By Mark Kenyon:
The five minute ATV ride to the Southeast corner of the corn field never seemed to last so long. I hopped off and immediately sighed in relief when I saw that my trail camera was still where I left it. My next concern disappeared when I flipped open my Bushnell Trophycam and saw that the camera was still running, with plenty of battery to spare. Now the final moment of truth.
I popped the SD card out, slipped it into my laptop, pulled up the image folder and prayed.
I began scanning through the photos… Doe. Doe. Doe. Still the same doe? Doe. Doe. Doe. Doe. I hate this doe. Doe. Doe. Doe.
There before my eyes was exactly what I had wanted to see. Trail camera photos of two giant Michigan bucks. Now with almost a hundred photos of these two deer, I had a treasure trove of new information. Information that will help me better identify, understand, and hunt these bucks. It is for that reason that I believe there is great value in taking inventory of bucks with trail cameras. Let’s unpack this a little further …
What do I mean by “taking inventory”?
So let’s take a quick step back and review exactly what I mean by all of this. When I say “taking inventory”, I essentially mean that I want to identify as many bucks as possible in the areas I hunt. Before I go any further though, let me also say this. I hate using the word “inventory” to describe the deer on a property. I most certainly don’t look at local bucks as items on the shelf that I’m shopping for. Hunting highly pressured, free-range deer is as far as you can get from shopping for meat and antlers. But for lack of a better term, I’m stuck with it. Bear with me here. That said, I can use trail cameras to photograph deer in the vicinity, which helps me develop the so called “inventory” of what bucks are or have been present on my hunting properties during any given year. The question is, why would I want to do this?
Why is it worth my time?
Developing an “inventory” of bucks is valuable for numerous reasons. I’ll dive into each of these below – but in the interest of giving you enough time to run out to your favorite hunting spot and hang a camera ASAP, I’ll keep it brief.
1. First off, I want to identify what bucks are on a property. When every new year begins, a new set of antlers grows and bucks take on new characteristics. By running cameras I can quickly get an idea of what kind of bucks are present, and if it’s a property I’ve hunted before, I can determine if any bucks I’ve hunted before are back.
2. I can also then use these photos to determine which bucks will be targets. If you’re an avid whitetail hunter you undoubtedly have developed standards of some kind for the bucks you are interested in hunting and killing. I personally am after 3.5 year old bucks or older, and trail camera photos allow me to study each individual deer and determine if he meets my criteria. By studying as many deer as possible, and making the decision now on targeting them or not, I can take the guess work out of the equation when I actually get into the tree and am hunting. Of course I’ll see new bucks each hunting season that I never caught on camera, but the fewer surprises I get the better prepared I’ll be to make the right decision when a potential “shooter” walks by.
3. Once I’ve identified bucks in my hunting area and have determined if they are targets or not, it’s time to try and understand more about them. By collecting photos of resident bucks, I can begin to understand where a deer’s “home range” is. This information can be crucial to your hunting strategy. Consistent photos in or around a relatively small area can be great indicators of where that buck will bed and/or spend most of his time during the hunting season. Take note of this now, and it will come in awful handy during the fall. One disclaimer – many bucks will relocate from a summer range to a fall range, usually sometime in September. For this reason I’ve found it important to perform an “inventory check” sometime in the summer, and then again in September if at all possible. You’ll usually have a few bucks stick around all year, but a few take off. On the flip side, you’ll also most likely add a few new ones as well!
How do I do it?
Now that you know why I use cameras to keep “inventory”, the next logical question is how do I do it? It’s relatively simple and I’m sure most of you are pretty familiar with the process of using trail cams to photograph bucks – but I’ll share my process none-the-less.
During the summer I’ll typically place a couple cameras on each property I plan to hunt, in my case the cameras I use the most are Bushnell Trophycams. I try and place these cameras in locations that will be natural hubs of activity during the summer months. Locations I’ll set cameras on typically revolve around summer food sources, water, or heavy travel corridors. Once I hang a camera I’ll also place an attractant in front (where legal), to ensure that any deer moving through nearby will stop in front of my camera long enough for me to get a good photo. I personally use a two pronged approach. I place a trace mineral block and a granular attractant/supplement called BB2. Big & J’s BB2 attractant/supplement has a strong odor which brings deer in to my camera from long distances, and it also packs a hefty punch of protein which can help my local deer stay healthy. Eventually though deer eat all the BB2 I left, so the trace mineral helps me keep salt craving bucks returning to my camera location until I bring more goodies.
I like to leave each camera set for no less than two weeks before returning to check, and I’m trying to discipline myself to wait even longer. Each time you enter your hunting property to check a camera it disturbs the deer and makes them less likely to visit your camera locations, and eventually can even impact your ability to hunt them. For that reason I also try to keep my cameras in easy to access locations that don’t require me to trounce around the property too much.
I’ll use a similar strategy again in September or October, but I now begin placing cameras on scrapes as well. These can be dynamite locations to get photos of bucks in the area, as I’ll often get many different bucks visiting the same scrape. Again though, a word of warning. Don’t place your cameras in areas that you’ll be wanting to hunt – as this pressure can negatively impact your ability to hunt these deer if you’re not careful.
What about those bucks?!
So there you go – my inventory checking strategy is pretty straight forward and my goals are quite simple as well. I want to understand what deer are using the properties I hunt so that I can better understand what deer are present, what deer I’m interested in hunting, and where I’ll have the best chances of killing them.
So that brings me back to where this story started. The bucks I got on trail camera this weekend! Like I said, I got two giant Michigan bucks on camera on one of my hunting properties – and they’re not just any bucks.
These are the same two deer I filmed 2 weeks ago on a crop field, and then saw another two times in the same field over the following 5-8 days. After reviewing the footage, I realized that one of the bucks was a deer I had many encounters with last year that I dubbed “Leaner”. You can read up on his whole story by clicking this link. The second buck I wasn’t quite sure who it could be, but these new trail camera pictures are offering a few clues.
A few observations…First off, Leaner is looking better than ever. In the picture at the beginning of this article and just below here, you’ll see him as the buck with his head up. From our video we could see that he had small stickers coming off of both his brow tines. But now in these photos we can also see that he has the beginning of a flyer point coming off of each of his G2’s (click here if you have no idea what a G2 is). Needless to say, I’m pumped. Leaner is looking to be a mainframe 10, with kickers off his brows and flyers off his G2’s – making him a 14 point stud of a Michigan whitetail.
Now as to the mystery deer. Two weeks ago when filming him, this buck looked to just be a big 8 pointer with great brows. Now I can see that he is much more. First off, just look at this deer’s body. It is a picture perfect example of what a mature deer should look like. Huge chest. Drooping back-line. Sagging belly. This is without a doubt at least a 4 year old whitetail, more likely 5. Not only that, but he’s also looking like he’ll be developing some awesome head gear.
Keep in mind, these pictures are from the end of June. These bucks have almost two more months of growing to do! That said, this deer now has five regular points starting on both sides, making him a mainframe 10, but he also has a small point coming off the back of his right brow tine, AND what looks to be an inside tine starting on his left side too. This buck is well on his way to being a giant. There’s also the possibility that this may be another buck that we know, but we’ll wait for more conclusive evidence before calling that one.
Get your cameras out
So there you have it. A few key reasons why I run trail cameras to check the “inventory” of bucks on the properties I hunt PLUS a pretty exciting update on a couple bucks I’ll hopefully be chasing this fall. If you haven’t done so already, my one recommendation today would be this – get your cameras out!
Let us know in the comments section if you have any other good tips or ideas regarding the use of trail cameras to track the bucks in your area!