the season takes on a tangible sense of drama. In this short piece, I will offer a few tips on what I have learned about patterning bucks with trail cameras and about the cameras themselves.

Trail-Camera Strategies
Some deer hunters run their cameras all season while others prefer to get in, get the photos and get out. It makes the most sense to keep the cameras running until the end but only if you can do it without disturbing the deer you are hunting. To accomplish this goal, the cameras need to be near the routes you take to and from your treestands. Or they need to be in places that are readily accessible from a vehicle, such as along a lane or on the edge of a field or food plot where your coming and going won’t be overly intrusive. 

Place your cameras over heavy trails, on the edge of food plots, over active scrapes or (where legal) over bait. When baiting the cameras, you can get an inventory much quicker; you can get in, get your photos and get out in a few weeks. However, if you put cameras over bait sites, you can’t learn the specific patterns of the bucks that show up. They may come from several hundred yards to hit the bait site. Once you stop baiting, everything changes. The only way you can learn a buck’s true patterns is to set your cameras over funnels and sign.

Actually, a combination of all of these methods is the best choice if you can legally do so. I like to bait the cameras to get a quick inventory, pull the camera and then move it to a different location. I generally run my cameras over a sack of corn, swap the card after four days, add more corn and then pull the camera altogether after four more days. 

Using this strategy, I can quickly learn which bucks are in the area and if they are moving during the day. Because I am putting these cameras primarily in, or around, a food plot, I can assume the deer will still be in that area when it comes time to hunt them. More than likely, the food plot itself is one of their endpoints. 

Then by placing the cameras over crossings, trails and scrapes I get a smattering of images each week that might give me some current information on the whereabouts of the bucks during the times when I am actually in the tree. Again, these camera locations should be reasonably accessible to keep from alerting deer.

Which Bucks to Hunt
Trail cameras will tell you which bucks are primarily nocturnal and which ones move often during the day. The strategy is simple, hunt the biggest ones that move during the day. Don’t chase after a buck until he starts to show himself on your cameras during daylight. All bucks have personalities that make them harder or easier to kill. Some of it is learned, but some of it is simply the buck’s personality. The trail cameras will tell you faster than any other scouting tool which ones have personalities that will make them fun to hunt and which ones will lead to frustration.

Which Cameras to Buy
I have to admit to being a bit cynical about trail-camera reliability. I have thrown a few of them away over the years. The highly affordable ones tend to have limited lifespans and the highly reliable ones are very expensive. I am not sure which are the very best ones to pick, as all are fraught with trade-offs. I have spent a lot of time on, a website with plenty of useful test data. Remember, you are placing some sophisticated electronics out into the elements for weeks, maybe months, at a time. That is a tough requirement.

In looking at the reviews, consider: battery life, trigger speed (especially if you will be placing the cameras on trails), area of coverage and range of coverage (most important if you will be placing the camera next to a food plot). Again, you will see that you get what you pay for.

Trail cameras that rely on cell phone chips to upload images to a website or to text them to your phone are showing some potential. From my research, this technology is still evolving but I would guess it is here to stay. Other technologies will come along that will allow hunters to check their cameras remotely. I am not sure how I feel about this technology. I have not tried such cameras nor have I made any in-season decisions based on this kind of instant feedback, so I had better stay on the sidelines when it comes to opinions for now.

What I do know is that trail cameras can acquaint us with the deer on our hunting properties and that this adds another level to the experience.

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