Time is a Whitetail Hunter’s Best Friend When it Comes to Trail Cameras

Time is a Whitetail Hunter’s Best Friend When it Comes to Trail Cameras

I recently mentioned to a hunting buddy of mine that I already have some cameras out, along with one really good rut setup ready to go. He was a little surprised since our conversation happened before turkey season was fully played out.

His mindset is a common one, and there’s nothing wrong with it. After all, the earliest bow seasons are still months away. There is plenty of time to get the work accomplished, but there’s also an argument to be made that time is a huge asset when it comes to running trail cameras.

Daily, Weekly & Monthly Movement

Hunters often have the misconception that patterning a buck involves figuring out what he does every day. To them, I say, good luck. Unless you’re on a big chunk of primo ground with very little influence from other hunters, the belief that most bucks will do the same thing every day is not rooted in reality. The closest you’ll get is the summertime pattern, and even that usually isn’t cookie-cutter repeatable.

This is even less likely if you tend to hunt small parcels or any spots, private or public, with plenty of competition. What is true is that summer gives you the best chance to pattern bucks, even if their movements are only repeatable a few times each week or even each month.

This is where time comes into play.

If you scout like most hunters, you probably won’t get cameras out until July or August. That cuts the amount of time you can gather summertime intel by half. When you’re dealing with deer that aren’t on a day-to-day pattern, this extra time is important. It goes way beyond just building a hitlist and lets you start to see what certain bucks might do on any given day. Of course, five or six extra weeks of trail camera recon is just the start. You also need to think about where you’re placing your cameras and why.

Destination Versus the Source

Summer trail camera strategies rely heavily on destination food sources. After all, who doesn’t want to capture images of a bachelor group pouring into the alfalfa every evening? This is important intel, but it’s also the lowest-hanging fruit. Of course bucks are going to make the afternoon trek to the alfalfa or the soybeans or your food plot.

What’s more important is how they make that trek. What trails do they take to get there? Where do they start? The more you can cater your trail camera strategy to answering those questions, the more reliable of a pattern you’ll build. This takes time.

What I like to do with early summer trail cameras is to look at them like I look at my early season hunting strategy. I want setups on the obvious stuff but also in the areas where most other hunters might not sit until October or later.

Hang that camera on the food, but also try to reverse engineer their travel to the food. This will help you dial into staging and bedding areas, and help generally answer the most important questions you can ask about a specific buck’s behavior.

Time to Get Things Wrong

One of the main reasons we love to hang summertime cams on food sources is that it’s so easy to get it right. You’re going to get the pictures you want. A camera 200 yards off of the food on a lone trail might not be as exciting and might prove to be a real dud. That’s not something that is without value, however.

The recon you gather on how the bucks get to the food, where they cross the fence or the stream now, and what conditions favor specific travel (like wind direction) is easily as valuable as confirming that bucks do like to browse in the soybeans all summer long. Instead of just confirming what you know, use the time you have now to answer the questions that will help you kill bucks.

That will involve some disappointing card pulls and more questions than answers. Over time, you’ll start to get things nailed down though, and you’ll be able to start building a hunting plan off of that intel. This is so much easier to do with a few months to work with, as opposed to a few weeks.

While turkey season just ended and the fishing is heating up, there is a good reason to get into the bug-filled woods now—time. Get a couple cameras out, let them soak for a few weeks, and then start to fine-tune your digital recon. By mid-summer, you’ll be far ahead of your competition, and the bucks.

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