Trail cameras have replaced the traditional summer scouting method of sitting behind a spotting scope for as many nights as possible. Some whitetail hunters do still glass food sources to dial in bachelor group patterns, but most deer hunters are keeping tabs via 24/7 digital scouters.
This seems like a win.
Trail cameras are mostly passive intel gatherers. Once you put them out, they work while you play. The value is obvious but often doesn’t carry as much weight as we’d like. This is because you still have to fine-tune camera locations and place them where they’ll do you the most good.
This involves understanding the productive spots to hang them, right now.
Most summertime trail camera recon is collected over food. Soybeans, alfalfa, food plots, and other obvious food sources are all worthy of a camera set. But, your job isn’t just to hang a camera on the edge of the beans and leave for two months.
The goal shouldn’t be only to get pictures of bucks but to learn how they get to the food and what they do when they get there. Look at it this way, you can hang a camera on an edge anywhere and get deer pictures. They might be from right before sunset, or well after midnight.
Which ones do you want more? Which ones provide the most actionable intel? The daylight pics, obviously. No matter what food source you’re monitoring, look at it as a two-pronged strategy. The first is to build a hitlist and see who is around. The second is to figure out how the hit listers get there, and what they do once they are in the groceries.
I love hanging cameras on water sources for a couple of reasons. This is obviously a rock-solid strategy for summertime intel because it’s often hot, and the deer are often thirsty. That’s no-brainer stuff right there.
The second reason is because water sources—especially small ponds, seeps, and creek crossings—are season-long deer magnets. A well-placed camera will tell you not only who is coming to drink, but from which direction they approach, and how they leave.
That allows you to figure out how to hunt the water, long before the season opens. The more you tune into the activity around the water with cameras, the better off you’ll be when a heat wave rolls across the land and you have an afternoon to go sit.
Again, just like with food sources, don’t treat a blanket look at water source activity as good enough. Figure out when bucks use it, and how they travel to and from the neighborhood drinking fountain.
Terrain traps, pinch-points, funnels, whatever you call them, get all the love during the rut. The truth is, nature is lazy when it’s allowed to be. If deer can save some energy by going through a specific spot on the landscape, they will.
They also don’t often have much of a choice. Sometimes the land just dictates the movement, and that’s that. These types of spots, which are season-long funnels, are my favorite. They are good from the opener until the closing bell rings, and they are some of the best spots to find on pressured ground.
If you have a few on your property, or have some suspicions about a few spots, get your cameras out now. The deer might not be moving through the woods as much in July as they will be in October, but the same rules apply. If they have a safe, direct route, they’ll take it.
The more activity you can capture on these spots, the better. Pay attention to when deer move through, and make a guess as to why. What was the wind doing? Was it 100 degrees and sunny, or was it during a colder snap when the temperatures were more pleasant?
Maybe you saw increased activity when the neighboring farmer cut his alfalfa field, or something else happened with one of the local food sources. The more you learn about when and why deer use these types of spots, the better you’ll be at deciding when to hunt them during the season.
The easiest way to do this is to get some cameras in the woods right now.