For example, say that a hunter shuts his truck door and walks to a tree stand several hundred yards away for two days in a row. While en route, he unknowingly passes upwind of a bedded buck both days. Even if the wind is in the hunter’s favor on the third day, the moment that buck hears the truck door slam, he’ll take for granted that a human is headed into his domain, and he’ll probably either sit tight or go the other way.
If an adult whitetail errs at all, it’s usually on the side of caution, and that means the hunter’s chance of success is near zero. Here are 8 trail camera tips that’ll help you on your quest for trophy bucks.
TIP NO. 1: BE DISCREET
The most detrimental aspect of a trail camera is overuse. A new unit in the hands of a first-timer is like a toy. The owner can’t wait to see results from day to day. This allows deer to program the camera owner’s activity more than vice versa.
Daily intrusion into the woods or along a field edge tells whitetails more about camera owners than those hunters will ever learn about their quarry through photos.
A camera is best placed in a transitional area where it’s easy to enter and exit without being detected. Avoid inspecting the unit for at least a week or more. Do not leave telltale human odor by touching the housing or mounting components with bare hands. A scent-blocking spray should be used on the unit and mount to inhibit foreign odors.
TIP NO. 2: MOUNT YOUR CAMERA HIGHER
Since the conception and subsequent heavy usage of trail cameras, there has been overwhelming proof that a flash will spook some deer from the immediate area. So what about the latest claims by manufacturers that infrared flash won’t spook game. Are they legitimate?
More than half of the photos I’ve taken with infrared flash indicate that the subject deer knew the exact location of the camera when the infrared flash triggered. These photos often demonstrate deer movement perpendicular to the camera, yet the deer’s head is almost always turned looking at the unit.
A whitetail likely first notices the passive infrared heat sensor beam and instantly turns its head toward the camera in time for the infrared flash. Though most professional trail camera users agree that infrared flash is better, they also concur that it still spooks some deer.
Seasoned trail camera user Terry Tank of Glenwood, Minnesota, was one of the first ever to address a solution for the flash problem. Terry began mounting cameras several feet above the sight plane of whitetails immediately after being temporarily blinded by his own camera. He found that this reduced the chances of deer spotting the origin of the flash or being blinded by it.
The higher mounting also prevents deer from smelling a unit at close quarters. He eventually invented the Trail-Pod, which is now marketed through many sporting goods outlets.
The Trail-Pod TM-100 tree mount model allows easy placement of any trail camera in less than a couple of minutes. Its removable universal mounting plate is fitted with a quick-detach lock for ease of camera access. The Trail-Pod has a camera-style ball head for adjusting the unit’s aim. Terry also markets the TLP-200 and Deluxe Camo TLP-300 tripod mount. These units can be placed in areas with no trees and without the noise of tamping a mounting post in the ground.
TIP NO. 3: MOUNT YOUR CAMERA FARTHER AWAY
Why do I get more deer hindquarters than heads? is an often asked question by new camera owners. Most current units offer motion detection and passive infrared heat sensing. Both must trigger to record an event or photo. This ensures that each snapshot contains a warm-blooded animal on the move.
When a less expensive unit is triggered, its camera is slower to power up, focus and record the photo. A five-second or more delay is possible on some economy models. If this is your problem, set the camera farther from the trail or at a 45-degree angle from deer travel. This allows a wider photo cone.
TIP NO. 4: CREATE A BEDDING AREA NEAR A FOOD SOURCE
The shots I get of shooter bucks on my food plot are always after 10 p.m. Why? This is another quandary for many camera users. It’s usually a sign that mature bucks are traveling some distance to the camera site. They likely spend the day in a less pressured area or where there’s more protected daytime bedding.
Creating a better bedding area near the food source will encourage bucks to bed closer and show up shortly before or after dusk. Your odds of harvesting them during hunting season will increase dramatically.
TIP NO. 5: FIND A BUCK’S HIDEOUT, BUT BE CAUTIOUS
My food plot photos show only does, fawns and small bucks. Why am I not getting photos of mature bucks in the area? Does need nutritious food in large quantity to stay healthy and produce milk for fawns. Older fawns and yearlings also need protein-rich food for growth. Though mature bucks need protein for maintaining muscle mass and minerals for antler growth, they often bachelor up in remote areas where food is adequate and human intrusion is less.
According to most studies on deer movement, mature bucks seldom move outside 55 acres during summer months. If you find that sweet spot, don’t overburden it with cameras and human scent, but by all means have some cameras in the area.
TIP NO. 6: PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY
As with tree stands, theft is a major concern for camera owners. The loss of a $100 to $800 unit can be maddening and heart-wrenching. Here’s a solution that often prevents thievery. Post your property with signs that read: No Trespassing — This Property Has Video Surveillance On Its Borders — All Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted! The simple threat of having their photo taken causes thieves to think twice about crossing a property line.
TIP NO. 7: BE CAREFUL ABOUT CAMERA PLACEMENT AT RUBS AND SCRAPES
New trail camera owners are quick to place units over scrapes and rubs. This is OK if the flash is disabled and the camera isn’t checked more than once a week. Most mature bucks in pre-rut, however, freshen their scrapes after sundown. The wisest placement of a camera is 30 to 50 yards from the scrape on an incoming or outgoing pathway. This prevents excessive flash at the scrape or rub site and gives the camera user a better idea of the direction a buck is traveling.
TIP NO. 8: BUILD IT YOURSELF
Those who are electronically inclined can build a trail camera for half-price. Several Web sites sell the components, and other Web sites detail the how-to of assembling a high-quality unit. My nephew, Jake Davenport, began building all of his cameras after becoming disgruntled with $400 units that failed within the first month of use.
WHAT’S IN THE FUTURE?
Top-end trail cameras now offer the recording of time, temperature and moon phase with each photo. Barometer reading will soon be the next option. Remote units linked to cellular phones or computers are now available, but prices are quite high. Within a short time, however, trail camera users will be offered the affordable ability to set the camera and read its photos from afar. It likely will cost no more than a new compound bow.
Although the Boone and Crockett Club will recognize entries previously caught on removable trail camera film or memory card, the club has taken a stand against remote cameras viewed off location. This is seen as a deterrent to fair chase. One can only imagine a hunter sitting in a blind with a laptop or cell phone watching for more desirable deer activity at a second or third stand site. Some states already have laws in place disallowing this, but others will need to clarify current statutes detailing the “taking of wildlife with electronic devices.”
It seems there is no end to the devices man will invent to get the edge on mature whitetail bucks. Hunters rarely give this elusive animal enough credit for its innate ability to shun predators. The more we pressure them, the more they learn to avoid us. Rattling is a good example. In my area of west-central Illinois, it’s almost a given that rattling will forewarn older bucks of your presence.
Once archery season begins in October, it’s rare to see even a 4 1/2-year-old-plus buck during daylight hours. And though trail cameras have helped many users plan an effective ambush, they certainly can create a negative effect for hunters who refuse to pay careful attention to detail.
One thing is certain, though: It’s much less stressful sitting in a tree stand on a cold, windy, rainy day during the rut knowing you’ve got a trail camera photo of the buck of a lifetime!