By Cody Altizer
Congrats deer hunters, it’s officially spring! At least thats what the calendar says. Winter can be a particularly dark period of time for a deer hunter (pun intended). Between the cold weather, excessively deep snow, painfully short days, and cabin fever, the winter can be a tough time. That said, I look forward to spring and the warm sunshine that comes with it almost as much as I look forward to opening day!
Once the weather breaks, one of my favorite spring and summer activities is dusting off the trail cameras that have been sitting idly since January and putting them out for a little inventory. If you’re like me and don’t turkey hunt (I trust there aren’t a lot of you out there), I utilize my trail cameras exclusively for whitetails. Trail cameras can be an extremely useful management tool, but only if they are used correctly. In this post, I want to share with you 7 trail camera tips to keep in mind this spring and summer so you can get the most out of your deer scouting efforts!
- Stay Scent Free – This is an obvious one, and you’re probably shaking your head thinking, “Yeah, no kidding”, but it simply cannot be overlooked. 50% of a whitetails olfactory system is learned, so being scent free in the woods at all times, not just when you’re hunting, is extremely important. Treat each trail camera check as you would a hunt. I like to wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and spray down with an effective scent-eliminating product. I also like to check my trail cameras on high-pressure days, when there is less moisture in the air. In the case that I do deposit some scent (which, let’s face it, will happen regardless), the high-pressure air will evaporate that scent more quickly.
- Less is More – When it comes to running and checking trail cameras, less is more. During the offseason, I make sure to only check my trail cameras no more than once every 2 weeks. This keeps pressure to an absolute minimum and encourages daytime deer movement – two necessary elements when it comes to capturing trail camera images of mature bucks.
- Be Efficient – When you’re running trail cameras, be as efficient as possible with each trip into the woods. If you’re taking a camera to a new area, already have a tree in mind where you want to hang it, or at least have an idea of where you want it to go. You can quickly stink up an area aimlessly walking around looking for a spot to put your camera. Further, when checking your images, get in and out as quickly as possible. Don’t waste time going through the photos in the woods; you can do that when you get back to your house.
- Hang Them In Productive Areas – Again, this is another no brainer, but during the off season, it’s easy to get careless with your trail camera placement, or get too cute by trying to be too creative. Put your trail cameras in areas you know that deer, ideally mature bucks, will frequent often. During the spring and summer this means mineral stations, food plots, ag fields, and water sources. I’ll never forget when I first started running trail cameras, I thought it would be cool idea to place a trail camera in an area where I had seen a black bear sow and her three cubs. Initially, it sounded like a great idea. I’d get some great photos of a behemoth bear and her cute little balls of fur. The result? A couple pictures of turkeys, a deer here and there, and 2 weeks of wasted trail camera time.
- Make them Easily Accessible – I rely heavily on trail cameras during the spring and summer to do nearly all of my scouting for me. I count on them to tell me what bucks are in my food plots, how many does are hitting my mineral stations, and how many fawns accompany them. That being said, it’s still the offseason, and I’m not going to push the envelope trying to capture a photo of a nice buck in velvet, especially when I can’t kill him. It’s for that reason that I don’t dive into the deep corners of my property with a trail camera during the summer. I place them on field edges and similar areas where I can check them easily without alerting too many deer to my presence.
- Monitor Your Battery Usage! – Yes, another no brainer, but if you’re like me you get far more photos during the summer than you do during the hunting season. And since you will (hopefully) be checking them less often, it’s more likely that you’ll forget to check your batteries or forget to replace them. During the summer I’ll get anywhere between 2-3,000 pictures per card pull at my mineral stations. Freshening a mineral site, putting in a blank card and not realizing your trail camera only has 5% battery life is not something I want to experience.
- Hide Your Camera – If you haven’t learned by now, I approach my trail camera strategies just like I do my hunting strategies. That means being low impact, discreet, and efficient. However, I believe that one of the most overlooked aspects of trail camera scouting is the risk of the user getting lazy when hanging their camera. I’ve been accused of giving deer too much credit, but I’d rather give them too much credit, than not enough. It’s for that reason that I do my best job to camouflage my trail camera to keep it out of a deer’s field of view. This might mean brushing it in with leaves, facing it away from the trail, tucking it back in some brush; there are countless ways to keep your trail camera from being seen by the deer. This past hunting season I was hunting an old logging road that served as a heavy transition area between a food source and bedding area. It was a great spot and I captured a lot of great photos of deer there. I had my trail camera hung within 20 yards of my tree and could easily see it from my stand. I hadn’t taken into consideration if the deer might see it, but all that changed when I saw a doe and her fawn making their way toward my stand. The doe, leading the way, approached the tree that I had just hung the camera on a couple days prior, checked the camera out, sniffed it, looked it up and down and deliberately walked behind the tree on which the camera was hung. That was enough proof for me.
Trail cameras have proven themselves to me to be an invaluable scouting tool; one that I rely on and attribute much of my hunting success to. However, I’ve learned through trial, and a lot of error, that trail cameras can be even more effective if you pay close attention to the details. If you follow the above tips, this spring and summer could be your best trail camera season to date!
– Cody Altizer, CodyAltizerPhotography.com