Trail Cam Strategies to get Whitetail Intel for Hunting Season
By Greg Tubbs | PUBLISHED July 26th, 2022
It's summertime. July is almost over. August is looming, and September is not too far away! Some of us are ambitious and have gotten trail cameras out, hoping to find a few target bucks. Or the one target buck. Maybe some enjoy getting pictures. Regardless. Here are a few points to consider when running trail cameras!
Try to have a goal or purpose for placing cameras.
Are you looking to be minimally invasive to see what is happening in an area? Field edges are common travel routes for Whitetails. They aren't traveling here often during the day. It's a great place to set a camera to see what is traveling through. Most of your intel is collected from dusk to dawn. Adding a mock scrape or finding an area with a few low-hanging branches will get the deer to stop in front of your cameras. They can't help but want to smell and lick over hangers. Grape vines or hemp rope are both excellent additions. Hemp rope holds scent the best.
What if I don't have access to field edges?
Trails leading to the Destination food source from the bedding area are your next choice. Deer usually move quickly through these trails unless they have a lot of brows to eat on the way. If you are lucky enough to find an obstacle like a log or a ditch, deer must cross. This would be a great place to set up a camera. Deer often stop to look around a bit before crossing. Their tracks will be a dead giveaway as to what is going on. Creek crossings are great because they usually stop to get a drink along the way. Creek crossings will often have food sources too.
Nettle and Jewelweed are common in my area.
Now that you have figured out where you are going to set cameras. Height is an essential factor in how successful you be in capturing images and possibly avoiding other hunters tampering with your goods. We are in the growing season. Foliage will continue to grow into August. Consider this if you're thinking of setting your cameras in a weedy fence line over a bean field or the edge of a clearing. Some manicuring may be required. I prefer to wait until the end of July to get most of my cameras out. Depending upon the areas I'm surveying. Most of my cameras are 6-10 ft up a tree. This minimizes spooking deer by keeping it out of sight and gives me a good vantage point to not only see a deer in front of the camera. But also, any deer traveling along with that isn't getting close. Being higher also lowers the chances of people finding your cameras and steeling them.
You're not going to get every deer on camera.
When you set your cameras up high. There's a trade-off. The deer pictures aren't close up. In some cases, deer will walk under the camera. The sensor will pick up their body heat, and you'll get a picture of the landscape or maybe the tips of antlers as they wander by. Owls seem to like perching on cameras, and raccoons can't resist checking them out either! Facing cameras downward slightly increases your odds and prevents the sun from tripping them often. There's a chance the sun hits some grass in front of the camera, and it takes a picture. If I feel this is an issue, I run my cameras only during certain Operating hours. A handful of cameras give you this option. I run Exodus Outdoor Gear cameras primarily. The Lift2 and Trek offered this feature. It definitely helps use less card space.
How long do you wait before checking your cameras?
I wait 2 weeks or more in the summer months. Most of the cameras I set during the season stay in the thick until I think the batteries are dead or I pull them out in February. The battery you run will determine how long that camera keeps going. Lithium batteries are expensive but are the only reliable power source that will keep your cameras going into the negative temps. I have had Alkalines freeze and burst in my cameras. If you don't catch the disaster in time. The acid damage's crucial components. You now have a paperweight.
I will run the cheaper Alkalines into September on the easy-to-access cameras. The deep sets get Lithium. This allows me to leave them set longer.
What's the life of batteries in your cameras?
This all depends on how you set your cameras up. Sensitivity, frequency of use, flash intensity, photo or video mode, and Ambient outdoor air temperature significantly affect how long your batteries last. You can get away with close access cameras running video and more triggers if you don't mind sacrificing batteries. For deep sets, you're looking to get as much info as possible. A 2 shot photo burst with minimal sensitivity and limited time of day use. You can get a set of Lithium to last into the following spring! You have to be willing to spend the money, though.
Have you had anyone ever sabotage your cameras?
If you run multiple cameras over several properties (primarily when you hunt public). You're going to run into other hunters that will do things to discourage you from gathering intel. Python cables and cam lock boxes keep honest people honest for so long. Try hiding your cameras in better places. Or go with a few cellular cameras. Either way. Mother Nature will find a way to foil you in your quest to get intel.
Falling trees are hard to combat, and so are ants! Every season. Usually after our first big storm. I end up relocating a few cameras due to wind knocking down trees or Ants migrating into my camera. Ants will look to relocate after a big rain storm. Cameras (no matter what brand you run) offer a nice place to relocate after being washed out by a deluge of water. Obviously, this mostly happens in July for me. I always have an extra camera in my bag if something goes wrong. I will swap the camera out and relocate positions. The infested camera goes in a 1-gallon ziplock bag and goes into the freezer overnight. I will pull it out the next day and leave it in the sun for a few hours. If the infestation was nasty. I pull the casing off and blow it out with a can of compressed air. So far. All of my cameras are still working after repeating this several times!
This is definitely a labor of love. Though it's not for everyone. It's part of my yearly process of figuring out how deer use my areas!