Trail cameras are a valued tool in the modern deer hunter's arsenal. But if you're not careful and rely on cameras too much, they will become your crutch.
If you're looking for ways to make your cameras work for you rather than the other way around, you've come to the right place. At Exodus, we know that trail cameras are a tool that can make you a better hunter when used the right way!
Using trail cams can have the addicting feel of Christmas morning. Checking a full SD card is exciting and can make you do dumb stuff! It's important to stay disciplined when you know the right answer. To learn how to use trail cams as a tool, check out the rest of this post!
Choose a Core
One here, one way over there; that might work if you're established in the area that you're hunting. But when you've stumbled on a gem of a spot during your post season scouting, you might want to consider making it a core area for your cameras this fall.
A core area of cameras can be something other than your core area for hunting. It would be best to remember that hunting is a continual investment of time. Cameras can help you pay it forward by keeping you one year ahead of a plan.
Use one or two cams in the areas you know well but still want to know what's lurking around. Increase the number of cams you use for the spots you know little to nothing about. Place those cameras in locations deer have to use, like a creek crossing or a narrowing stretch of timber. As you learn more about the area, you will be free to find those micro spots that give you a 15-yard, double lung shot.
A recent blog post from Chad Sylvester highlights how often you should check your cameras. When you're a trail cam user, you absolutely have to think about the impact you're having on any given hunting zone. Your focus is a successful hunt over pictures of the giant buck you hoped to encounter. If you overlook the impact during camera work, it's like trying to drill a hole with a bent drill bit.
Checking a trail cam every four weeks is usual for many hunters. But if you're a public land hunter, you first need to understand the hunting pressure in the area. If you have 20 other hunters with trail cams near your own, and those hunters are checking cams spread through an entire week, that's a lot of reasons for a buck to find a new home. The tricky thing about public land is there is no sign in sheet! You'll need to do the leg work or understand the hunter density in your area.
Stay out of the woods as long as possible unless you have a good reason to check or retrieve a cam. Use a cell cam in the center of your core cams to get tidbits of intel to help you hunt later.
With minimal impact and a clustered core of cameras, you can now unravel the fall. Go through your pictures and take notes. Write down good weather patterns, note when other hunters were in the area, what pattern deer were relating to, and what type of food they were after. Key dates can be good for specific deer, so if a big buck shows up on a scrape on October 14th, he will likely be there again on or around that date. But typically, there is a reason for the date pattern, and he won't be the only deer in the area following the calendar.
If October 22nd was a good day (hint: it always is), it will probably be close to the same the following year with a similar weather pattern. Plus or minus a day or two, historical dates rule.
What You Don't Know
What you don't know won't kill you. Or will it? If you live and die only by what you collect on trail cams, you'll miss a lot of what goes on in the woods. There's more room around them than there is on them when you're talking about the size of a deer. Your trail cam is fully reliant on a deer walking inside a sensor. Sometimes that means if you have faith in an area, you have a gut feeling it's the spot of spots; you just need to hunt it. Even if that means you didn't get pictures of big bucks.
In any setting, be it farm country, prairie, or big woods, a deer can and will be missed by trail cams. Hunt the areas your woodsmanship tells you will be good, and make the cam adjustments the next time.
Catch a Shift
A shift might be the velvet to hard horned disaster that happens to all hunters every fall. It could also be the shift in food sources, like if a farmer cuts a crop or all the white oak acorns are gone.
Know the shifts in your neck of the woods and when they will occur. Move your cameras to catch the change. Remember, keep your impact low!
Make the Connection
In contrast to a core area, making a connection is how you keep contact with an established hunting location. Keeping one or two cameras in an established spot can tell you when the area is starting to get hot. It can reveal when buck movement is edging towards daylight hours and maybe if does are starting to come into heat.
The spot on the spot is what you want. Usually, that means you've killed a deer there, or it could be that's where you've got the most, and best, trail cam pictures in the past.
Always add to what you've already learned, and always give time to learning something new.
Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hats Team Member