For years we've talked about the power of annual trail camera data and how deadly it can be when properly used. We don't claim to be the first to talk on this subject, several industry professionals have been writing and speaking on historical data long before Exodus was a company. The first we can think of is Don Higgins in a North American Whitetail article. With that said, I do believe we are the first to talk about historical data usage in conjunction with freshly planted cell cameras. It turns out it's a deadly combo!
Year over year whitetails will often hold true to the same pattern within a few days (assuming outside influence, habitat/pressure/etc, remain constant). We've seen it play out time and time again. The challenge is that, the pattern may only provide a couple day window to act. Imagine if you could know exactly when that window of opportunity kicks off! With standard sd card cameras, it's often too late to make a move in season but cellular trail cameras change that!
STEP 1: COLLECT ANNUAL DATA
This is where the front end work MUST be done, having solid historical data is key to this strategy. Without it you're simply looking at most recent information which is always something of the past. Even if you're running cell cameras exclusively, the photo or video sent to your phone is just a specific moment in past time. The endgame is be one step ahead, not one step behind.
Collecting good accurate annual data comes with one caveat... You have to take a long term approach with your trail cameras. Set them and be disciplined enough to stay away from them so there's zero human influence on the data being collected. Annual data from trail cameras comes in two basic verticals. It's either based on a specific animal or a time period on a specific parcel.
Annual data on a specific animal is all about patterning and attempting to find that one chink in a buck's armor. Some basic questions you may try to answer are:
What parcel is that buck calling home?
On what winds does he like to show himself on your food source?
What food source does he prefer and at what time of the year?
Where does he bed when he's not on you?
Are there any tendencies that make him vulnerable throughout the season?
Does the buck have an aggressive demeanor or is he more passive submissive?
Annual data for a specific parcel is much more simple. Letting your cameras soak in long term sets, UNDISTURBED, is crucial. If you are not able to commit cameras to an area for an entire season then this is not a strategy for you. The basic concept is to understand what windows of opportunity are going to provide you with the highest odds of killing throughout the hunting season. More often then not these windows are going to revolve around 3 things.... breeding, food, and sometimes security. Ground breaking news, right? Below are some questions that will help contextualize your trail camera information.
When are bucks seeking does on your property?
When is daylight scraping activity highest on the parcel?
When are food sources most attractive on your parcel?
When does neighboring hunting pressure influence movement on your parcel?
Does weather impact bedding opportunities on your parcel?
STEP 2: HAVE YOUR CELL CAMERAS IN PLACE
Now it's time to have some fun and reap the rewards of the previous years' front end work. Knowing the key information about your target buck or your parcel, this step is all about not screwing it up.
In locations where you previously had standard sd card cameras where they provided solid annual intel, now place your cell cameras. The key here is to have your cell cameras in these locations BEFORE your window of opportunity. How long before is the question. Only you know the circumstances and variables, so only you can accurately know when to get your cell cameras out. The general rule of thumb we talk about here is having those cell cameras in place no less than 2 weeks before your window. 2 weeks give ample time for the location to recover from any human pressure and intrusion. We've had success with putting cell cameras out just 48 hours before but those scenarios were based around the rut. Again, every scenario is a little bit different and only you will know what you can get away with.
STEP 3: BE READY TO ACT
There's an untold step to all of this. Have your locations ready to hunt. Whatever that means to you, be ready. Some guys only hang and bang; others only hunt prehung sets for specific winds. Where ever you fall, have your ducks in a row and be ready to act.
The moment you get receive the first photo or video from the cell camera location, it's time to go! There's a saying about the obvious..."Here's your sign". Well, here's your sign to go hunt.
A lot of folks are rushing into cellular trail cameras and not harnessing their full power. It's almost like people use them for the dopamine drop from every picture and knowing when and where deer are in relatively real time. My advice to you is, get over the novelty of getting photos sent to your phone and get geared into the mindset of harnessing their power as tools.