This is my inaugural column in Mississippi Sportsman based around the general topic of trail-camera scouting. Each month I will share advice, tips, tactics, strategies and techniques regarding the use of digital scouting cameras that have proven useful to me over time in the successful pursuit of whitetail deer on my farm in west-central Mississippi.

My introduction to trail cameras began several years ago when I received my first trail camera as a Christmas gift. I could tell right away, as I put the new camera to use, that this new toy had the potential to become one of the best tools in my deer management tool box. The trail camera bug bit me pretty hard, and by the next deer season, I began to acquire additional cameras and to experiment with locations and set-ups. Many mistakes were made, but slowly over time I learned how to make the cameras work for me and to be my around-the-clock eyes in the woods.

At first I only screwed or strapped my cameras to the closest available tree, which quite often meant that the camera was not always placed right where I would have liked it, or worse, no tree was available, resulting in no set-up at a desired location. I now use a combination of trees when available, and homemade and commercially available camera stands, which allow me to place a trail camera exactly where I want it at any location.

Over time, trail-camera photo information and analysis has been instrumental in the harvest of several old, wise bucks on my property. These bucks were, for the most part, nocturnal, but I knew they were there and where their general areas of activity were located, even in certain cases when I had not laid eyeballs on a targeted buck before he finally strolled in front of me. One can often follow and plot the photo data and see a rough pattern of travel emerge, revealing a tendency for a particular buck to visit or cycle through a certain area of your property every so many days. You can then install or sit stand locations in that particular area that suits daily wind conditions as you pursue the target buck.

Do not be discouraged if you are relatively new to trail camera scouting and are not getting the desired result from your efforts. There is obviously a learning curve for a novice trail-camera user, but there is a different learning curve for any given hunting property. Each hunting property is unique, regarding habitat, cover and hunting pressure. It can take multiple seasons, several cameras, boxes of batteries and copious hours of your time to really unravel buck movement patterns and tendencies on your property. You need to experiment with different set-ups to see what works. But when you get the basics worked out, the result can be absolute "gang busters."

I am writing this column for the February issue in mid-December, which is smack in the middle of the transition from the "chase phase" to the "breeding phase" here in west-central Mississippi. For the past several weeks, my fleet of trail cameras has been split between proven prolific buck travel-ways and active perennial major scrapes. It has taken multiple years of trial and error to identify the real hotspots to place cameras for maximum effect regarding buck movement. I have learned to place my cameras along or convenient to a system of woods roads and lanes that combine to make a rough loop through and around the core or heart of my property. This gives me easy and stealthy access to my web of cameras as I come and go from stands while hunting, allowing me to check batteries and swap memory cards in all of my cameras at least once a week or more often. I have found this to be the most efficient method for me to maintain a group of cameras during the hunting season, resulting in minimum disturbance to the deer population and maximum utility of the photo information.

There are of course exceptions. A camera location on a scrape or travel way that has been "hot" for a while can suddenly go cold as the ebb and flow of the rut and food sources evolves during the season. If this happens to you, immediately search for a new hotspot to relocate your camera. Also, from time-to-time when I suddenly run into a new active noteworthy scrape or deer crossing that is more or less off the beaten path, I will install a camera there for a short period of time to see what is going on. Keeping your cameras active and gathering as much information and clues to buck movement as possible can dramatically increase your odds of success.