It’s hard to think of a piece of technology that has reshaped hunting more in the last two decades than the scouting camera. By name alone, this virtuous tool has given hunters the ability to be in places and see things that those in the generations before us would never have even dreamed of. Never before has there been a better way to keep 24/7 eyes and sometimes ears on your little slice of heaven or be in 10 places at once than with a scouting camera. Never before have we had such an ability to collect so much information and make informed decisions in our hunting strategy, but just because we have a camera or cameras out in the field doesn’t mean we’re making the most of our efforts. Here’s 10 tips to help you get more from your scouting cameras this season.
- Start Early. Stay Late.
At the time of this writing it’s the dog days of summer with sweltry temperatures and antler development fully completed. Food sources are mostly established and it’s a great time to inventory your herd by way of buck to do ratios and current year fawn recruitment. Unfortunately, it’s late and we’ve missed a lot of potential data if you don’t have cameras in the field already as the summer offers better opportunities to review what’s happening in the field as the seasons change including antler development and does bringing fawns to bear. Conversely, once this information is collected it doesn’t mean it’s time to pack it in for the season and wait for the rut to hit. Again, scouting cameras do the work for you, acting as your eyes and ears in the field as the seasons progress and are a great way to know what you have going on year round not just going into hunting season and coming out. Often times we think an elusive buck may have been killed only to discover post season that local pressure made it so he was just giving us the slip and made it through to another season. Don’t miss these opportunities and leave your cameras up for as many seasons as make sense for you.
- Review Past Season Data
By leaving your cameras out all or most of the year you have the ability to review what happened at what time and where each year. By maintaining multiple camera sites or moving your cameras to different locations throughout the year you have the ability to know what happened where, and when. For example, you may have consistent history of bucks cruising through a rut funnel area on a certain wind, in a consistent date range, year in and year out. Having that information on hand gives you the best chance of intercepting that activity because you know where they want to be, under those conditions, at that time. The same may hold true for early season food strategies or in transition times when cover is key and finding a buck is at its most challenging. Making the most of data from seasons past makes this season more fun, more rewarding and potentially, more successful!
- Check on the Right Wind
It’s no secret that a deer’s best defense is its nose, which is why you should treat your strategy for checking scouting cameras the same as you would for hunting a stand. Always use the wind to your advantage. If you don’t, the deer are using it to theirs. If you wouldn’t hunt the area where your camera is then you shouldn’t check the card either. Here’s the logic. Each time you head to the field to check cameras you invade the deer’s home and you’re giving the deer the same data to help pattern you as you’re using to pattern them. The see you, smell you and hear you. And YES, this matters year round not just during hunting season. It might seem easy and inconsequential to blow off the fact that it’s not in season or that you not hunting that area today or any time soon but the collective effect of leaving clues about your intentions educate deer to those exact intentions. In a game that’s literally life or death, you need to give yourself and edge and getting lazy or sloppy just tips the odds further in the deer’s favor. In that same vein it’s also best to let your cameras soak longer and limit your trips into and out of those spots while still trying to tread lightly. Make sure to wear gloves, rubber boots and spray your cameras after you touch them. All of these precautions add up and give you just that much more of an edge in the deep woods chess match.
- Have a Location Strategy
Whether you have 1 scouting camera or or 100 you can never have enough! It’s important to a strategy to why you’re placing your cameras where and when. It makes little sense to load up your hunting spot’s rut funnels with cameras when the deer are clearly on a summer or winter feeding pattern. Do your best to go into your new year’s scouting with an idea of when and where you want to place your cameras and why. Jot them down on paper or make a spreadsheet to help you keep organized. At the same time, don’t be afraid to be nimble if you have a hunch about a spot or sightings, crop rotation, or some other factor indicate you need more information about a certain spot. Worst case, buy another camera to help get you more coverage and build a bigger, better mouse trap. You won’t be sorry you did and the financial pain of the purchase will long be forgetting when you punch your tag.
- Use Video Mode!
If you’re not using video mode on your scouting cameras, you’re only getting part of the story! Although a picture is worth a thousand words a video is like War and Peace. Photos are only a single image of a fraction of a second. How many times have you gotten photos of just a nose, tail or a blur of something that left you wondering what that animal might have been doing and why? Video allows you to solve the riddle, while better understanding exactly what was happening in the moments those deer were in front of your camera. Instead of a picture of a doe in the frame and then a 3—second delay until you may get a photo of the trailing buck, you get 30 seconds of video to know specifically what they were doing, what the behavior was, where they came in from and how many deer there were. Single animal images often become videos of multiple deer leaving you with an animated view of full behavior sometimes including audio instead of a still portrait that brings exceptional depth and value to your data collection efforts.
- Use a Scouting Camera Mount.
Have you ever struggled to find the right angle for your camera only to have half-rate images of critters that leave you scratching your head? A trail camera mount lets you adjust your camera in the exact angle, projection and height to make the most of every situation. The same holds true for situations where trees do not exist. Many stick type mounts give you the opportunity to put a camera where you would have otherwise been left unable. These options also allow you to put your cameras out of the view of the educated eyes of bashful bucks and dominant does.
- Use Non-season Specific Scent.
The use of scent is one of those topics that brings a lot of controversy, but if you use the right types of scent you can have dynamite results. Scent is like the world wide web of the whitetail woods and one of nature’s most powerful communication methods all available in a single whiff. Pre-Orbital scent is one of the best for use in year round applications and has proven to dramatically increase not only the mount of visits to a particular area by moth bucks and does but also the amount of time they spend there. This in turn gives you more opportunity to gather more scouting camera videos of deer in that location. Assuming you’re in an area with a decent deer population it’s not uncommon to have dozens of deer of either sex use a scent wick or licking branch area doped with Pre-Orbital scent. These scent sign posts allow for the collection of a lot of information by deer on a year round basis and can/will be used 365 days a year. Remember to keep human scent to a minimum when setting up your area and refresh it each time you check your scouting camera’s card. Best results can be found placing your camera about eye level in the tree and within 5 yards of the scent and pointing slightly downward.
- Seeing is Believing but Believe There’s More.
Although scouting cameras give you a huge advantage they’re still only covering a very small area. With many cameras only covering an activation area of about 60ft in length and 120 degrees of field of view, the world it covers is a mere pinhole view of your hunting area. Many times we’re guilty of believing that what we see on scouting is all that’s in the area. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s easy to believe we always place our cameras in the right spot to maximize our opportunities but understanding that we’re working with wild animals means that the only thing that’s consistent is that they’re inconsistent. Sometimes they only need to be a few feet out of the cameras activation area for you to miss them. If your instincts tell you there might be more activity in that area, follow it until your observations prove otherwise.
- Use a Data Collection Program.
Doctors, lawyers, mechanics and even deer hunter all need to make data driven decisions. It’s what makes the difference between consistently successful hunters and those who are not. As discussed earlier by organizing your scouting camera information you are able to generate a predictive model of where deer could be and when. Deer Lab, Scoutlook and a several other programs offer great solutions to keeping your scouting camera data organized, prioritized and detailed so you can make the most informed decision possible. Plus, they also give you a great starting point to locate that camera you seem to have forgotten the exact location of.
- Preparation = Luck
The saying is that luck is where preparation and opportunity meet. When it comes to scouting cameras they give you the best opportunity to enhance your luck. By collecting more data in the form of scouting camera videos you can prepare better for what the time of year, weather, hunting pressure and other factors present, giving you the best opportunity this season. Keep these tips in mind for your scouting camera strategy and you’re sure to enhance your success.