As the first half of summer tips over to the second half, the value of trail camera images changes. June and July are for gathering inventory. From now until the opener, the job is to identify real patterns and figure out how to hunt them.
This involves more than leaving a few cameras on destination food sources and calling that good enough. Instead, think about using your digital scouters to pin down specifics on whitetail movement, even when patterns don’t seem overly reliable.
I’ve seen bachelor groups that you could set your watch to, but they are rare. For reasons known only to them, most bucks don’t repeat the exact same movements from day to day. You can see this easily enough if you take a deep dive into any images gathered on a destination food source over several weeks.
Most bucks won’t enter that dreamy back corner of your soybean field every single night in daylight. They might swing through every once in a while in a 24-hour cycle, but many of their visits will be when you’re snoring away long after daylight has given way to darkness.
This is important to acknowledge because we often think that one data point is all we need. The bucks hit the food source some nights, and that’s where we will hunt them. This can work, but it’s a loose plan that mostly won’t work. You have to figure out more.
There’s a spot on a farm I hunt in Minnesota that is pretty typical of bluff country. The bottom is planted in corn, the top is planted in alfalfa, and the hillside between is all woods. While the alfalfa field on top is tailor-made for an opening week sit, the camera I have there shows me it’s far from a certainty that I’ll be covered in bucks in mid-September.
A far less active camera, but also far more valuable in some ways, is one that I placed on the edge of the cornfield below the woods. It’s situated on the wood edge, straight down the hill from the alfalfa. This gives me two data points to work off of in the same general area, with the same general deer.
Better yet, the camera on the bottom captures a lot of morning activity, which is one of the main reasons I hung it where I did. The inconsistent bucks on the alfalfa field in the evening are the same inconsistent bucks traveling that cornfield edge in the morning to go to bed. Now, their movements are less random, and inconsistent, because I have two data points to work with.
I also have information on where they bed, because seeing where bucks feed and travel in the evening and the morning allows me to make an educated guess on where they spend their day. This is information that works for me all season long and is something you should consider when you set your cameras.
The thing about this window of time we have now is that it lets us learn about deer travel (if we so choose). This is more valuable than confirming what we know, which is that whitetails often end up in destination food sources.
Getting pictures of bucks munching away in the evening can help you kill them, but it’s better to work off of that to figure out how they get to the groceries, and how they leave. Where they go before, and after, is what you really want to know.
These travel routes, which you can figure out via trail cameras, allow you to put together a plan that keeps you in the game even if your field edge setups die, which they often will. A couple of hunts on the edge of the beans might be enough to put the deer down. Or the farmer who runs the land might cut that alfalfa opening weekend, which could change the frequency of antlered visitors literally overnight.
If your only intel involves the groceries, you might be persuaded to keep hunting a dead program. If your intel involves multiple data points around what bucks do before and after they eat, then you have the ability to stay in the game no matter how things change. This might not seem overly important now when you’re getting plenty of velvet pics in daylight on your favorite food source, but now is not the hunting season.
Having more intel is what matters, so gather it now.
If you want more information on scouting in the pre-season, check out these articles: 5 Summer Lies Deer Hunters Tell Themselves, How To Summer Scout For Public Land Whitetails, and 3 Locations You Need To Put Trail Cameras This Summer.