The early season used to be my nemesis. I could never quite crack the code to capitalize on an early-season buck. Then, it clicked, and things changed. I started seeing September success, and it all started with a better plan for taking inventory on velvet bucks throughout the summer. Here’s a look at the steps I used to make it happen, particularly with food plots.
Reflect on the Past
Many hunters have multiple years of experience with the properties they hunt. Thus, future success begins with looking to the past. Remembering what has and hasn’t worked during previous attempts is part of the process.
The biggest question is whether or not your existing summer plot sites produced in the past. If so, great. If not, while it isn’t guaranteed it’ll be void of bucks again, there’s a good chance it will be. Perhaps try new sites closer to known bachelor group action.
Analyze the Present
The past is important, but in moderation. Put stock in it, but not too much. Take what you know from previous years, and compare it to what is currently happening. Because there are certain things that can drastically change a property within 12 months.
For example, has human intrusion increased? Has the land been logged? Has it been cleared? Have crops been introduced or taken away? Have structures been built? These things and more have the ability to change things, positively or negatively. Either way, change is change, and hunters must adapt to it.
Locate Major Food Sources
Being completely aware of the property is a major aspect of deer hunting. Knowing where all major, medium, and minor food sources are located is important. Crop fields, certain soft mast, early-dropping hard mast, and other popular grub options have the ability to influence deer movement.
When something impacts deer movement, it also affects their line of travel. You want your food plots to be along these natural lines of movement. Being too far out of the way will lead to minimal usage of the plot.
Plant the Right Seed
Knowing what to plant is about as important as knowing where to plant it. It’s imperative to sync your summer plots with the major food sources that are nearby. Don’t do that, and your plots might go unused.
It isn’t hard to check this box, though. Simply plant something that will peak around the same time as the nearby destination food sources along that same line of movement. So, for capturing velvet bucks on camera, try something that deer really want during the summer months.
Use the Right Cameras (and Settings)
Not all trail cameras are created equal. Every model has strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. Find one that is optimized for the job at hand. Personally, I prefer cellular models with an external power source so that I don’t have to go afield and disturb the area to check them.
Also, consider the settings it offers. Find a model that provides as much data as possible on the timestamp. Also, select one that can run both time-lapse and motion-triggered capture capabilities on the same setting. These are both important features for monitoring food plots.
Position Cameras Wisely
Don’t just place the camera on any old tree, stump or stalk. Think about each dimension of a successful camera. There are numerous layers to quality camera placement.
Find a location that takes advantage of the terrain and captures as much of the plot as possible. Choose a sturdy tree that offers plenty of stability, even in high winds. Position the camera about 3 feet off the ground. Angle it toward the focal point of the plot. Clear all vegetation that could trigger the camera. Clean the lens, and complete all other necessary tasks.
Check Cameras Sparingly
Once plots are planted and cameras are posted, it’s time to let them soak. Cellular models make it easy, but traditional cameras will make you itch (to check them). Don’t scratch it, though. That’ll just make things worse.
Personally, I don’t check summertime cameras more than once per month, and sometimes even less frequently. When possible, I like to be on the back of a four-wheeler, truck or other vehicular device to reduce scent and minimize the overall applied pressure.
Analyze Every Trail Camera Photo
As summer fades to fall, and deer season approaches, it’s important to gather all intel and sift through it. Analyze every trail camera photo. Carefully observe each photo with antlers in it, and identify all unique bucks.
Once you’ve created a list of targets, look back to past years. You might be pleasantly surprised to see a return whitetail or two. It’s always fun when you have multiple years of history with a buck. That alone can provide insight into how to kill it this coming season.
Crunch the Data
Once a target or two is selected, take every sighting and trail camera photo you have of it and drill down on the buck’s home range and core area. Think about where the deer is bedding, feeding, watering, staging, and traveling in-between. Knowing these specific and relative locations helps to create a game plan.
Then, merely wait for opening day. It’ll be here soon enough, and thanks to your summer plots and velvet pics, you’ll have a game plan ready for it.