By Jonathan Olivier
“One of the biggest mistakes some make when choosing areas to set their cameras is putting them close to deer bedding areas. That’s like walking into the deer’s bedroom and rearranging hypothetical furniture and expecting they won’t notice.”
Those with affection for deer hunting know it’s a love/hate relationship – mostly love.
On one hand, deer hunting is one of the most fulfilling outdoor recreational activities one can partake in, but on the other, frustration can set in leaving hunters scratching their head in bewilderment or even cursing the very game they’re seeking.
You see, mature whitetail bucks are a keen bunch; so much so, the slightest manipulation of their habitat, be it human scent, a loud noise or a new addition to their home range like a tree stand, can send them into a nocturnal pattern or scare them out of an area, therefore minimalizing chances of ever harvesting one.
So while installing game cameras for scouting purposes before hunting season starts is an excellent idea, keep in mind the nature of the beast, so to speak.
1. Choose an infrared camera (without a flash) with a fast trigger speed that sends photos directly to your phone.
Game cameras come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re not all created equal. New models contain infrared technology to take nighttime photos that does away with the old flash cameras of the past, which would often work to spook deer.
Higher-end cameras today can wirelessly send data straight to your phone or laptop, reducing the need to tramp in and out of the woods (see No. 2). A lot of cameras even run on AA batteries and can snap thousands of pictures for weeks at a time without having to be replaced.
2. Keep your impact—scent—to a minimum when setting and retrieving game cameras.
One of the biggest mistakes some make when choosing areas to set their cameras is putting them close to deer bedding areas. That’s like walking into the deer’s bedroom and rearranging hypothetical furniture and expecting they won’t notice. Keep cameras away from those areas and rather near heavily used trails or food sources.
If you can, check cameras during the middle of the day when deer aren’t active or before a heavy downpour to reduce your scent impact. Even a strong wind can push your scent in the deer’s direction and “blow” your chances of success.
3. Game camera positioning is everything
Ensure cameras are aimed in a clear line of view, devoid of any hanging branches or blades of grass that could work to set off the camera and give you a thousand pictures of nothing.
Position the camera so the glare from the sun doesn’t disrupt photos, usually heavily wooded areas can ease this issue.
Set the camera waist high and position it no more than 20 feet or so from where you think deer will be. This will work to increase the chances of getting deer consistently in frame.
4. Remember, game cameras are another tool for scouting. Don’t solely rely on them for reconnaissance.
Game cameras, when used correctly, can serve as an instrumental tool to not only locate but potentially pattern mature bucks before hunting season starts. But traditional scouting methods may be the best option. Always look for trails, scrapes, rubs, bedding areas or heavily used food sources to give insight into areas you think deer will frequent.
Often, bucks will spook from game cameras. Some hunters catch mature bucks on camera once to find they never show up again. If this happens, change your tactic. Rid that area of game cameras and lessen your impact in hopes he staggers back or another buck will show up.
So, while your busy scouting and positioning game cameras before deer season opens October 1, remember these pieces of technology don’t magically tell you where deer are; they are meant to increase your chances of patterning mature bucks and serve as a tool to show you exactly what is roaming your hunting area. Stick to traditional scouting patterns in tandem with trail cameras.
Also, never forget that when you’re in the woods, you’re on the deer’s terms. Treat entering the woods with great care to minimalize scent and visual impact, and hopefully, when you’re in the tree stand this October, that big buck making his way toward your stand will be just as you planned.