What do nocturnal trail camera pictures mean?

Only getting night pictures with your trail camera, here's what it could mean. 

By Dan Johnson 

As you all know, running trail cameras throughout the year can help you gather information about the deer herd on the properties you hunt. What the population is like, the buck to doe ratio, age class, and travel patterns just to name a few. They can show us antler growth during the summer months as well as what bucks are still in the area after the September transition. Then, when the hunting season actually starts, those same cameras become a 24-hour scouting tool to show you what your target bucks are doing as the rut starts rolling. And that my friend is what I want to talk about…

Like most of you, I love checking my cameras, and like most of you I get really excited when I get a picture of a big buck. It solidifies that there is a shooter in the areas and that I need to be paying attention to that part of the property when it comes to hunting strategy. But, what if that picture was taken in the middle of the night before or after shooting light?

Here’s what I do…

The first thing I do when I get a nocturnal buck showing up on camera is go in to “observation mode” and I ask myself “what is that picture telling me?”. I look for things like, direction of travel, wind direction, terrain features that he may be using to access that area. I then pull up a map of the area to see where he is coming from or where he might be heading. I do this to hopefully find his bed to feed travel pattern if is during he early season, or find his daily travel route when he is checking does during the rut.

Once I figure some of that out I will put together a game plan to find a location, in daylight, that he might be on his feet during shooting light. But I very rarely set up in the location where I received that nocturnal picture. Most of the time this leads me to put additional trail cameras within that perceived travel route. Fence crossings, pinch points, sometimes a bedding area. Once those additional cameras are deployed and doing their job, I will move in to the area and hunt a location that I feel he might be on his feet during daylight. If I don’t see the target buck while in the stand, after a couple days of bouncing around doing run-n-gun hunts, I’ll check those additional cameras to see if I can gather any more intel of his travel patterns. If I do, I can use that intel to hopefully triangulate his potion and intercept him. But as well all know, that doesn’t always work out.

With all that said, just remember that the only thing a nighttime trail camera picture tells you is that your target buck is in the area and that you have a lot more work to do.

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