This past Wednesday I posted an article discussing a recent piece I read from Bill Winke and some questions I had about his strategy (If you haven’t already, click here to read the original article). In Bill’s article he discussed how he uses trail cameras to determine whether a buck is nocturnal or not, and then makes decisions on if he’ll he hunt that buck from that information. It was a really interesting idea and one that I’ll be considering come hunting season, but it also raised some questions for me and a number of you. That being said, I reached out to Bill and asked if he might be able to elaborate. Bill was kind enough to do just that and as he often does, he’s shared with us some great deer hunting knowledge and insight. I’d highly recommend checking out the original article and comments by the readers and then read through Bill’s responses below. You’re definitely going to learn something today and I’m sure you’ll come away with some new ideas to apply to your upcoming hunting season. Lastly, but most importantly, a big thanks to Mr. Bill Winke! – MK
“I think this subject keeps evolving in my mind and in my strategies. Episode number 8 on the Midwest Whitetail TV show will tackle this subject too. It will air in a few weeks. I think Episode 5 is airing this week. I make the point on that show that just because you are only getting night time photos does not mean you can’t kill the buck. You can’t make that conclusion. But if you are getting daylight photos the odds of an encounter while hunting are much, much higher, in my experience. I am comfortable drawing that conclusion. So the question is: do you want to hunt bucks that you might be able to kill but the odds are against you or do you want to hunt bucks you are likely to encounter? I know very well, again from experience, which ones are more fun to hunt.
We have really seen this over and over during the past few years. The ones we get the daylight photos of are the ones we end up encountering often from the stand. So now I want to see daylight photos (or at least photos near daylight) before I hunt a buck. As you say, the key is to have enough camera coverage to feel comfortable that you are in or close to the buck’s core area. If you are getting regular photos, you know you are in or close to this area. If you are only getting scattered photos and all at night, it is hard to draw conclusions. In that case, you need to move the camera a bit in the direction the buck is coming from when he approaches the camera in the evening and see if you can get more shots of him at night (or better yet a few in daylight).
You just have to be careful not to push too hard in your quest for daylight photos or you may bump him. To keep from doing that, stick to the fringes and edges of open areas, forget the creek crossings deep in the cover. If you have to go that deep to get daylight pictures you are running too much risk. In that case, I would rather look at the time the buck is reaching the camera and what direction he is approaching from when he offers the first picture and make a few assumptions from there. If he is getting to the camera shortly after legal shooting time and is coming from the direction of thick ridge, I may try to slip in that direction to a good funnel and try to catch him shortly after he starts to move. Patterning them this closely works best up until about November 3 or so and then they start to move over bigger areas and abandon their normal patterns.
If they are daylight movers, they will tend to continue to be daylight movers even after the rut starts, but they may be ranging wider or even in a different area. If they tend to be nocturnal bucks (some are simply by personality) then they will likely keep this tendency during the rut too. If you do find yourself hunting a nocturnal buck, it seems that the best chances for seeing him are when the first doe in his core area comes into estrous (can be anywhere from late October through about November 7ish) and again during the late season if you have good food plots.
To summarize, ideally, the photos you get are during the day. Next best is if it is just after legal shooting time in the evening or just before in the morning. Then you can make a few educated guesses about where you might be able to cut him off deeper in the cover, but I personally would not run the camera in the deeper ambush. I would sit there with my bow in hand when the wind is right and hope for the best.
There are a lot of what ifs in this strategy, but most deer strategies are kind of like that. You have a general plan and then stay flexible enough to adjust it to fit the personality of the bucks you are hunting.
Quick response to the other comments: I have only used six cameras in the past. I move them around a bit, but that is all I have used. Also, some bucks are just nocturnal. You don’t have to educate them to make them nocturnal. I know that for a fact, I have seen it several times. It is a personality thing. Some bucks are daylight roamers and some bucks on the same farm and of the same age are only nocturnal. Finally, the bucks I hunt don’t seem to have specific bedding areas. Seems our whole farm is their bedding area since I have done so much timber stand improvement the entire farm is very thick. Narrowing it down to a 30 yard area to ambush a buck would be tough. Not to say it might not be worth a try, but I am afraid to roll the dice like that and be off by a ridge or even 100 yards and alert the buck. If you thought he was nocturnal before, just see what happens when you bump him close to where he beds.
Anyway, it is a complex thing hunting deer because it is nearly impossible to generalize. Every situation and every deer are different and you have to enter the hunt with a set of general rules that you are going to use and then be flexible without breaking those rules. For me, right now, I don’t hunt bucks in their bedding areas. Maybe I will think differently some day, but that is one of my general rules. I want him to stay here and hopefully eventually make a mistake while I hunt the fringes of where I think he is living.
I do hunt doe bedding areas occasionally, but only during the rut and only on the downwind fringe where I can sneak out. Most of the time, my morning hunts are in funnels between two doe bedding areas. Those spots are easy to sneak in and out of without bumping deer, usually.
Deer hunting strategy is fun because there are so many ways to do it. All you can do is play the tendencies and the odds because nothing – nothing – is absolute.” – Bill Winke
For more information and great videos from Bill Winke and his team, visit MidwestWhitetail.com.