Here in the Deep South, if the calendar says July would anyone in their right mind argue against the conditions outside being referred to as anything other than the hot and humid “summer doldrums?”

I know I, for one, would not.

This is that period of time when we see a lot of long faces, with SEC football and hunting season being still a number of weeks away.

Before this reminder of reality puts the reader into a depression, let me remind you this is not the time to become inactive, as tempting as that might be.

If you are a hunter and want to maximize your chances for success and enjoyment this fall and winter, this is precisely the time of year to get busy and get ahead of the game.

Trail cameras should be cleaned, tested and inspected. Always remove your camera batteries when you bring your cameras in from the field; I have had the unpleasant experience of finding corroded batteries in cameras after not following this basic rule.

There are so many things that can and should be done on a hunting property during the two or three months leading up to opening day that it is hard sometimes to know exactly where to start.

In this case, let’s start with trail-camera surveillance.

If you are already running a string of cameras on your property from the pre-season on, then pay attention and you just might improve your effort.

If you are not currently using trail cameras or are new to their use, pay close attention as I lay out some of my tactics, techniques and preferences.

Like any activity, you basically get out of trail camera use what you put into it. Yes, using trail cameras costs money and, if used fully and properly, their use can require a real commitment of time, but the potential rewards far exceed the costs.

To get the most from your efforts, beyond the basic curiosity of “getting some deer pictures,” a string of cameras should be treated as seriously as a wilderness trapper would treat his trap line to maximize the amount of fur brought in.

In fact, that is a very apt analogy, since the same questions of where, what and how come into play.

First of all, let’s examine the “where” factor.

You need to identify what your goals are. You can go out and spend a pile of money on fancy cameras and related gear, and if you have only a hazy idea about exactly where to locate your cameras, your efforts could wind up — to a great extent — wasted.

Hopefully, last season you made mental and or written notes about what you observed from your deer stands and as you moved around on your property: deer travel corridors, preferred trails, rub lines and perennial scrape sites. 

During the pre-season and pre-rut, I tend to concentrate my camera efforts on known travel-ways, such as preferred entrances and exits to food sources. This includes supplemental feed sites, funnels, field corners, creek crossings and any other concentrating feature.

If you are new to a piece of property, this information will just have to become apparent over time; it will take lots of experimentation to settle on the best spots.

If you already have a list of perennial communal scrape sites, shift some of your cameras to watch them once you see the first sign of scraping activity.

Whatever you do, remember that a scrape site has to continue to have overhanging “licking branches” to stay effective from year to year. For that reason, don’t get happy with your bush hog or your lobbing shears during the off season and unwittingly destroy a hotspot.

Always remember to position your cameras to observe a particular site from a generally southern direction. A direct view into the sun can really play havoc with a camera’s IR sensor, and lots of photos of nothing but background can be the result.

Remember that during the late fall and winter the sun’s angle is much shallower from a southerly direction.

Regarding the “what” factor, the type of camera that you chose for each surveillance site can be hugely important. For instance, it might be safer and less obtrusive to monitor an important buck scrape or close-range feeder site with an IR “black” flash rather than a visible white strobe flash.

While most new cameras have only IR flash capability, I still have several older model cameras with visible strobe flash capability that I use almost exclusively for food plot corners or other similar locations where my flash range needs to be 20 yards or more. 

Trail camera technology has been changing so swiftly from year to year, causing most camera users to accumulate a range of capabilities across a typical grouping of cameras that were acquired over the course of several years. So match each camera to a location that best suits the camera’s technical capability.

At a given surveillance site, when you factor in distance, angle, and camera height, a tree trunk of the right diameter might not be conveniently located where you need to place a camera.

To offset this problem, I mount several cameras on free-standing stands, allowing me the flexibility to place cameras precisely where they need to be rather than relying on the availability of a tree trunk.

And finally comes the “how” factor, referring to the nature of the setup you use to maximize your results. Just like I mentioned earlier when comparing a line of cameras to a trap line, extreme care should be taken when placing a camera.

Items of concern would include things leaving the least scent  you possibly can at the camera site, and at a feeder site trying to place your camera above head height with the camera angled downward slightly to decrease notice by feeding deer. 

We will look into each of these basic tenants of trail camera use in upcoming articles.