6 Early Season Trail Camera Strategies to Improve Your Hunting Success
Six sure-fire tips for running trail cameras in the early season for deer hunting.
For those of us who are consumed by deer, the cliché saying of “the season never ends” often holds true. Off season scouting, prep, and planning certainly has its role but will never take the place of time in the stand. Summer and #velvetfest is approaching an end and archery season is now upon us! Your off season planning likely incorporated some type of trail camera strategy for each phase of season, or at least it should have. But if it didn’t it’s not too late to get started. Let’s dive into some early season trail camera tactics.
1. Using Data from Past Seasons
One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle that is overlooked with trail camera photos is historical data. More specifically, data from individual bucks that may be on your hit list this year but were not in years past. From running a large number of cameras over the past several seasons, we have seen year to year patterns take form. Many people talk about year-to-year buck patterns being similar inside a 7-day window revolving around the rut, which I personally believe to be true. In the early season, the fall shift also produces habitual patterns, bucks breaking apart from their bachelor groups and finding their fall range. More often than not year after year a buck’s fall range is the same when cover, food, and pressure are all similar to prior years. Whitetails can be creatures of habit, definitely so if they feel safe. Take advantage of habitual early season patterns by placing cameras in areas that have produced buck photos in recent years and let your trail cameras confirm a stand location for a harvest opportunity.
2. Food, Food, Food
Using trail cameras to pattern deer based on feeding patterns is nothing new, in the early season highly attractive evening destination food sources will be hot spots. With those evening destination food sources come the ability to pattern and ultimately achieve the goal of having an encounter.
You’ll want to start with a camera monitoring those evening destination food sources. Those sites might be a white oak flat in the big woods, row crops on ag ground, or food plots on a managed property. It’s very likely mature bucks won’t show to the party until after legal shooting light and that’s ok. If you can identify any direction of travel you will want to hang additional cameras in that direction to confirm his route and plan for your ambush.
3. Mock Scrapes
A great early season trail camera strategy can be the use of a mock scrape. Mock scrapes can be both an asset to inventory bucks and also a tool to position a stand location for the ideal shot if you’re getting daylight photos. A single mock scrape placed in route to or adjacent to food/water hole can provide some excellent data. For the specifics on how to properly create mock scrape areas, I would recommend reading info from Jeff Sturgis at Whitetail Habitat Solutions. Jeff is an industry wide respected whitetail habitat guru and offers a wealth of knowledge.
4. Water Holes
Water holes seem to be the latest craze in the whitetail habitat improvement world and for good reason. With typical warm early season temps water holes can be a dynamite location for trail cameras, especially if water is a limited commodity on the property. You will want to be sure your camera is setup in a location where not only it picks up any activity but also where it can be easily accessed without bumping deer.
5. Eliminate the Pressure
Most of us think about pressure being relatively low in the early season. Depending on the property, often times that is not the case. We as hunters can be procrastinators and with that comes all the last minute prep work that gets done in the days leading to the opener. While some folks may give deer to much credit for their smarts, other don’t give them any but one thing we all agree on is deer do not have the ability to think with reason. Pressure is pressure to mature deer and the large majority do not tolerate it. Every tactic mentioned here revolves around one thing, executing without adding pressure to your property and specifically your trail camera sites.
6. Strategic Placement
Camera placement for hunter access should be as carefully planned as stand positions. It doesn’t do any good to have deer on camera and then educate those deer forcing them to alter their pattern after we pull cards. Every camera should be checked at your discretion but a general rule of thumb can be a card pull every few weeks OR when a perfect opportunity presents itself. Rain events and storms offer that perfect opportunity. Any scent and/or impact you make while pulling cards or setting cams will quickly be washed away. So next time it’s drizzling skip the couch and hit the timber for a card pull.
With every new camera hung in the early season, comes a risk/reward ratio. Often new cameras hung after the opener can cause more harm than good, for two reasons. Many times these cameras are setup and checked inside a two-week window, adding significant pressure to the area. Secondly, the sudden change in surroundings can possibly tip off that mature deer. Anything out of place or new may be enough to cause a wise mature buck to skirt your camera or change his pattern altogether.
- Elevated sets (It get's cameras out of the line of sight of deer).
- Hanging cameras on larger diameter trees.
- Placing side cover around your camera to break up the outline of your camera.
No one here claims to be an expert or even a mature buck slayer. Being totally transparent, not a single target buck has fallen in the early season for the Exodus crew. But we have had encounters, which were a direct result of data gained from these trail camera strategies. With that said, every year our social feeds are filled with harvest photos of giants that fall in the early season. It happens to folks every year, so why not you?
still shots via Whitetail Habitat Solutions
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