Trail Cam Strategy: 5 Tips for Active Cameras


It's getting close to the time of the season that's near and dear to most of us. There is a reason this upcoming part of the season has been labeled "rutcation." But you're probably still hunting evening acorn patterns, so when does that off-switch happen?

About this time of the bow season, you'll probably run into the mid-season hunter who wishes it was November. It will be the early 20-year-old diehard with their giant set of rattling antlers and grunt tube hanging from their pack. They will tell you about the spike chasing a doe across the street from their town-home last evening, thinking "the rut was on."

The average evening shift is in the making, and often it's a slow start. You've probably noticed a few trail cams that have been streaky. Delay thinking ahead to where you'll move that cam. Sometimes those inconsistent cameras will reveal a sneak peek into important intel.

If a player in your fantasy sports league hits a hot streak, catching that streak could mean a few wins for the person who picked him. Streaky cameras are the same, so don't be quick to put them on the bench. It's time to lace up your boots and hunt when the cameras point to the heat!

No Bucks?

When your camera has only sent a few hard-horned pictures, it doesn't mean you should ignore that cam. Bucks don't get old by walking in front of trail cameras. If you don't hide that camera well enough, a previously spooked buck needs a good reason to walk past that camera a second time. The reason could be to fight another buck, or maybe there's a pile of acorns that is too much to resist.


Tap into the picture. Is the buck looking right at the camera? Does his white tail warning or stiff-legged walk mean he heard something alarming? Body language gives away many details that are easier to read in video mode. Use the option when you have it.

What are the Landscape Clues?

Trail cams placed in thick funnels of cover are prone to daily pictures, and the cover doesn't always have to be thick to hide a buck. Open areas with heavy deer sign often mean night activity, but not always. Folded, steep terrain void of dense cover is preferred by plenty of bucks.


Hunting a buck that prefers open terrain is far more challenging than a buck with narrowed movements. If your camera only catches bucks in open terrain now and then, you should wait to rule it out. Open ground can still be a good area if they have a reason to travel there. One of my grandfather's favorite phrases was, "There's more room around them than there is on them." Bucks in open terrain can easily pass out of reach or behind a camera or might be out of range by a few feet.

Do Pictures Relate to Weather?

Often streaky spots depend on the weather. Keeping track of trends or looking back to match weather records to a picture can help determine what brings a buck to that spot. Some places see action after severe fronts like thunderstorms or heavy rain. Or they may need a certain wind to make travel safe.


Pay close attention to get ahead when you're getting weather pattern bucks. Don't wait for your cell cam to send you a picture. That spot is worth the hunt if the right weather conditions are coming.

When to Hunt a Streaky Site?

To up the odds of a successful streaky camera hunt, consider the idea that the first sit is the best. If you get the weather right, the terrain is solid, and you know big bucks live there, what should guide your hunting decision? How will you know the timing of the hot streak?


Above, I wrote a little about the pre-rut. This is one of the last elements to help determine when to sit a streaky camera. Let's say a doe walks by your camera. Not long after she passes, you get pictures of a few bucks or one buck with his nose to the ground. Maybe you'll get real confirmation of a buck with nose to butt or lip curling the air with a doe in the picture.

That hot streak will give you the highest odds you can get. When a buck shows up at 6 pm trailing a doe, it's time to hunt that camera. A doe that comes into estrous in the last half of October is valuable to your pre-rut hunts.

Passing Thoughts

As public land goes, if you're always afraid of what you have to lose, you'll never gain much. Hunting a streaky camera at the wrong time might ruin a spot. But you'll only know once you go there and try it. In the whitetail woods, history often repeats itself in some form. If you mess up a hot streak during year one, there will be a few good years to follow.

Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Blackhats Team Member