When I’m not in the boat during the summer, I’m most likely in the woods setting trail cameras on whatever public lands allow them.
Before I started using cameras, I rarely saw deer from the stand and averaged shooting one deer per year. But since I started putting them out, I now see hundreds of deer each season and have no issues tagging out with ease.
My hunting skills have definitely increased, but the ability to see which spots have the most daylight deer activity is invaluable. Just like in poker, you can always get lucky, but statistics can help stack the odds in your favor.
Many of my old unproductive spots had deer sign, but trail cameras documented mostly nocturnal activity. Some locations had sporadic deer movements, but surprisingly, many locations will have the majority of activity only during a few select hours — which aren’t necessarily early-morning or late-evening.
Using this information, I went back to many of my old unsuccessful spots and harvested some animals.
Also, deer will more often approach an area from one direction at certain hours of the day, but approach from the opposite direction at other times. That knowledge aids in my stand location, and knowing which wind directions to hunt.
Since I make more than 100 bow hunts a year, having hundreds of spots and many different game plans is key to my success. And summer is a great time to see how deer are patterning when there is little pressure, and also to find many prime locations where deer feel comfortable in daylight.
Some years an area will have several mature bucks from the summer until pre-rut, which makes it worth hunting. Other years, not a single big buck will be seen where they used to be plentiful. Statistically, these spots won’t be worth hunting until the rut if lots of does are present.
Since deer fluidly move in and out of an area because of vegetation growth, logging operations, over-harvesting, water levels, under-harvesting, hog infiltration and many more reasons, my cameras give me the best current hunting options — instead of using outdated knowledge from prior year’s hunts.
Good trails near wood edges or next to fields are usually only productive the first few weeks of the season, so unlike most people I set many cameras deeper in the woods during the summer. There won’t be as many pictures, but if deer are in those far spots during the summer, odds are even more deer will arrive once hunting pressure pushes them deep.
But be aware: During the summer bugs are thick. I wear either Rynoskin compression clothing, which is ultra-thin and bug proof, or compression heat gear. On top of that, I wear a good quality bug suit. When the mosquitoes are thick as clouds, I bring middle-weight gloves and an extra bug suit top. Once I stop to set a camera, I slip on that second top and gloves to stay bite-free.
Because it’s so hot in the summer and many of the woods are flooded, I wear old running shoes with baseball socks and just power through the water, muck and mud. The compression gear and bug suits don’t get really heavy when wet. When I see water, I jump in to cool off with the gators. No need to worry about snakes: My motto is “They can’t bite you if you outrun the strike.”
Many times I take my trail bike or kayak to set the cameras to stay cooler. Heck, sometimes I even swim using a kickboard to float my cameras across ponds. Watch the attached video to see some of my crazy camera-setting techniques.
I usually set two to three cameras in a particular spot to get a better idea of what is going on in that area. Many times one camera will miss most of the action, providing little information on how productive a spot really is. Common open trails will be used more at night, but deer tend to move more randomly during the day. So in my opinion, it’s better to buy three cheaper cameras to set at a spot to cover more area than one expensive camera for the same price.
Since I hunt spots that are thick with deer sightings within 30 yards, I'll have the cameras near the tree I climb so practically all the activity that moves within my bow range will be captured. It's almost like hunting there when you aren't — and it allows me to research multiple stand locations at once. If a tree isn't receiving much daylight activity in bow range when I'm not there, I surely won't waste precious hunting time in that spot.
I use the same scent-free strategies with my clothes as usual, and only set cameras in a spot for several weeks before removing them. This way, I can determine if any racked bucks are nearby while minimizing my presence with only two total trips.
So what cameras to use? Over the years, I’ve gotten many of my friends to test out the Primos I recommend. All of them have converted over from their other more expensive cameras. They say you get all the same — or even better features — for a fraction of the price. Just compare the specs on www.trailcampro.com: that site does extremely detailed reviews.
The elements, including bugs, flooding, or extreme temperatures can break a camera, but my friends who’ve tried many other expensive brands say their Primos cameras have the same lifespan or longer as all the rest, plus they are simplest to operate. To be honest, I’ve been very disappointed with the performance of every other brand I’ve tried.
My new favorite cameras are the Primos Supercharged Ultra HD with EDS that can be found on sale for $90, but retail for $200, and the new 2015 Primos Proof 01, which can be found for $81 at Natchez Shooter Supply. Also, in my opinion, the Moultrie Trace for $39 at Academy.com is the best inexpensive camera.
Since I only hunt public land, the hands-down best feature is the locking ability on the Primos and Trace cameras. A cable lock actually tightens the Primos units shut, so the memory card and batteries can’t be stolen.
But the most essential feature for patterning mature bucks is blackout technology. Think deer don’t see the red LED lights? Think again.
Yes, some young bucks and does may not be bothered by them, but my research indicates when a mature buck sees those red lights they rarely come in front the camera again. And if they do, it’s usually a few yards further from the camera with their heads hunkered low, almost like they’re expecting it to go off.
With the blackout feature, mature daddies walk by with the camera undetected every time. In my opinion, this is important so you don’t spook a big buck to a new location.
As for the blackout technology with the new Proof models, only the 03 features it. The 02 and 01 models have low LED lights that show.
Also, the trigger speed is very important for the cameras I set because I cannot feed the deer. Primos cameras have always been super-fast, typically less than one second. The new Proof models are a half-second or faster, and the Trace is also very quick. Also, the Supercharged and Proofs have a wide 35-degree angle trigger, so even fast moving animals aren’t missed.
The new HD video ability of all these cameras is great, and I use it during the rut. I’ve had a buck chase a doe in from a ridge setup with multiple cameras before. The camera set on picture mode only caught the doe in the first few pics, but missed the buck that was trailing several seconds behind her. Videos will capture the buck, and you get to see the horns in HD quality with audio.
However, video trigger speed is something that is often overlooked and very important if you plan on using video mode. Most brands have a slow two- to four-second video trigger speed, and they don’t label this downside. The older Primos models and the new Proof 02 and 03 average around 2.7 seconds, like most other brands. But, amazingly, the cheaper new Proof 01 has a blazing fast .82-second trigger.
Also, the trigger range is very important for me because I’m trying to find daylight activity at my spots.
The Supercharged and Proof 01 have a long 80-foot range, and many other brands only have a 40- to 50-foot trigger range. The more expensive Proof 02 and 03 only have a 70-foot trigger range, but that’s still far. A longer night range would be nice, but seeing where animals pass in daylight is my main goal.
The Moultrie Trace only has a 50-foot range, but it’s half the price and works very well on specific trails.
By the way, the all-green Primos Proof 01 can be camouflaged better by coloring them with brown and gray paint markers or Sharpies.
In conclusion, if you want the best pictures and blackout technology for not scaring big bucks, get the Proof 03 or last year’s Supercharged Ultra.
If the fastest video trigger speed with great photos is what you’re after, try the new cheaper Proof 01. And for an inexpensive option, the Moutrie Trace is a hard deal to pass up.
Of course, newer technology each year constantly improves, so trail cams should keep getting better and better.
But if you’re starting to get that hunting itch this month, get out there and go set some cameras. You might be surprised at just how much fun you’ll have spending hot days in the woods.