Using Trail Cameras to Locate a Shooter Buck
I parked my truck on an old logging road, took one last swig of coffee and looked at the clock. Two in the morning. Soon I would be trekking 3 miles back into the public land. The plan was to be in the tree stand 45 minutes before the sun came up, let the woods calm down from my intrusion. Once in my stand I would sit all day until sun down. This is my Saturday ritual during archery season. All day sits sound romantic, in your head you always end up getting a shot at a hit-list buck. The reality is that they are a grind that require the utmost of mental dexterity. The thing that gives me that mental dexterity and determination on an all-day hunt is the knowledge that there is a Boone and Crockett buck on my hit list. He’s pitting his survival against my determination and hunting instinct. But, if I didn’t know there was a hit-lister in the area, I’m honestly not sure if I could make the grind. So here are some tactics that I recommend getting that elusive creature on camera and give you that mental edge of being certain that you at least have a buck worth hunting in the area.
1: Mineral Licks
Mineral licks are a great way of figuring out which bucks are in your area. I would recommend getting these in the woods as soon as possible. Sometimes it will take a few weeks before the deer in the area start habituating the new lick. The pictures you will gather will give you the ability to gauge the amount of doe in the area as well, which will hopefully bring in more bucks during the rut. The biggest benefit of the use of mineral lick is that is doubles as a supplement for the bucks during a time that they require additional minerals. The biggest downfall of this tactic is that as soon as the mast producing crop begins producing in your area (acorns, corn, soybean, etc....) the deer will likely change their habit. The same is true during the rut, so don’t be surprised if the bucks you had on camera ghost you during this time.
As far as picking the locations of the mineral lick, it is recommended that you place it somewhere that is already a travel corridor, while also providing the deer a sense of security. I usually will set mine up on the thick side of a saddle, the military crest of a ridge line, or the first bench off the top of a ridge. Consistency is key when setting up mineral licks, if you begin to use the same spot every year, the deer in your area will become more accustom to it and activity should reflect.
An important note on mineral licks is to ensure you are familiar with state and local regulations on the use. I make it easy by not hunting within a few hundred meters and by not adding mineral at least a month before the season.
2: Funnels and Travel Corridors
Unlike mineral licks, placing trail cameras over funnels and/or travel corridors is a great year-round tactic. This tends to be easier employed in an agricultural environment. In this type of environment look for a travel corridor between the bedding and the crop. My favorite spot has bedding with a 75-yard strip of woods on the west, bordered by a swamp. The tree line leads to a ridge, which leads to the nearest bean field.
Using this same tactic in the big woods is a more challenging feat, but in my experience, can often lead to discovering some bruisers you otherwise would have not known were in your area. Prime locations include saddles with feed on one side, bedding on the other. Benches with white oak. Spurs leading to apple orchards. Putting a trail camera that can maybe see at most 40 yards in one direction and expecting a buck to walk by can obviously be a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack. Especially with no mineral lick. I like to increase my odds by looking for funnels located on the travel corridors. A prime example of this would be a bench with multiple blown over trees, forcing the deer to use an even smaller area. If that area is still too big for one camera to cover, I won’t hesitate to throw a second camera up to cover the dead space. Either on the same tree facing the opposite direction, or 30-40 yards behind the first camera so nothing can slip behind it.
- Community Scrapes
Community scrapes are easily my favorite place for a trail camera. Unfortunately, they are not a common thing to find. There are a few things that make community scrape so productive for your trail camera. First, it’s not uncommon to get over half a dozen bucks visiting the same scrape. In some exceptional circumstances you could have over a dozen bucks hitting the same community scrape. I have one such honey hole that has been producing over ten bucks every year since 2011 on camera. This brings me to the second point on this tactic. Community scrapes are normally used every year, in the same exact spot, making trail camera placement incredibly easy. Lastly, unlike rutting scrapes, they normally start being used during the spring time frame, rather than the pre-rut. Long story short, if you are ever lucky enough to find one of these, throw a trail camera up, and keep that spot a secret. Some of my most successful and fun hunting has been done on or around a community scrape.
Okay so those are my three recommendations for trail camera tactics, below are some consideration to keep in mind when using any of the tactics mentioned. These will really increase your odds of getting a picture of a buck worthy of your cell phone screen saver.
- Scent control – Rubber boots, antibacterial body wash in the shower, silver base layer, activated carbon, you name it. Infiltrating into a big buck’s domain should always be done with precaution to avoid busting him out. I also like to time my incursion into this sacred domain with a heavy rain. Place the camera and let the rain wash your scent away. These little details make all the difference.
- Limit your time on the X – I like to think about checking the camera like conducting a raid. I’m going to infiltrate in a manner that leaves no evidence of me being there, and I’m not going to be greedy. Get what you came for and get out. It’s tempting to want to check on your camera weekly, but you need to resist. Too much human presence can cause the deer to avoid where you continually leave sign. To avoid a chance encounter, I would also recommend checking the camera at midday when the deer are hopefully bedded down. Get in unseen, get out unseen. This also ties in to an article on my number tip for better buck hunting, CLICK HERE to check it out.
- Lighting – Learn from my mistakes! Make sure your camera is not facing directly into the sunset or rise.
Realistic Expectations – A BUCK ON CAMERA IS NOT A DEAD BUCK. This is just step one, hunt where the big bucks are. The trail camera lets you know you aren’t wasting your time. Understand that early season buck patterns are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than fall/rut patterns. You can’t kill what is not there, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
Remember, having the desire to become successful in hunting, takes a mindset change and that is the hardest part in this endeavor. We can help you with changing this mindset, and once you have changed you will appreciate the hunt more, and start understanding what being a sportsman/woman is all about. Remember our mission is to redefine tradition. Challenge traditional thinking and push others to do the same. We must dedicate ourselves to hone in on our primal instincts and combine them with new methodologies and technologies to truly master evolution.