September is finally here. It still feels like summer outside — and, man, has it been hot and humid over the last couple of months.
But opening day of deer season is finally just around the corner.
Maybe you are one of the energetic ones out braving the elements during July and August, repairing tree stands, mowing roads, prepping fields or running and maintaining a line of preseason trail cameras.
If so, you have a leg up on the rest of us, but if we get busy we can get caught up.
The trail camera aspect of scouting can be one of the most-important tools for success that a deer hunter can employ.
But beyond population management, the use of trail cameras makes it possible to more effectively hunt mature bucks. We can attract and hold them on our hunting property, but if we do not know mature bucks are actually there or if we have no clue regarding their particular travel habits, each hunt can be just a stab in the dark.
Personally, I believe in season-long trail camera surveillance, but just throwing some cameras out and hoping to get pictures is not an effective strategy.
A properly setup web of cameras will help monitor buck movements in real time throughout the hunting season, continually gathering information that can be instrumental in helping you hunt these bucks.
In my experience, the buck population on my hunting property has proven to be dynamic, with well-documented and confirmed seasonal fluctuations in both numbers and buck age structure.
Year to year, my web of trail cameras consistently captures a wide range of buck types.
First and foremost, we have true resident bucks that are seen and photographed on a property throughout a season and across years.
In my experience, a surprising number of people put too much emphasis on resident bucks and tend to think of their buck pool as being somewhat static. The catch here is that, depending on the actual size and physical make up of your hunting property, the number of true resident bucks can vary considerably.
As the prerut approaches, homebody bucks that normally range in a relatively small core area tend to expand their ranges, so adjacent small- to moderately sized hunting properties tend to share a given pool of bucks during hunting season.
Alternately, there is the classification of buck I refer to as “range shifters.” These bucks literally pack up their ditty bags and move, showing up on your property during the middle of the season and staying anywhere from several days to several weeks, only to vanish just as quickly and mysteriously as they appeared.
To pattern and intercept a targeted range shifter, you better have your camera web in place and set up properly, and be nimble on your feet. The window of opportunity to capitalize on this kind of information can be very short.
There is a subclassification of buck I will refer to here as a “flyer” or “traveler.” This describes those few bucks that, for whatever reason, pass through, are seen or photographed once, never to be seen or heard from again.
They suddenly decide to take a side trip and, in some cases, will travel several miles before returning to their home area.
There is absolutely nothing that can be done to anticipate or hunt bucks that only show up once on your memory card. But, if you are able to react quickly, you can effectively hunt range shifters since they hang around for a longer period of time.
The point here is that regardless of whether you are hunting resident or range shifter bucks, an effective web of cameras spread properly across your hunting property simultaneously recording photos throughout the entire season is the best way to identify and target huntable bucks.
Let’s look at some of my personal favorite setup locations for intercepting these bucks. This will aid you in identifying which bucks spend the most time on your property and which portions of your property are used the most.
During prerut through the rut, I locate trail cameras on food plots or field edges that adjoin a known travel corridor, funnel or other natural feature that tends to focus deer movement into and out of the feature.
Always remember to orient your cameras in a northerly direction (away from the direct sun). Direct sunlight can trigger the IR detector to take photos of nothing.
By the same token, pointing your camera toward a nearby wall of high grass or shrubs can also trigger unwanted photos during windy conditions.
Another rule of thumb is to not orient your camera at a right-angle to the line of potential deer movement. This is most important the closer the line of travel is to the camera. It is way better to orient the cameras line of sight and detection at a 45-degree angle to the direction of deer movement.
Three examples of some of my all-time favorite setups include:
A food plot or field that corners into a woods road or lane, creating a funnel.
A pinch point connection between two fields.
A woods road intersection. This is even better if the intersection includes a major communal scrape.
I encourage you to experiment and find what works best under the prevailing conditions of habitat, hunting pressure, availability of food and herd conditions where you hunt. Certain scouting techniques that work well in one local might not work as well in another.
But, most of all, have fun and learn all you can about the whitetail deer that inhabit your property.