Making Sense of In Season Trail Camera Data

Using Most Recent Information To Fill A Tag

By Alex Comstock

As I look out the window of my office, I can see the snow blowing and can envision the biting wind seemingly cutting through my skin. The thought of snow, cold, and wind doesn’t really make me want to go outside at all. But it doesn’t take long for my mind to drift to big bucks, and then I remember that the colder and more miserable the weather is, the better my chances are at harvesting a mature buck during the late season. And there’s one tool that I find invaluable during late season hunting and that’s trail cameras. Late season is in my opinion, the best time of year to use in season trail camera data and most recent information to fill a tag.

What makes the late season so unique compared to the rest of the year is that it is dictated by food. Period. Deer will travel miles in some cases (I’ve documented 10+) to find the best food in an area.  If a buck shows up in your hunting area, odds are it’s for good reason and he’s probably going to stick around for a while, at least as long as whatever food source he’s using stays in supply. I love to use trail cameras to not only identify what bucks are in my hunting area, but I’ll use the information I collect from them to determine where and when to hunt as well.

By the time this article has gone live, I’ll most likely just be getting some trail cameras placed a new piece of public land in Wisconsin. There is a good food source on the neighboring private property, but my guess is that mature bucks will be hanging back in a small staging field on the public before entering the food source on the private. What I will be doing is hanging a few different trail cameras on trails leading to the private food, looking to identify what bucks are using the area.

Once I identify the bucks, I’ll then look at the information they present me. Are any of the bucks showing up in daylight? When it comes to late season hunting, if you get a mature buck to show up in daylight, you need to hunt him the next time you have the right conditions. What was the wind when he showed up in daylight? Temperature? These things are the most important to me.

If a buck hasn’t showed up in daylight, but it’s on the fringe, I’ll use that most recent information and hunt the next cold front that I get. During December and January, I find that camera photos of bucks showing up just after daylight important because I know the next frigid cold front or harsh weather, that buck will inevitably be moving earlier to get to his food source.

What can get you in trouble when it comes to making sense of this in season trail camera data is when you have consistent photos of a mature buck during the middle of the night. Not to say he couldn’t randomly show up during legal shooting hours, but I don’t put nearly as much stock into this. Odds are he’s using a different food source near legal shooting hours and is either using your food source as his night time feeding area or is passing through your property on his way to his night time feeding area.

Continue To Monitor Your Trail Cameras


As I touched on it earlier, bucks will travel long distances to find the best food. But if their go-to food source starts to dissipate, they’ll move to the next one. Your hunting property might be that “next” food source, or it might be that bedding near their next food source. If you get trail cameras out this time of year and don’t initially have a shooter on camera, continue to monitor them often. Just because a buck isn’t there now, doesn’t mean he can’t be next week or the week after. If you wait too long to check your trail camera, you might miss out on an opportunity to hunt a buck. Once one shows up, then it’s time to act. 


Trail cameras are such an important tool for my late season hunting efforts. I run as many as I can and check them fairly often (weekly). During earlier parts of the season, I’m not a huge advocate of checking cameras that often, but there isn’t a better time of year to hunt right now based off recent trail camera information. Once you have a shooter buck showing up during or near legal shooting hours, it’s time to make your game plan.


featured image via @FlatlineWhitetails