Trail cameras are a critical tool for hunting big woods bucks. I use them most of the year, minus springtime and early summer. They'll give you the confidence and confirmation in your scouting to know whether you are in the right place or need to pivot. I like to adjust my cameras based on the time of year to get the most valuable information.
Summer In farm country, placing your cameras on agricultural fields, food plots, and water sources can help you put together an inventory of the bucks living in your hunting area during the summer. In big woods, the concept of using food sources is the same, but the application is quite different. Because there aren’t any ag fields or food plots in the big timber, it's more challenging to figure out where the bucks congregate and feed.
In areas where it’s legal to use mineral sites, these can be useful in gathering information about what bucks live in a particular area. You must use these with extreme caution and knowledge of the CWD risk in your area, since they are known to be a source of spread. But if you do your research and can safely employ them without doing any harm, mineral sites can make a world of difference.
Your choice of placement is essential for a few reasons. Throwing a mineral site in the middle of the woods can help you get lucky, but bucks are in bachelor groups at this time of year and could be a few miles away from where they are during the fall. Placing them near water sources and food sources such as newer logging cuts will help make them more effective. Depending on your state’s regulations, make sure you don’t put them near an area you plan to hunt in the fall.
You can use the summer to gain valuable intel in other ways, too. Newer logging cuts can be dynamite during the summer months. Placing your cameras where multiple trails converge on the edges of these cuts or near a community scrape in or around the cut will seriously increase your chances of getting photos of bucks. Community scrapes are often used year-round if they’re in areas with food and cover that holds deer. They won’t paw up the ground, but you can bet they’ll rub their face on the licking branch. Add forehead gland scent to the licking branch to increase your chances of deer visiting the scrape.
Fall As the warm weather fades and bucks shed their velvet, my trail camera strategy starts to shift. Food sources are changing, and I want to be on top of that. In the early season, you should look to place your cameras on transition areas to food sources such as oak flats, edges of logging cuts, and apple trees. I will still look for scrapes in these areas to increase the odds of a buck passing through semi-regularly. As the season progresses, almost all of my cameras are on scrapes. I like to focus on doe bedding area scrapes in the latter part of October once bucks start keying in on doe groups and begin preparing for the rut. During the rut, your best odds are placing your cameras in travel funnels or just leaving them on the scrapes near doe bedding.
To be honest, it’s challenging to keep up with shifting your cameras around throughout the season. Focus on a strategy for the time of year that you will have the most time to hunt. If I know I won’t have time to move cameras, or I just don’t want to be walking around an area constantly, I will place them on the scrapes that I believe will be the most productive around the time I'll be hunting, which is usually during the rut.
Winter After the leaves are gone and the thermometer is often below freezing, I move my trail cameras back to food sources like logging cuts, oak flats, and spring seeps. Spring seeps take longer to freeze than other areas, allowing the deer to browse and feed around them when other places are frozen solid. Additionally, placing cameras in and around thermal cover such as hemlocks and other conifer trees will yield consistent results when the deer are trying to stay out of the weather.
In the winter, make sure to use lithium batteries in your cameras to get the most out of your battery life. I use these year-round, but they're critical during colder months.
Feature image via Captured Creative.