Every year, I hang a few cameras in new spots hoping to get that giant buck I missed last year. Sometimes it pays off, and other times the day throws dirt in my face with an SD card full of false triggers and fawns.
You need a plan if you want to breeze through your cam hangs and pull cards full of great bucks. Hanging trail cams in known areas is easier than hanging them in new places. In a new area, you may wonder about a pounded trail, hang a camera, only to find that it's a mountain bike path.
Be consistent with your sets to get consistent pictures on every trail cam. If you can do that in a known location, you can replicate it in a new one too. It's all about knowing what consistent features deer will always use. Plan to use these five features when looking for action on your next card pull!
Crossings are one of the places you might run into other hunter's cams often. They are such a good pinch and funnel deer consistently. But they aren't all the same!
For a creek crossing cam set, you must verify it's a deer crossing. The ground is often soft around a creek's edges, and even small animals can make it appear that deer consistently use it. Runoff drainage can also make a false trail, so you'll need to investigate.
Before you hang that cam, stop and think! Is there a reason for a deer to cross there? Is there something deer are traveling from and going to, like a bed to food pattern? Is there enough cover at that crossing for a mature buck to feel invincible?
Lastly, check the physical sign! A consistent deer crossing will be peppered with tracks, not one or two. If you can make out any big tracks, that will give you info on a large age class of deer. Any rubs in or around the crossing will also help determine if a buck uses that pinch.
These edges are a great place for cameras but only sometimes a good place for a hunt. But when you can find a hard edge with light hunting pressure, it is where you want to be!
Hard edges make sense for any whitetail. I'm going to call them the mullet of the woods. Business in the front, party in the back! Think of a hard woods edge that backs up to a thick, seven year old clear cut. Deer come out to feed on acorns or a concentrated food source. But the real party happens in the cut. They do everything in there, from bedding, feeding, chasing, and browsing, to full out brawling.
For a camera set, you'll need two or three cameras to capture where you want to hunt relating to a hard edge. For a three camera set: put one on a trail that goes in and out of thick cover, and the other two place twenty to thirty yards on the edge to the right and left of that entry point. The less the hunting pressure, the better the actual edge for an ambush. If you only have one or two cameras to hang, choose the sign in the area of most frequent use. The junction of an entrance or exit trail is a good bet!
Scrapes, scrapes, scrapes! If you want inventory, this is where you will find it. Here is the problem, scrapes are often unpredictable. There is a time they will shine, but that will take a few years to figure out. They are perfect for pictures, but only a small fraction of those deer will be huntable if you use half your cams on scrapes. Build patterns off of that intel for the next few years. Enjoy the pictures in the meantime.
You will learn the time frame bucks use the scrape, how many other hunters are hunting the area, and if the scrape is a scrape that does visit as well. Without that info, hunting a scrape could be like playing the lottery.
Clear cuts are a top choice for big woods hunters. They have been gaining a lot of steam in the last couple of years and for good reason. Standing timber between a new cut is where you will get some of your best trail cam pictures. You may not have a reel full of giants, but you will definitely find one or two. Timber strips shine the most during a rut cruise. For more on clear cuts, listen to the podcast below!
Entrance and Exit Trails
This is the peek-a-boo set. Similar to the entry and exit for a hardwoods edge, these trails can relate to many property features. They could come in and out of fields or the bottom of a thick draw; use your scouting skills to determine. In most cases, if you want pictures of that buck playing hard to get, set your camera to capture his face when he sticks out his nose. That may be all you get, but remember; one picture is luck, two you might be on to something, three you've found a pattern. Time to get hunting!
Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hats Team Member