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Conducting Your Own Trail Camera Survey

by Josh Fletcher 12. September 2011 12:59
Josh Fletcher

Conducting surveys and censuses on deer populations have been around for years. There are formulas such as the SAK formula, aerial surveys, track counts, spotlight surveys, and just recently with the popularity of game cameras, trail camera surveys to estimate a deer population for a given location.

Formulas such as the SAK formula or aerial surveys are often used by large ranches or state game agencies. Surveys such as track counts or spotlights surveys need open terrain and large tracks of property to be conducted on. However, with the development of the trail camera survey now you to conduct an estimate of deer population on your own property. Whether you own fifty acres or a thousand acres, you can utilize your trail camera data to give you a better idea of the deer population on your own property and providing better and more accurate information for managing your hunting area.

I first want to say that with all surveys they are an estimate, and there is no way to be 100% accurate, however they are accurate enough to provide a good data base for whitetail management. By using your trail cameras, not only can you identify possible trophy class bucks and travel routes, you can also estimate the buck age ratio, number of bucks, number of does, buck to doe ratio, fawns per doe ratio, and acres per deer. So stop deleting those pictures of small bucks, does, fawns and start estimating and tracking deer populations in your hunting area.

To begin the survey you will need a minimum of one game camera per 100 acres, however if you have more cameras for a smaller piece of property the more accurate your survey will be. For example, if you have 85 acres and four game cameras, you will have a better chance of a more accurate survey versus one camera for 100 acres. It doesn’t matter if you only own 20 acres; you too can run a very accurate deer population estimate on your property. The goal is to try and capture a photo of every deer that is on your property.

 The CamTracker MK-10 is an excellent trail camera with it's fast trigger speed to conduct a trail camera survey

 Experts recommend that you run your cameras for 14 days; however you can run your cameras longer to ensure a better chance of photographing the majority of deer in your hunting area. Next researchers recommend placing your cameras over bait or mineral sites to ensure photos of deer on the property. Keep in mind that results can very during certain times of the year. An example of this is a large acorn crop; most deer won’t abandon the acorns for corn.

If baiting or mineral sites are illegal in your area, you can utilize natural food sources such as food plots or fruit trees such as apple trees to capture photos of as many deer as you can on your property. 

Apple trees are excellent for conducting trail camera surveys if baiting is illegal in your area

Once your survey is over, begin by compiling all your photos. If you cannot positively identify a deer as a buck, doe or fawn, do not count it in the survey.
Count all the pictures that you have of bucks. It doesn’t matter if you are counting the same buck several times as this will be factored into the formula for gaining a doe count. Once you counted all the buck photos write that number down.

Next, out of your buck pictures count the number of individual bucks or unique bucks and write that number down. For example on my hunting property I had 19 pictures of bucks, out of these 19 pictures I have identified 9 different bucks.
 
Now you want to figure out the variable of “repeat offenders” or pictures of the same bucks. The reason you want to know this is to average the same idea for does. Since does are often harder to identify as being the same deer photographed, you want to figure out an idea of how many repeat bucks you have and to apply the same concept to does for a more accurate survey. This may seem confusing however is very simple. Just divide the total number of bucks by the number of unique bucks (individual bucks). An example is that I have 19 buck pictures divide that by the 9 unique bucks = 0.47 (pop. Facture) write that number down.
 
Now total up all the number of does you have pictures of. You will then divide your doe count by the pop. Facture. (The results of the buck division you just did earlier.)  An example is I had 24 does divided by 0.47 = 11.28 does.  I now know I have 9 bucks and 11.28 does utilizing my property during the given time frame I conducted the trail camera survey.
 
Now you want to figure out your fawn population. To do this count the numbers of fawns you have pictures of and divide that by your Pop. Facture just like you did with the does. For example, I had 18 pictures divided by my Pop. Facture of 0.47= 8.46 fawns on the property.

A healthy deer herd consists of a balanced buck to doe ratio

Now with the numbers complete, I now know I have an estimate of 9 bucks, 11 does and 8 fawns for my 85 acres.To figure out your buck to doe ratio for the property, divide the number of does by the number of bucks. I had 11.28 does divided by 9 bucks, gives me a ratio of 1.25 does per buck. Experts recommend a ratio close to 1:1.

To figure out your fawn to doe ratio simply divide your number of fawns by the number of does. I had 8.46 fawns divided by 11.28 does which gives me a ratio of 0.75 fawns per doe.

To figure out your acres per deer simply divide the amount of acres you have surveyed by your total population of deer. My hunting property is 85 acres divided by a total population of 28.74 which gives me 2.9 acres per deer for the property I hunt on.

My data for the trail camera survey looks like this:
9 individual bucks/ 19 total bucks = 0.47 (pop. Facture)
24 does/ 0.47 (pop. Facture) = 11.28 does
18 fawns/ 0.47 (pop. Facture) = 8.46 fawns
11.28 does / 9 bucks= 1.25 does per buck
8.46 fawns/ 11.28 does= 0.75 fawns per doe
85 acres/ 28.74 (total deer population) = 2.9 acres per deer
9 Bucks, 11 Does, 8 Fawns.
 
I know all these numbers are over whelming and seem complicated; however once you put your pen to paper you will see just how easy it is to conduct a trail camera survey on your property. Don’t just stop there. By doing trail camera surveys every month, you can track and watch as the deer population in your hunting area fluctuates throughout the year. By tracking this data allows you as a manager to analyze the reasons for the fluctuation for that given time of the year. It may be that the reason your deer population drops during the summer is because of the lack of warm season food source. If you notice this on your property, you might want to begin planting a warm season food source to hold deer on your property during the summer and early fall months. Doing these trail camera surveys gives you one more tool to better track and manage your hunting area.

With all surveys, the trail camera method is not 100 percent accurate; however is a very reliable source for information on your property. Also, all of the information that you are already gathering from your trail cameras can be utilized to conduct a trail camera survey. Have fun with it and utilize your trail cameras this year to better manage deer on your hunting property.




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