Using Trail Cameras to Scout the “Off-Season”

Let your trail cameras do the scouting for you during this off-season, to increase your chances this fall.

ByCole Mountain Seitzinger

As another deer season comes to an end, we ask ourselves do we really even have an off-season? For many hunters, deer season rolls right into shed season, then comes turkey season, and with no break at all we find ourselves drooling over summer velvet pictures. Before we know it, it is opening day of deer season all over again! Off-season too many really means it is the best time to scout so that you are more prepared for the next season. There is no better way to scout and be prepared then keeping your trail cameras running 365 days a year doing the work for you.

Winter Off-Season

 Let’s start when deer season ends. If they aren't there already, this is the time to move your cameras to the nearest food source. There is no better place than placing cameras on the primary food to take inventory for what made it through the hunting season. You will want to be careful not to place the cameras too low or too close to the food source. If you haven't been running a camera there all year, you stand a good chance at spooking deer, if your camera setup isn’t done properly. This could add stress to the animals. In winter,  the last thing you want is to scare the deer off of your property. Be cautious with your camera placement so they can do the work without affecting the deer movement. If any big buck are hanging around the area chances are you will locate them. Being able to follow them through the lens of your trail cameras will help you with finding sheds too. Running a camera over food sources goes for the entire off-season as well, not just winter, but spring, summer, and fall too. Anytime you can zone in on the primary food for the deer you better your odds of finding buck in the area. It is even more successful in winter because those buck are looking for food. They need to replenish so they can recover from the rut and survive the possible harsh winter conditions ahead. You will benefit greatly from this because it will be easy to locate them and you will get a good idea what will be around next season! 


Putting the puzzle together.

Placing your trail cameras on fields, oak flats, fruit trees, or even over minerals and feed give you the best chance at locating a buck using the property. Now that you located the buck of your dreams and he has survived the season, you can use the cameras to pin point the trails he is using. Pinch points, funnels, fence crossings, and food to bedding trails are all great travel routes to setup a trail camera. These places give you a better chance at getting a picture of the buck on his natural travel pattern. Don’t be afraid to move them around until you find consistency or pattern to the deer movement. These spots will be key in scouting the buck movement all the way up to the start of the season. Pay attention to more than just the size of his rack once you get a picture. Document the time, weather conditions, wind direction, and also the direction the deer is coming from and going toward. Use this information to give you an idea where the buck is bedding. Think about why he is in that area and under what conditions he is using the area. This is important to continue to follow as the seasons change because the deer patterns will also change. Winter bedding/feeding areas will differ from summer and fall. The more information you gain from using your cameras to scout the more pieces of the puzzle you can put together to be successful.


Be one step ahead.

It is okay to have some fun with your cameras. Creative placement will add to the enjoyment of running cameras and sharing pictures. We all know getting awesome velvet pictures is fun, heck, getting buck pictures anytime is fun. Remember, if you truly want to use the camera as a scouting tool, it is more than just getting good pictures. Stay focused on the end goal. You want to be able to outsmart the deer on your property. If you can’t do this consistently with a trail camera, than imagine how difficult it could be to do while you are hunting them. You have to set it up for success and you have to take in all the information the pictures are giving you, which most people will overlook. Every year, hunters spend all summer excited about the buck they had coming in consistently on camera. Then every year hunters all over are left scratching their heads wondering where they all went. Shortly after the velvet sheds, buck tend to split up and relocate. Some move miles away, some stay close. You need to be prepared for this and have the upper hand when the time comes. Focus in on previous years. Remember those hot scrape areas and rub lines that you know appear every fall. Get the cameras in early so you know right away when a buck relocates to those places. Deer will visit scrapes all year round. Don't be afraid to put your cameras on scrapes as early as summer time and leave them there through winter. Finding them in summer bachelor groups is one thing, but using your camera to re-locate them just before the season opens, takes some work. Be persistent with it, you will be glad you did when you finally climb in the tree to hunt!

Be cautious, not reckless.

 Make sure you continue to be smart with camera placement, the closer you get to the upcoming season the less time the deer will have to recover if it has spooked them from the area. Put the cameras in easy to check locations. You are using it to do the scouting for you but don’t want it to ruin your property and chase the deer off by being intrusive. You do not want the deer to know you were there every time you go in to check cameras. Be scent free, be mindful of the time of day you are checking them and also the number of times you are checking them. Less is more when it comes to most trail camera set-ups. Less penetration on bedding areas, less distance from a vehicle, and the least amount of scent left as possible. All this leads to more pictures of the deer you want to be seeing. More pictures mean more information for you to use next fall. Read more about that here Checking Trail Cameras Effectively.

Trail cameras are the number one scouting tool in the hunting world today. All the information here can be used no matter what goals you have for hunting whitetails or any game you are after. It is about being prepared and knowing the game you will be hunting. The off-season is the perfect time to prepare for those goals and utilize your scouting cameras to the maximum capabilities. Get a jump start on your season starting in the “off-season”.

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