Posted on Mar 12, 2017 by Matt Kline
Using Trail Cameras to Scout Big Woods Whitetails
A few years ago, a good friend of the Exodus team, and highly successful big woods/public land whitetail hunter told me "Mature big woods bucks simply aren't creatures of habit, they're more like nomadic wanderers... today they'll be here, tomorrow they'll be wherever the wind takes them." After hunting them almost exclusively the last 10 years, I'd have to agree, for the most part.
Today we're talking about a big part of scouting these ghosts, trail cameras, naturally! Here are a few strategies and tips our team has collected over the past few years, hopefully they'll help you in your quest this year!
1. Start As Early As Possible
One of the biggest things that we have learned about big woods whitetails is that they're all different! That's why we try and get our cameras out as early in the year as possible. If we can start finding mature deer as soon as bases start sprouting, we have a much better chance at keeping tabs on them once velvet sheds. Most deer we hunt in the big woods will relocate once summer food sources start "drying up", but there is usually one home body that will stay close by and allow us an early season ambush opportunity. Even if the deer you find in the summer do relocate, we typically find them a lot easier by just knowing that they exist and aren't more than a mile or two away.
2. Adapt to Change
Once velvet sheds and acorns start falling, don't make the mistake of sitting idly by. Too many years we have left cameras in place, waiting on the rut to bring big deer back into the neighborhood. If you find your mature buck pics start drying up in a certain area, pull the camera and get it over fresh sign immediately. Key spots to look for in early-mid September are acorn flats on top of ridges or benches, secluded water, and anywhere you find a fresh rub line leading to or from cover are prime areas.
3. Stay Active in October
Unless you're already dialed in on a good deer, keep moving cameras around in early October until you are. When you start getting regular pictures of a good buck, it will typically be on the fringe of dark. When you see this kind of activity, wait for a good cold front on the back half of the month and go in for the finish! Consistent behavior is pretty rare in big woods deer... So if you're still scrambling to find a good deer come late October, don't fret, some of the best big woods trail cam action comes from main scrape areas the last week of October. Stay active in your scouting, and when you see scrapes open up, go all in and put as many cameras on them as possible.
4. Ride It Out In the Rut
Cell cameras become a huge tool in November. Simply put, if you're checking cameras weekly this time of the year, you're probably going to miss out on something. Does are coming into heat and going out in a matter of 24 hours, and when you rely on a 5 day old picture of the buck you're after you could be sitting waiting for some time. If you run cell cameras and see a buck moving in doe bedding areas, get in there ASAP because he may not be there long. On the other hand, if you don't have access to cell cams, look for your bedding cover spots where you have a lot of doe family group pictures and ride it out for as long as possible.
5. Late Season Tactics
When late season rolls around, start getting cameras back into those open food sources along clear cuts and timber management areas. If you can find one on a South facing slope, even better. A great tactic is to wait until a light snow fall and scout these areas, the tracks will tell you where to hang your cameras.
6. Next Year Even Better
Don't have cell cameras but want to capitalize on those rare daylight sightings you weren't around for this year? One of the biggest things that we've learned in our years of big woods whitetail hunting is that individual does come into heat very consistently from year to year. Once a buck is successful in breeding a doe, he remembers... and you can bet that next year around the same time he'll be looking for love in the same old places. We have seen this time and time again on our trail camera data, so much that with certain deer we have hunts planned out around a 3 day window of when they were on camera the previous years.
There's only one disclaimer to this rule/strategy... If the deer is dead, he won't be coming back... And sometimes you just don't know if he made it!
Hunting mature big woods whitetails is one of the hardest bowhunting challenges in the world. There's a reason why every hunting show on television is based in the midwest. But if you're willing to put in the work and put trail cameras to work for you, it can be highly rewarding and a heck of a lot of fun when it all comes together! We hope you enjoyed and wish you the best in your pursuits this year!