Photograph Your Buck Now! A Trail-Camera, Deer-Hunting Strategy

Scouting with a trail camera can make seeing a big buck in your crosshairs a deja-vu experience.

“I knew one of us was going to get him,” said Travis Brantley when he saw the trail-camera photos of the 10-point buck. Travis and three buddies were hunting a 100-acre tract in Washington County and had nine trail cameras set out around their property. A particular 10-pointer kept showing up on their trail-camera pictures, and they were not only growing more excited and optimistic, but they were also beginning to pattern him and get a good idea when and where he moved.

That kind of information is obtainable from a trail camera. Virtually every sporting goods store sells trail cameras and hunters are buying them. Why? Simply because they will take photographs of bucks roaming your woods when otherwise you would not know they are there.

You can scout your boots off and attempt to spot and analyze hoof prints, scrapes and rubs, but nothing is better than having a color photograph of a particular buck that you’re hunt- ing. You can get some idea of a buck’s size from his sign in the woods, but a photograph is worth a thousand words, or more.

A trail-camera photo of a buck will not only tell you where the buck was and how big he is, but also when he was there. Most cameras have the date and time imprinted on the shot which reveals when the buck’ s photo was taken. With a location, frequency, date, and time, a hunter can start piecing together the puzzle of buck movement and get closer to a deer-season meeting with that buck.

Between Travis and his buddies, they had about 25 photos of the 10-pointer. The first pictures were taken in July when the buck was in velvet.

“The 10-pointer had a regular routine up until deer season,” Travis reports. “We had 20 to 25 pictures of him at three different places, all within 500 yards.”

Having hunted that land for several years, they already had a good idea where the bucks traveled and where they fed. Most of the cameras were placed on heavily traveled trails. They also put a camera on a feeder and on some fall food plots, but they didn’t get many shots of bucks at the feeder. Big bucks are leery of a feeder, Travis believes. The few photos they got of bucks at feeders were all at night. Most of the photos on the food plots were either very early or late in the day or at night.

“Most of the larger bucks were on trails, and 90 percent were at night,” Travis observed. “As it got closer to the season, they moved more at night.”

Another interesting observation they made was that in addition to most of the buck movement being at night, daytime buck movement, what little there was, seemed to occur between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Travis and his buddies were getting photos of the 10-pointer regularly right up until gun season (they don’t bowhunt). All the photos of him were at night, but they did not capture him the first week of gun season.

“We knew where he was moving and had stands on those trails,” Travis said.

The second weekend of the season dawned cold and clear, and Travis was set up on a trail where he had photos of the 10-pointer. He had found a fresh scrape in the area and shortly after dawn, Travis blew on his grunt call.

“The buck was on a trail going straight toward the scrapes, and I was between them,” Travis recalls.

For the first time, the hunter got a good look at the buck, and this time it was with his eyes and then through his rifle scope. The 10-pointer weighed 222 pounds live-weight and scored around 122 B&C.

Despite only having photos of the buck at night, Travis somehow got to see the buck during daylight. He feels that because he was on the outer edge of where he had pictures of him, that maybe he was feeding a little later than usual or perhaps the rut got him moving. Either way, because of his trail-camera information, Travis was in the right place at the right time and scored on a handsome buck.

Trail cameras have been around for several years, and they have grown in popularity and in technology. Originally there were 35mm film cameras inside the units, and while they worked fine, the roll of film had to be removed, taken to a photo processor and developed before you could see your photos. You also had to wait until the roll was finished, or close to it, and then you might end up with 25 shots of the same doe feeding.

Digital cameras are the new technology and make it much simpler to view the photos. The photographs are recorded on memory cards which can be removed at any time, taken home and the photos viewed on a home computer. The memory cards can hold hundreds of photos, can be downloaded onto a computer, and can be erased to be used again, all for no cost. There are some devices that allow the memory cards to be read and the photos seen right at the trail camera location in the woods. Along with this new technology comes a higher price, but most say it is worth it.

Digital cameras are what David Helmly uses exclusively. David and his hunting buddy Rocky Reimer usually run six or eight cameras on their Meriwether County property. He has two sets of rechargeable batteries and two memory cards for each camera and checks them weekly and as much as daily during November.

“I put them out to keep tabs on the deer,” says the Sharpsburg hunter. “Trail cameras have made a big difference,” said David. “They’re as much fun as hunting.”

David and Rocky were hunting new property for the first time last season, and David admits that it was a shot in the dark as to where to put the cameras. They put their cameras on food sources initially trying to read the land and get a feel of where the bucks were moving.

“We moved the cameras around a good bit until we found where the bucks were hanging out.”

They put cameras on their food plots, trails to the food plots, and by two feeders.

Unlike Travis Brantley, David had mature bucks visiting his feeder, but they all fed at one of the feeders and not at another one 300 yards away.

One of the most valuable features of trail-camera photos is the recording of the time of day. Knowing when the buck is moving through a particular area or trail is critical in patterning the buck and determining when to hunt at that location.

“Before the season, they were moving during the day and night,” said David, “but after the season opened, it was mostly at night.”

But during November, bucks could be photographed any time throughout the day.

“Mainly the bucks were cruising for does or going to food plots. We only had one photo of a buck at a scrape, and rarely feeding, but they were using the same trails,” said David.

Their hunting property has some large fields, but very few photos were taken of bucks there. Rather, the best pictures were at the smaller, more remote fields or food plots and again, mainly at night.

“We got pictures of 12 to 15 individual bucks, probably a picture of every buck on our property before the season. We had identified five bucks that were big enough to shoot, and they were put on our ‘shooter list,’” said David.

When David checks his cameras, he takes his second set of batteries and a clean memory card to switch out at each location. When finished with all the cameras, he returns to his home and downloads them on to his home computer.

“I have 8,000 to 10,000 photos stored on my computer,” said David.

Based on this extensive data, David and Rocky, who only bowhunt, were able to develop a strategy on how to get one of those bucks in their sights during daylight. They put up about 20 stands before the season all over their property in areas where the bucks were moving based on what the cameras were telling them.

Most of the stands were on trails, and many of those trails were leading to or from food plots. The hunters primarily used lock-on stands and would have them situated on trails to take advantage of various wind directions.

Most trail-camera users report that they capture many photographs of bucks before the season and early in the deer season. However, further into the season, the buck pictures drop off, even at night. This is likely due to two main factors, increased hunter activity in the woods make them more wary, and the onset of the rut. Bucks will tend to travel more during the rut, however, and may wander off their home property in pursuit of hot does.

Many hunters notice that a buck that they had been seeing on their cameras for weeks suddenly becomes scarce. This proves that although the modern technology of trail cameras help, its still not a sure bet when hunting mature bucks.

David had hundreds of photos of a tall 8-pointer that was a regular at one of the feeders. But as the season wore on, the photo frequency dropped.

“I lost him for about six weeks, we had no pictures of him at all,” said David.

Then in mid-November, a trail- camera photo showed the buck was at a crabapple tree by a small food plot. The photos were either at night or the middle of the day. David had a stand there and hunted it. One week after the photos were taken, the buck showed up and David was waiting.

“He was heading right to the crabapple tree by the camera,” David said.

The buck was taken at 11:15 a.m.

Due to the trail camera, David knew that the buck had returned to his property. But more specifically, he also learned where the buck was frequenting and that he was moving either at night or midday. Had David left his stand at 10 or 11 a.m. as many hunters do, he would have missed his chance at taking that buck.

David and Rocky had one photo of a big 10-pointer taken in July last year. Unlike the tall 8-pointer that David killed, this buck was not a regular, and they only had that one shot of him. Then during November, they again got of photo of the 10-pointer crossing a big field during the day.

While they were not able to pattern this buck, Rocky did end up taking that buck on Dec. 21 while it was chasing does. The buck was bagged in a hardwood bottom between planted pines, about 100 yards from where it was photographed in July. David feels that their property was not the core home range of that buck, but rather on the fringe. Yet the buck visit- ed their land periodically, especially during the rut. The trail camera served to identify his presence and let the hunters know where the buck might be when he did visit.

Rocky also killed a non-typical, palmated buck that they had a photo of at a scrape. That buck was also not a regular but was taken chasing does in one of their food plots in November. So while the trail camera may not allow you to pattern every buck, mainly because not all of them are patternable or they’re not homebodies, it does let you know of the presence of certain bucks and where they move when they’re on your property.

Will Harris had one of the older 35 mm trail cameras several years ago. He placed his on the edge of a big field in Taylor County where he hunted. Two weeks before bow season, he got a photo of a whopper buck entering the field at night.

During the season, Will would occasionally get photos of the buck entering the field, but always at night. Coaching duties kept him away from hunting until November when he began to hunt the area of the buck photos in earnest. Based on the camera revealing that the buck only hit the field after dark, Will knew he had to get deeper into the woods to catch the buck during daylight before it reached the field. One afternoon, he was in his stand in the planted pines about 400 yards from the field when he heard bucks fighting. Will blew on his grunt call during a lull in the fighting, and when the buck came trotting toward him, Will drilled him.

“As soon as I came up to him I knew it was him,” Will recalls. The 11-point buck had a split G2 and finished third in Week 8 of the GON Truck-Buck Contest in 2003.

If you are not using trail cameras, you are missing out. Deer hunters all across the state are learning valuable information about the deer on their property. A trail camera provides color photographs of deer and lets you know when and where they move. Having a photograph of a specific buck on your property adds to the excitement of hunting. Specific bucks can be targeted and hunting strategies can be developed based on the data recorded on these sneaky scouting tools. Some experimenting and moving the cameras around may be necessary before finding the places where the bucks are moving most. When you pinpoint the best places for buck movement, hang a stand or two there.

The cameras also let you know when patterns change, food sources ripen, and when a buck starts showing up in a particular area so you can adjust and move to intercept that buck.

If you want to increase your chances of bagging a wallhanger this fall, get a trail camera and get photos before the season starts of the GO buck that you will kill this fall.

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