3 Year Trail Cam Strategy For Hunting Mature Bucks in Any Terrain

By: Beau Martonik

There’s not many things that get me as excited as scouting a new hunting area for chasing whitetails.

There’s just something about the unknowns of new territory and heightened senses for paying attention to sign like no other.

Whenever I hunt the same area year after year, it becomes slightly stale to me and I feel as if I get lazy. I tend to get complacent and hunt areas based on past experiences, and although that can be really helpful - it can also hurt you. With that being said, I look at new areas from a 3-year strategy.

You can be successful the first time into any spot, but to really learn and understand an area, I believe it takes at least 3 years. I use trail cameras to keep track of the deer movement in new areas year-round.

Springtime is my favorite season to scout new areas due to being able to see the sign from the previous fall season. Scrapes, rubs, and beds are easily visible during this time and allow you to paint a picture in your mind of what may have happened there last October.

Since time is valuable to all of us and we can’t always revisit an area until it’s time to hunt it after the initial scout, I always carry trail cameras with me.

I think it’s safe to assume that most of us are using our vacation time from work to hunt in and around the rut, right? Well, because of this, I am leaving my cameras in places with hopes of getting photos in October/November. By positioning my cameras on scrapes and trail crossings, I have the best odds of seeing what is there throughout the fall.

In addition to utilizing scrapes and trail crossings, I’m hanging cameras on different elevation levels and terrain features to ensure I’m covering as much as possible. In some mountainous regions of the Appalachian range, the deer will move at different elevations depending on the food at that time of the year.

If you get a bad acorn crop on the tops, but the middle to lower elevations are loaded with them, your camera on the scrape near the top of the ridge won’t do you any good. I like to have at least one camera on the top of the hill, one towards the upper third on a bench or sidehill trail, one towards the bottom third and one in the creek bottom on a crossing or community scrape.

This strategy of spreading out my cameras isn’t necessarily going to help you pattern a specific deer but will help you understand how deer are using the terrain and specific elevations.

Some of the areas I am scouting, I plan to hunt this year and others are for the future. The cameras I’m setting up can help with the current season but are mostly to learn for the following years. In the big woods, bucks will often visit the same areas year after year and some scrapes get hot near the same time. I take all of my daylight photos from an area and log the date, time, wind direction and temperature along with the location in a spreadsheet.

Using Weather Underground, I can pull up historical weather data to fill in this information and begin looking for trends. I do this for specific bucks as well as specific areas. After the first year of data, I can usually start to see a trend for which general areas and cameras performed the best.

This is when I adapt for year two and start to better hone in on those areas that showed more movement or a better caliber buck. I will add more cameras to those areas and try to furthermore narrow in how the deer are using these areas. Basically, I’m starting out with cameras spread out and then refine as I go. 

Once again, I take that data and add it into the spreadsheet looking for trends and also adding in notes from firsthand experience hunting the area.

By year three, I have enough data and experience to feel pretty good about hunting the area and understanding the deer movement. Whitetails in the big woods are some of the toughest to “pattern” in my opinion, but even with that being said, you can still learn a lot of valuable information from using trail cameras.

If your scouting and trail camera strategy is purposeful and efficient, in three years you can be successful for years to come inputting your tag on an old mountain buck.