Thursday, March 17, 2011

Set the Trail Cams

“Awwww.  Look at the baby!” my daughter Julianne shrieks with excitement.
Believe it or not, it is that time of year to start scouting deer.   Really?  Yep, really.  I am not talking about patterning the deer, but I am talking about seeing who made it and how many.  And, this is something I can even get my youngest son to assist me with! 
Several years ago I bought my first trail camera.  There were several film cameras on the market, but I was able to find an inexpensive digital camera which saved the images on a SD card.  The first thing after opening the box was to get the camera in the field and see what it would catch.  Anticipation mounted, and in the process, I made some mistakes and learned some neat tricks as well.
There are basically two types of cameras on the market now.  Older models were film cameras, but as digital technology became the norm, the film cameras have become as rare as mountain lion in North Carolina.  (There are none, at least until we finally catch one on a trail cam…)  Cameras now are digital, usually utilizing SD cards for storage, and are either flash type or infrared type.  Flash cameras tend to be less expensive, but can kill the batteries quickly.  Infrared will allow you to capture many more pictures, as they do not startle the game animals, and are usually easier on the batteries.  When setting an infrared camera, I am careful not to set it where shade may cover the light sensor, as it may result in a ‘white out’ condition.  White out is when the infrared is working during light, and the camera’s image cannot be made out.
I typically use the camera for different things depending on the time of season.  In the early spring, I like to set the camera to inventory the animals on the land.  I can find out what deer made it, and the approximate numbers.  I can also find out what turkey I have and their times of travel since turkey season is nearby.  This is when the placement of the camera is less important, as I am not patterning my deer.  I currently have mine set on a mineral drip with a small corn pile nearby.  The corn pile is to initially attract the deer to the location; the mineral drip is to provide nutrients to the deer.

Notice the larger deer in the soybeans behind the twins.

In late summer, I set the cameras to find out where the deer are holding.  I start by scouting the areas, looking for tracks on the edges of the fields.   I find a place where the deer tracks are plentiful, and throw a camera up.  From the images, I can see when the deer are in the field, what my ratio of does to bucks is, and whether there are any ‘shooters’ in the bunch.  If there are a load of yearlings and doe, and no older bucks, I know to look elsewhere.  If I do find an older buck, I try to monitor how often he hits the area.  I also will start utilizing techniques to hold him in the area.  Since I mostly bow hunt, it can be beneficial to hold him to the area for the early season before the rut may cause him to roam off.
Before the rut starts, I try to find scrapes through scouting, and set the camera nearby.  This will determine what bucks are nearby.  As soon as a nice buck is found on the camera, I know to hunt that area.  I try to go back to where the deer looks to have traveled from to get to the scrape, and hunt there.  Late in the season, I again set up the camera over corn piles and on trails leading from the woods to the fields. 
The camera gives me a chance to know what is in the field and where.  But the neatest thing about the camera is it allows me to get everyone involved, as the ‘hunt’ is not centered on what I have shot with a gun or arrow, but what I have shot with the camera.  The whole family gets excited looking through the photos.   It does not even have to be a large buck.  I get the same result when we spot a raccoon, fox squirrel, bobcat, or coyote. 
My wife and kids are especially excited when a small spotted fawn shows up.  You know, the baby.

Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to

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