Fall is in the air, and my mind is on deer season! It's a great time of year to be in the outdoors! But long before Fall arrives I've been preparing for the upcoming deer season. Over the years I've made hunting whitetails a 365 day a year process, there's always something you can be doing to make your deer season a more successful one. There's literally not a day goes by of the year that I don't think about something that has to do with my deer hunting and ways to improve. From shed antler hunting in late Winter/ early Spring to planting Spring and Fall food plots there's always something on my mind for a better deer season.
This week I'm going to talk about trail cameras and how to use them to your advantage. For those who don't know what a trail camera is, it's a camera you place in the woods that snaps a picture when game walks in front of the built in sensor. Now, trail cameras have come a long ways since I first started using them amongst my tactics. When I bought my first trail camera it used 35mm film, took 24 pictures and had a flash on it that could spook a rhino! I was always so excited to take a roll of film to the one hour photo developer usually to end up disappointed with a few deer pictures and some random squirrel and weeds pictures. These days technology has taken these cameras to do things I never would have imagined. Today we have twenty mega pixel capability, the ability to take video, infrared flash and believe it or not you can even buy cameras that run on a cellular signal and send you the pic by email or text the moment it's taken! Also instead of the days of the 35mm film rolls, we now have SD cards that can store thousands of images and battery life to leave cameras out year round. Now, I don't have the cellular cameras, while I would love to, I'm sure I would never get anything else done but stare at my phone all day!
Let's start with a couple different ways I use cameras, first off a trail camera is a great way to do an inventory so to speak of the deer in your hunting area. I use them as inventory tools through the summer and then again in winter as the Iowa gun seasons close. I will usually start to put my cameras out in June of each year to begin to see what's around. I try to pick high percentage areas in the summer to get my pictures, such as a water source with a high concentration of deer activity around it. Or I like to place it along a fence crossing into a hay or bean field. The deer, especially bucks spend most of their summer in open areas feeding on hay and beans. As we move into fall, around late September scrapes and rubs will start to appear in the woods. This is when my cameras move from summer spots to these scrape and rub lines in the timber. This is the time you can really start to pattern a deer using a camera. The camera will tell you exactly what time a deer has been moving past your stand. You will begin to see patterns of deer movement as you check your cameras. By placing your camera over a scrape, ( a roughed up patch of dirt made by deer to mark territory by scent) you will see how often a buck is checking the area and whether or not he's doing it in daylight. It's also a lot of fun to see all the different bucks that will check a scrape. You will start to see new bucks move into your area as their core area expands looking for does during the rut.
As the season winds down, I will once again move my cameras back to food sources. This time of year, (January thru March) I will use the cameras to see what bucks made it through the season to begin to set my sights on a particular deer for next season. Also I like to watch and see when the bucks start to drop their antlers. This tells me the best time to start shed antler hunting.
As far as camera set up goes, a few tips I have for you is , set your cameras approximately four to four and a half feet off the ground. Any lower you'll have a lot of squirrel and raccoon pictures, any higher and you'll have pictures of ears and antler tips. Always make sure you have weeds and debris clear of the camera. There's nothing more annoying than an SD card full of weeds blowing in the breeze! Also never set your camera facing direct sunlight either rising or setting. Warmth from direct sun can trigger some cameras, and again you have pictures of weeds. Always give yourself the highest percentage to get a good pic. If you're planning to get pictures on a deer trail, aim it down the trail opposed to across the trail. This will give your camera time to trigger and still have the deer in view. Use these tips and you should get good pictures.