Written by Bowhunting.com contributor Jason Herbert.
Like a kid at Christmas, I clicked through each picture hoping for just a glimpse. Fingers crossed, praying to the deer God’s that he survived another season; I finally saw what I was waiting for. There he was, in all of his velvet glory. Heavy mass, wide rack, and 8 points; buck number one on my 2013 hit list has earned his spot- hitting one of my mock scrapes early in June.
Summer Trail Cameras
All the velvety anticipation aside; summer trail camera use is a very controversial topic because of the fact that they are not foolproof. Some cautious hunters don’t bother to hang a trail camera until September. Other brave souls run them all year long. Many well-meaning hunters accidentally ruin a perfectly good season by being sloppy with summer trail cameras. A few false moves while getting a bit too close to a bedding area, such as leaving a trail of human scent, and the deal’s off; that shooter will find someplace else to hang out.
Even though deer season doesn’t begin until the fall, there are all sorts of things hunters can be doing to feed their fix and get prepared for the upcoming season.
Being scent free is crucial here. This goes for all game animals; deer, elk and bears. The animals do not know what month it is, and don’t care why a human is invading their sacred territory. They just know to panic. So, in order to keep the game around, it’s important to not alert them to the hunter’s presence. Be sure to wear scent free clothes; be in hunting gear or regular clothing washed in scent free detergent. Also, spray down everything with a scent killer once the camera is hung.
Trail Cam Locations
The best place to hang a summer camera is in a high traffic area. I like to locate them at pinch points, fence crossings, water holes, popular trails, feeding areas, etc… The camera should be in a place where a lot of game will be, and they won’t mind a bit of human interference now and then. With even the most scent free regimen in place, the animals will hear truck doors slamming, talking, the quad running, branches cut, etc… In fact, be loud. By being loud and acting “human”, the deer will notice our presence, but not associate it with our alter-egos, sneaky hunters, come fall.
Hang a summer trail camera in a high traffic location where human presence is expected.
If there are no real obvious high traffic areas, create some. With landowner permission, tie fences down for an easy crossing, fall a few trees to create a funnel, plant a food plot, or dig a water hole. Also, talk to the farmers and landowners. Ask them where they see the most deer. Hanging a camera in any of these areas will be a great place to start.
When hanging a camera, we recommend hanging them high in a tree. Climb with a few sticks or steps, attach the camera, and then use a broken stick behind the top to aim it down. By having the camera sit high in the tree it will help eliminate any animals getting spooked, and also keep it out of eyesight of dishonest hunters. Try to imagine how the shadows will behave throughout the day and face the camera away from that area as shadow movement will drain camera batteries very quickly.
We can’t stress this enough, check local regulations! Where legal, attractants like bait or mineral sites will really attract game from all over the area. In the summer months bucks and bulls crave the precious antler building minerals found in many supplements. Also, if nothing fancy is available, plain old salt works. A lot of western hunters will hike back into their honey holes with 40 pound bags of water softener salt. Elk will come for miles for a taste of the salty mineral that they crave.
During the summer, bucks are highly attracted to minerals and suppliments that contribute to antler growth. Choose a quality product and place it in an area you suspect might be harboring a trophy buck.
Another option is simply putting out shelled corn or other baits. During these same summer months, bears are starting to fatten up for winter, and deer and elk are always hungry. The animals won’t be able to meet all of their nutritional needs with these tasty treats, but they will keep them coming back for pictures. When baiting, don’t dump it all out at once, but rather a little at a time, to keep the scent fresh and the animals interested. Every two to three days should suffice to create a popular photo destination.
This pertains to deer and so much has been written on the topic, so we’ll just scratch the surface. Game animals communicate through a variety of ways. Whitetails in particular are famous for their fall scraping activity. What some don’t realize is that many scrapes are started and maintained throughout the summer. These long term scrapes are usually an annual event, and are made by the most dominant of bucks. Scent control is a must in this situation. The most important part of a good scrape is the licking branch. It needs to be hanging down over the scraping area, and accessible to the buck’s mouth. He will chew and lick it and rub his forehead on the branch. He’ll also dig up the dirt below, urinate and defecate on it; all with the intent of making his presence known and declaring his position in the breeding order.
Using a rake to create a mock scrape in the late summer months can prove deadly later in the fall.
What is the easiest way to make a mock scrape? While wearing rubber gloves, find a tree or two with decent licking branches; preferably live branches, but dead will work. Break them down so they hang toward the ground. Then, rake the dirt below into a nice, wide open area. It’s really that simple. The deer will be attracted to the smell of freshly turned earth and should take advantage of the licking branches. The point of a summer mock scrape is to create a high traffic area where several bucks will make an appearance and try to declare their dominance.
With freshly sprayed scent free hands or gloves, simply break a few licking branches over the spot you plan to make your mock scrape.
Add Tink’s Power Scrape to the broken ground. It is the perfect additive to kick start your mock scrape.
Many a mature buck is duped each fall by a mock scrape that was started in the summer months. Check out this amazing story from our friend Ren Arietti about the monster buck he shot last fall and his mock scrape/scent regiment. http://www.robinsonoutdoors.com/shop/news/connecticut-hunter-shoots-giant-buck-over-scentblockers-still-steamin-mock-scrape/
Glassing fields from a truck or long distance observation stand is a great way to spend a warm summer evening and possibly lock down an early season buck or two. As mentioned previously, the chances are good that these bucks will change their patterns, but it’s still fun to watch them and learn their habits. That being said, if a buck is religiously eating on a bean field each evening, he may continue to do so until the beans turn brown. Once the beans are brown, he’ll take off and find a more preferred food source. Also, if the local acorn crop is dropping, or apples and other fruits are hitting the ground, all bets are off. It’s likely these bean field bucks will be hitting the nuts and fruit while they are fresh.
It’s important to remember that almost every bull, buck, or boar will change his feeding patterns come hunting season, so treestands and hunting plans should not be based on summer movement. However, hanging a stand or two in the summer can pay off huge come fall. Keep in mind that the late summer woods will look a whole lot different than it will in the fall. The leaves will have dropped, offering less cover and windbreaks. The wind patterns will have changed; meaning a stand that could work with a certain wind in the early season may not during the late season. Be sure to make note of many entrance and exit routes which allow for quiet, scent free access. Also remember that food sources will change, as well as bedding preferences.
Hunting season may be months away, but if you’re in the woods scent precautions (such as proper outerwear) should still be followed.
All sorts of things could go wrong with summer scouting and preparation. That big old buck could get jumpy and find shelter someplace else. Another hunter could pattern you; and either steal your gear or infringe on the hunting land. The deer could pattern a hunter’s movements, and become nocturnal well before they should. These are just a few; there are many more risks. But, like they say in little league, “you gotta swing to get a hit”.
Hunting is supposed to be fun. Summer trail cameras and scouting are a great way to get outdoors and enjoy God’s creation. If it gets too stressful, or the bucks seem to be disappearing, then quit. When handled properly, with a strict scent control program in place, summer scouting will be a great tool to get a jump on the season. If it’s not working out? Then hang out in the backyard and shoot your bow:)