One of America’s most-successful hunters explains how he uses motion cameras to increase his deer harvest.
David Hale has used motion-sensor cameras for years.
“I felt it was a good way to inventory the animals I had on my property. I’ve found that many hunters spend hundreds and maybe thousands of hours hunting trophy bucks that don’t exist,” he said.
“I learned that by using a motion-sensor camera, I could determine if a piece of property had the size of buck that I wanted to hunt before I ever hunted that land.”
When Hale and his partner, Harold Knight, film their TV show, they only have two to seven days to take a trophy buck. They utilize motion-sensor cameras to locate and harvest that buck within this short time.
“Once we’ve established that there is a trophy buck on our property, we use Moultrie Game Spy trail cameras to pattern that buck so that we know where he is bedding, feeding, the trails he uses in between, and the time of day he’s walking those trails,” he said. “The critical key to being able to find and set up a hunting pattern for a trophy buck is getting the cameras into position to give you the information you need well ahead of the hunt.”
How Hale Sets Up His Cameras
Hale uses cameras both in state and out-of-state, placing them at every feeding station. He prefers to have the cameras in place and working for about two months before he hunts.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that many times, deer will change their movement patterns before you hunt them,” he said.
This change makes the information gleaned from the cameras, two to three days before the hunt, the most-critical information for the success of the hunt.
Often during the rut, the deer have well-established trails.
“Once you’ve learned that you have a big deer on your property, the first key is to put your cameras on funnel areas where the terrain necks down,” he said. “Then you’ll probably see deer traveling from one woodlot to the next, since they more than likely will pass through some type of funnel.
“The second key is to look for the dim trails, generally 20 to 30 yards on the downwind side of the main trails.”
Bucks most often will use the dim trails, and the does will utilize the other trails. Generally you’ll pinpoint trails 30-40 yards on either side of a heavily-used trail. Lightly-used trails will have thicker cover than the main trail, which will present more resistance for the animals as they move down these trails.
“A buck can walk down the dim trail and smell the animals that are using the heavily-used trails,” Hale said. “He can often determine if there is an estrus doe walking that trail, while the buck stays in heavy cover and out of sight.
“I like to use a camera on those dim trails to catch a buck crossing them or utilizing a small opening. I want to identify a place where a buck will stop and look before he crosses a creek or an opening.”
To learn the most information about the deer, Hale sets up his camera so he gets the picture taken just as the buck crosses that opening to get more than a fast, blurry shot of the animal. Hale prefers to set up his cameras at “creek crossings, places where a buck may jump the fence or a downed tree that a buck may have to walk around.”
He also locates bucks at bottlenecks, where he sets up the cameras.
“I love to hunt with my bow,” he said. “I’ve found if you’re not hunting funnel areas, you can’t get deer in close enough to take them with a bow.
“The kinds of pinch points or squeezes that I like to hunt are woodlots where a point of woods sticks out into a field. That point of woods is often where most of the deer will enter the field because they have the most cover going out into the field of any other spot on that field edge.
“Some other-productive places will include a corner of a field where the deer can enter from a corner close to thick cover, or a narrow spot where two fields corner and leave a small strip of woods between those two corners of a field, a creek crossing, a spot on a fence where the deer have been jumping over a fence or a crawl space under a fence.”
What Hale Learns From His Cameras
Hale considers trail cameras accurate at predicting when a buck will show up on a trail, but during the rut, he doesn’t find the camera reliable when trying to predict the exact time a buck will show up.
“When the buck locates a doe in estrus, he may stay with her for a day or two, or he may run all over the countryside, chasing does in all directions,” he said.
However, the trail camera does let you know when the property homes a buck. Then Hale knows that a buck will travel a trail or close to a trail, looking for an estrus doe or in the company of one.
Also, a camera will show bucks on the property that you never may have seen.
“I may be trying to take buck that will score 135 to 140 (B&C) points,” Hale said. “However, I may not see that deer on any of my trail cameras, but I may spot a 150- or a 160-class buck that I’ve never photographed before on the property because he has migrated in or chased an estrus doe to my land or is the dominant buck in the area and he’s just expanded his home range on the property I’m hunting.
“Or perhaps he’s stayed in thick cover and never come down any of the trails that I’ve had cameras on until the rut begins.”
Hale recalls a time when motion-sensor cameras enabled his son-in-law to take a trophy buck.
“About two years ago, my son-in-law had put out trail cameras on some property near his house,” he recounted. “Before the season, he and I had inventoried with our cameras eight or 10 bucks that would score from 140 on the B&C scale to about 110 B&C.
“After the rut, but still during deer season, my son-in-law set up his cameras again to try and determine how many bucks of the group we had photographed had survived the rut.
“He put his cameras around a feeder and photographed a buck that would make the B&C record books. For three consecutive days, he photographed that buck he’d never seen before during the season coming to the feeder. Every day, the buck showed up within an hour of the time that he’d showed-up the previous day.
“On the fourth day, my son-in-law set up a tree stand and took that trophy buck with his bow.”
Also, Hale likes to set up three or four cameras at different stand sites to enable him to hunt under different wind conditions.
“The good thing about these cameras is when I’m on one stand site, those other three or four cameras are recording deer movement at the other stand sites for me. So I’m actually scouting while I’m hunting,” he said.
The cameras also allow Hale to scout an older age-class buck that only may come down a certain trail once every two or three days.
“That lets me know what trails he’s using on the days he doesn’t come down the trail that I’m hunting,” he said.
The other cameras let him better predict where a buck will show up the next day.
Last season trail cameras helped Hale to hunt 8-point bucks, his favorite bucks to hunt.
“I think God made 8-point bucks, and man has tried to jazz their antlers up to become 10-, 12- or 50-point bucks,” he said. “You have to remember that an 8-point buck is the norm. A buck that has more antlers than 8 points is an oddity of nature.
“I believe that there is no more-magnificent deer than an 8-point buck that will score 150 or better on the B&C. When I find a deer like this, that deer has my undivided attention until I can take him.
“Last year I found an 8-point buck coming to a food source. I used my cameras to determine where he lived and traveled and where he was feeding. But even with all that information, I had to put in two weeks’ worth of tree stand time to finally identify a small neck of woods that buck was traveling through.
“This buck was nocturnal, and mainly came to the food source at night. He never showed up during the daytime. And if I hadn’t had the trail cameras set up to photograph at night, I never would have known this buck was even on the property.
“The cameras began to take pictures of him moving a little bit more frequently during daylight hours just prior to the rut.
“Finally, I had the cameras set up in a bottleneck and noticed the buck coming through that bottleneck late in the afternoon when there was still enough light to get a shot off with my bow.
“And that’s how I finally took this 8-point that scored 152 B&C. That old buck would have probably died of old age without my ever seeing him, if I hadn’t been using my motion-sensor cameras.”
Hale considers motion-sensor cameras extremely helpful for locating nocturnal bucks, especially around a feeder. According to Hale, a buck will come to that feeder at night to feed and to find estrus does.
Hale said you may want to set feeders to begin dispersing at night.
“Then you can get bucks to come to the feeders that won’t come there during daylight hours,” he said. “Another advantage is that you won’t have turkeys, songbirds and other critters coming in and eating up your feed like they do during the daytime.”
Hale sets up his feeders with plenty of food so the does will have enough to feed on for a long time.
“I usually set up my feeders to go off at 6 p.m. Usually, by 6 p.m. the turkeys have already flown up to their roosts. When the does come out to feed, they’ll stay around the feeder till after dark, which is the time those big bucks will come out, and I can photograph them with my cameras.
“If you set your camera up so that it only goes off once every two minutes when there’s movement in front of it, you’ll have a lot of deer moving in and out of the areas that the camera is photographing. I guess more than anything else, the camera tells me how many animals I’ve got on the property that I hunt.”
Motion-sensor cameras have not only helped Hale to hunt and scout bucks, they’ve also helped him identify the number of predators on the property. He has seen “coons, coyotes and all kinds of other critters that compete with the deer for food and may prey on the deer and the turkeys.”
The cameras also help determine the buck-doe ratio, which lets Hale know the effectiveness of scents and calls. You’ll have more success using game calls and scents for luring in bucks with a ratio of 1 buck for every 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 does than in areas containing one buck for every three to eight does.
Also, by using motion-sensor cameras, Hale has learned how much effect moon phase has on deer movement because the camera time-dates the pictures it’s taking. You also can determine how cloud cover affects deer movement and learn what time of day or night the deer most often will move.
“As long as the deer are undisturbed, the time that the deer show up at a certain place will usually change by 30 minutes each day. I believe this may have some correlation to moon phase, but I can’t say for sure.
“Remember, many elements work together to cause a deer to do what he does. If a predator hasn’t scared that buck, if the buck hasn’t smelled human odor in the area, if he’s not chasing a doe, if he hasn’t had some other trauma in his life that day, he will usually show up just a little later.”
However, from Hale’s observations and the use of the cameras, the deer will move most with the moon overhead and underfoot, but Hale doesn’t try to keep up with the movement patterns and the feeding patterns of every buck on the property.
“Once I know what bucks are on the property, I pick out the bucks that I want to hunt,” he said.
And then he uses the digital camera to identify the locations of the bucks, what they’re doing and when.
“I am far more successful when I can take any one of 10 bucks that I’ve picked to harvest than when I hunt one individual buck,” he said.
Hale also recommends that hunters pay attention to ditches since deer will walk around low places rather than having to go down and up to get to the other side.
“If you can find a ditch that is maybe 10- or 12-feet deep, and 5- to 10-feet across that ends about 20 yards from the edge of a field, this is a productive pinch point where you can see numbers of deer. This way you’re hunting a field edge and the head of a draw. If you look for bottlenecks, that’s where you’ll see the most deer anytime you hunt.”
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