Never too early for trail cams

The author’s son aligns a trail camera to see what’s cooking in the deer woods.

A question I was asked by a deer hunter the first week of June stands out as July rolls around. He wanted to know in what stage bucks’ antler growth would be, but the big question was, “Would it be worth it to put cameras up?”

My considered response was that bucks would be showing anything from “nubs to hat hooks” but in 30 days, you’ll be seeing some early definition of the bucks’ racks.

In my viewpoint, as a huge proponent of the use of trail cameras pretty much year-round, there is nothing but upside when you can keep an eye on your deer herd and your hunting property during the offseason. If you are relatively new to the use of trail cameras, there is no better time than now to begin testing ideas and learning all you can. Over time, you will pick up the “where” and “how” regarding surveiling your unique hunting property with a web of trail cams. For me, early scouting with trail cameras generates a continuous stream of photographic data from the preseason time frame right on through hunting season. My mantra is to have as many cameras out as possible, to obtain more photos rather than less, and to have them out early at as many varied locations as efficiently feasible. As the data comes in, I comb through and analyze it, looking for new information, surprises, trends or patterns — and to just get a general idea of what exactly is going on in my deer woods.

Location, location

I have on many occasions been accused of being fanatical about trail cameras, and if the accumulation and analysis of vital records — as I refer to my photo data base — fits that description, then I am guilty as charged.

The hunter/land manager should have the mindset of looking at his/her property as a field laboratory that is ripe to reveal things such as herd density and composition, age structure, adult sex ratio and fawn recruitment. Is it expensive to have and to maintain a web of cameras? Not now, as the price for quality trail cameras has dropped a great deal in recent years.

Battery life and battery replacement cost was once a big issue when D and C batteries were the norm, but with most cameras now using from eight to 12 AA batteries, greatly improved battery life and much-lower seasonal battery costs have been the result.

All hunting properties are not created equal from the standpoint of what will work to your best advantage when camera scouting. Some properties will be hilly and even rugged, while others will be flat, with agriculture fields or hardwood bottomland. Still others will be covered with plantation pines, and so forth and so on. In other words, the camera techniques that work well in one location might not work at all in another.

The obvious point here is that in order to maximize your efforts and gain your best advantage, your goal will be to obtain photos of game animals, especially whitetails. Just like the old real-estate cliché, success depends on location, location, location. Your trail camera should be where deer are concentrated for many reasons, which would include food sources — agricultural and hunter introduced — water sources, especially in a time of drought, and travel ways and pinch points, to name a few.

Detail oriented

The No. 1, most-obvious location for a surveillance camera is overlooking a feed station or mineral-attractant site, but this only works if supplemental feeding is allowed where you hunt. If it is, try and place any camera that overlooks a feed site close enough to be able to see detail but far enough away to be able to get the whole site in the frame. Place it high enough to be out of a deer’s normal sight plane, for example, just above head height.

If you can put a camera in an elevated orientation, tilt the upper side of the camera housing at a sufficient downward angle to be face-on to the feeder. The camera can be canted slightly downward by placing a piece of a stick between the upper part of the camera and the tree trunk on which it’s mounted.

The key to my success with using trail cameras over the past 10 or 12 years has revolved around effective camera placement and not the use of fancy or expensive cameras. I use basic brands and models that are economical and readily available to every hunter.

Trail cam locations:

Field edges and corners

Access points to food plots

Supplemental feeders and mineral stations

Heavily worn travel routes

Pinch points and funnels

Woods road intersections

Active communal scrapes during the season

About Bill Garbo 83 Articles
Bill Garbo is a petroleum engineer and avid whitetail hunter from Madison, Miss. He has lived and hunted out west and taken numerous big game species, but hunting big old mature southern whitetail bucks is his favorite pursuit by a country mile.