By Mark Kenyon
It’s happening. Mornings are cooling. Soybean fields are starting to turn a touch yellow. And bucks are just about to start losing velvet. Winter is coming.
Ahh nope, sorry about that. I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones. What I mean to say is Fall is coming. And with the approach of fall a certain shift occurs. Deer change their patterns, relocate and adjust their behaviors during these couple weeks of late August and early September, and as hunters with our seasons about to open, we must shift with them.
With that said, over the next week or so we’re going to explore this shift and three specific aspects of it. First we’ll look at how we need to adjust our trail cameras, second how we need to adjust our scouting, and finally how deer shift their ranges and what that means for our hunting strategies. Today, we begin with trail cameras.
Adjusting Trail Cameras For The Fall
For the past three months or so, most of us have been running trail cameras to check inventory of the bucks on our properties and document their antler growth throughout the summer. But now that fall is approaching, we’ve got to change up our ways. Here are several important things to keep in mind as we shift from a summer to fall trail camera strategy.
Placement: Trail cameras in the summer are typically placed in one of two places. Either on food sources, such as bean, clover or alfalfa fields OR on attractants/minerals placed specifically to attract deer to a camera location. That said, when the shift occurs, it’s time to rethink where we place those cameras. This is important for several reasons. First, deer behavior and patterns change, and therefore we need to adjust our trail cameras to account for those changes. But secondly, our goals with cameras are typically changing at this time as well. Rather than just getting pictures of bucks to identify them, we now want to understand a buck’s natural travel patterns so that we can put together a hunting strategy. With this in mind, I’d recommend considering one of three different locations to relocate your cameras to in the coming weeks.
Scrapes: Scrapes are natural hot-spots for buck activity, especially during the months leading up to the rut. Starting in September I’ll see a steady increase in traffic on these scrapes, getting more intense the closer to the rut we get. While many of these pictures will be at night, you can just about count on getting pictures eventually of almost every buck in the area on these scrapes. Having cameras on scrapes helps me get a better idea of what deer are hanging out on my property during the season, and also can help me get an idea as to where a buck might be bedded and spending it’s time. I plan on moving 90% of my trail cameras to traditional scrape locations this coming weekend, in an effort to get tabs on what bucks have relocated and what bucks have moved in once “the shift” has occurred.
Travel Corridors/Funnels: Speaking of understanding where a deer is spending its time, a great way to do this is to place a camera on a popular travel corridor or funnel. If there is some kind of feature that funnels deer to move through a narrow specific area it can be a great place to capture a larger than usual number of pictures, allowing you to better understand what time deer are moving through this area and what direction they are headed. During the season I prefer not to use attractants or minerals in front of a camera unless deer are already moving through the area naturally, as I really am trying to understand natural patterns. So placing a camera on a funnel is a perfect way to capture natural movement, while still being able to intercept a large number of deer.
Food Plots: Another location for cameras are food plots or small isolated ag fields, as these are still locations that bucks will frequent during the fall. The key is to make sure your cameras are on food sources that deer are using this time of year. For example, while deer hammer green soybeans during the summer, they typically will head for different grub once those beans dry out. At this time it’s better to have your cameras on green food plots or whatever other food your local deer are hitting. When using cameras on these openings, you might want to consider using a field-scan or time-lapse function on your camera, so that it will take pictures for a period of time at a set rate, regardless of any deer triggering the camera. This allows you to photo the entire field during the evening hours, for example, to help you better understand what deer are feeding and where they’re entering at.
Checking Cameras: In addition to changing your camera locations, once “the shift” occurs, it’s also important to adjust how you check your cameras. During the summer, of course, it’s recommended to try to be relatively low impact with your visits. But during the fall, it is absolutely 100% crucial that you take this seriously.
When it comes to checking cameras, I try to never make any unnecessary trips on to a property. If I need to check a camera, it has to be with the right conditions and in the right place. 90% of the time I’m keeping my cameras, even during the season, in a location that I can easily get to without needing to hike through areas where I might spook a deer. If I can check it by driving a vehicle up to it, even better. If possible, I also like to keep trail cameras in areas that are on the way to or from treestand locations, so that I can simply pull a card when I head in to hunt an area. This way I can avoid a second trip in just to check cameras. When it comes to checking cams, if possible, I also like timing these trips on rainy days. A good rain can help wash away scent and allow me to sneak in quiet and undetected. Again, everything I do when dealing with cameras is to ensure that I’m not putting undue pressure on the local deer that might negatively impact my hunting.
It’s happening as we speak. The shift is taking place. And in a matter of a week or two, we’ll be living in a whole new whitetail world. That said, make sure you’re ready for it by properly adjusting your trail camera strategy with proper placement and smart plans for when and how you check them.