Most deer hunters I talk to put their trail cameras out a week or so before deer season starts, and take them off the trees as soon as they harvest their buck, or when hunting season is over.
In my opinion, this is a huge mistake. You are missing out on learning the big picture of your deer herd, and how they utilize your property year-round.
Off-season scouting has a massive impact on your success during deer season. Whitetail deer are fascinating animals. Their movements can often be unpredictable. That’s why having trail cameras out in the early part of summer, during the velvet phase, can help with finding that missing puzzle piece that ties the whole strategy together.
With the days of spring transitioning to summer, now is a great time to get the cameras out and begin taking inventory of the deer on the properties you hunt.
Spring / Summer Inventory
Taking inventory in late spring plays an extremely important role in my whitetail strategy. Not only am I monitoring spring feeding patterns of my deer herd, but more importantly, I’m also checking to see which bucks made it through the harsh elements of winter. And of course, it’s just fun to have velvet buck photos coming through again.
Winter conditions can be brutal for whitetail deer. Freezing temperatures can weaken even the strongest deer’s immune system. Food was at an annual shortage, and the rut completely exhausted both the bucks and does. It’s very common for several deer not to survive the winter months. That’s why spring is a great time to compare herd numbers to the year prior in order to determine what deer survived.
Mid to late spring is a great time to start putting out trail cameras over spring food sources. In late spring, I try to hang about 3 cameras per every 100 acres. This can obviously vary depending on the layout of the property, such as how thick some of the areas are, how many food plots you have, and what your deer density looks like.
If your spring food plots are looking green and lush, this is an obvious spot to hang a camera. Velvet bucks will be looking for extra protein to promote antler growth, and does that have just recently given birth will be looking for key nutrients to support those nursing fawns.
This is also the time of the year that your deer herd will be searching for the necessary vitamins and minerals they need to get them through the summer months. If you’re looking to locate that target buck and see if he made it through the winter, you can’t beat a fresh mineral site.
Find a mineral supplement that contains no more than 30% salt, and has at least 10% Calcium and Phosphorus. These are going to be some of the most important nutrients that a deer needs for the summer months. And this will be a great place to take trail cam inventory.
Late-Summer / Fall Inventory
Mid to late August is when I really start implementing a lot of time and focus into what my trail cameras are telling me. Bucks are still in their bachelor groups, but as September approaches, feeding patterns may not be as consistent as they were during the early summer months.
Acorns are beginning to fall, and the deer are spending much more time in oak flats, as well as feeding on woody browse that you will see in the hardwoods.
This is an excellent time to switch cameras over to feeding travel corridors, in between bedding and a main food source such as an alfalfa plot, or soybean field. Having cameras set on primary trails can give you tremendous insight into how you should hunt opening day.
As the season progresses, I will start to transition my trail cameras over to scrapes and rubs, as well as targeting the doe bedding areas where I know bucks will be cruising. I have found that the more cameras I set up, the more I get pictures of bucks that I have never seen on my property before. These cruising bucks may only stay on your property for a couple of days while they’re breeding a doe, so having access to good intel is very important.
Monitoring Without Disturbing
I’ve met a lot of hunters that seem to be more reckless when going on the property during the off-season. Most hunters don’t pay much attention to how their scent and the noise they’re making affects the deer herd in the summer months. However, keep in mind, mistakes made in the summer can have huge impacts on your success in the fall.
Whitetails are creatures of habit and extreme paranoia. If you’re leaving your scent around, or thrashing through leaves and brush as you check your trail cameras, your target buck is either going to go nocturnal, or leave the area altogether.
One solution to this age-old problem was the invention of the cellular trail camera. This is perhaps one of the most groundbreaking products to be introduced to hunters, and it has affected all of our hunting strategies for the better. They allow us to monitor deer activity remotely, eliminating the chance of disturbing the land every week while pulling SD cards.
If you haven’t invested into cell cameras yet, I highly advise that you do so. There are several affordable cellular camera models on the market. These cameras will greatly help patterning deer activity as well as keeping inventory of target bucks, without applying pressure to the deer herd.
Whitetail deer are incredibly smart animals. Finding a shooter buck can often feel like an overwhelming task. The odds are truly stacked against the hunter. However, with trail cameras, we can gain a slight edge by being able to monitor remotely and study patterns year-round to gain a better understanding of their behavior.
So if you’re like a lot of hunters, and your trail cameras are turned off and stored away, now’s a great time to wipe the dust off, put some new batteries in them, and start scouting!