By: Clint Campbell
As summer presses toward fall, you’ll catch many a whitetail addict daydreaming of velvet bucks and trail camera card pulls filled with the boys of summer (not to be confused with the Don Henley song--we’re talking bachelor groups!) The excitement and anticipation of the upcoming fall is palpable this time of year as we all still have hope that our #1 buck made it through last year unscathed. And if we play our SD cards right, we may catch a glimpse of him in velvet--and the game is on! Here are a few summer trail camera strategies I find helpful to inventory the summer talent on the private and public parcels I hunt.
1. Mineral Sites
Old faithful. One of the best ways to capture the inventory of the bucks summering on a property is the to use mineral sites or mineral stations. Mineral sites are nearly irresistible to deer this time of year. Deer seek out mineral sites predominantly for their high salt content. During the spring and summer, deer are operating at a sodium deficiency due to the high potassium and water content of the seasonal forage. Their biological need is our trail camera gain! Placement of a mineral site is still key for optimum traffic and image quality. Some great placement options are in high traffic areas near cover where deer will feel safe or near destination food sources. That said, be sure to check the DNR regulations for your area related to legal application or use of mineral sites for both private and public lands. Unfortunately, all of my private family property is in a zone where minerals sites are illegal and the public land I hunt does not allow the use of mineral either. If this sounds familiar don’t worry, there are a few other effective summer trail camera strategies you can use.
2. Crop Fields
Glassing crop fields is one of my favorite things to do on a warm summer night. But those fields aren’t only made for glassing. You can get some of your best buck inventory by placing cameras on destination food sources containing summer food. Whether we’re talking bachelor groups of mature bucks or an up and coming youngster traveling with a doe family, they’ll all eventually end up in a destination food source at some point in the evening. Soybeans this time of year are magic, however, this crop isn’t common where I live in Pennsylvania. I tend to place my cameras on alfalfa or clover fields. If I can, I’ll locate a licking branch that is being used year-round on a field edge and place my camera there. Not only does this increase the likelihood of deer traffic, but makes for some cool photos. If there is not an obvious licking branch, I’ll place my camera either at the point where deer are most likely to enter the field or I’ll position the camera in a way that I’m able to capture the widest view of the field setting it to run on time-lapse mode with the PIR on. This allows me to capture the usual triggered images from an animal passing in front of the camera, and take time-lapse video or pictures at every 30-minute interval regardless of whether the camera was triggered \by animal movement or not. This allows me to capture anything that may be too far away to trigger the camera, but still visible through the camera lens while capturing the usual images. Finally, when hanging your cameras, make sure they are not directly facing where the sun will rise or set. This of course coincides with the most crucial morning and evening times frames when the large majority of your images will be taken. Forgetting this tip could result in distorted images due to the sun’s position in relation to your camera.
3. Water Holes
You may be wondering why I’m suggesting water holes as a good location considering deer receive most of their water consumption through the forage they consume, particularly during this time of year when all the green food sources supply a higher water content and there is ample dew on the ground nearly every morning. That said if you live in a hotter and drier climate, or you're having abnormally hot or drought-like conditions in your area, you may be missing out on some great inventory and images supplied by water sources. The past two years have yielded significantly long, hot, dry spells during the summer which prompted me to hang cameras over water sources, and I was rewarded with some great photos. One photo was of a buck who never showed up on any other cameras last year except for the waterhole. Of course creeks or small natural water holes will do the trick. Even smaller mud puddles after rain in extremely dry situations can be effective. (I picked this little trick up from an old timer that would only get the mature buck he was after on camera getting a drink in a mud puddle right outside his bedding area deep in cover). These placements are a little trickier as finding deer sign during this time of year can be a challenge. Look for tracks or a depression on a creek bank or in and around the water source to help guide your camera placement. If there are no natural water sources on the property you’re hunting, creating a man-made waterhole can be a game changer in the right conditions (this is assuming you own the land or have permission from the landowner to make this habitat update). There are also some great resources online for making a quick, effective and properly placed waterhole that can yield some great trail camera results.
4. Insect Protection
The downside of summer deer work is…you guessed it…all the bugs. And I find few things more annoying than a colony of ants who decided to call my trail camera home. Not only do I despise the “ant surprise” awaiting me when I open the camera, but the possible damage is also irritating. Whether it’s the missed image opportunities or a ruined camera you can avoid both potential issues with a few easy steps. First, be sure you close up all the openings in your camera. The easiest point of entry is the audio port that you may leave open to capture audio when in video mode. I run most of my cams on video, but am willing to sacrifice the audio to keep the insect intrusion to a minimum. Additionally, adding just a pinch of granular ant repellant to the inside of the camera housing can prevent it from becoming a new ant-breeding ground. If all else fails, you can unleash the nuclear option. If ants have overtaken your camera, pull the SD card and batteries, thoroughly dry it, put it in a plastic bag and place it in the freezer. Good cameras are made to withstand freezing temperatures, ants are not.
5. Hang ‘Em High
No, I’m not referring the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, I’m talking about hanging elevated camera setups. I typically carry one climbing stick with me to hang all my cameras between eight to ten feet off the ground. However, positioning the angle of the camera on the tree is critical to making sure the area which you’d like to capture images is within the frame of the camera. Using a camera like the Exodus LIFT II with a viewfinder is key to ensuring your images will be framed correctly. Hanging elevated camera setups achieves two things. It deters theft, as it will take a little more effort for someone to snag your camera. But more importantly, it prevents the deer from noticing them. Young deer may pay no attention to cameras set at their eye level, however, it’s a different story with more mature deer.
Here’s to big velvet bucks and SD cards full of hope and optimism for this year. Best of luck this year and shoot straight!