8 Best Spots for Trail Cameras

spartan setOne August day Iowa hunter Jay Gregory glassed a giant buck in one of his soybean fields. He snuck into a thick marsh a half-mile from where he spotted the deer and set up some trail cameras. Over the next 7 weeks he got 5 photos of the buck–not a lot, but enough. The image time-stamped 9:00 a.m. on October 24 was gold–it showed the hard-antlered monster at the waterhole in broad daylight. Jay moved in with a tree stand and arrowed the beast a few days later—it gross-scored 198.

After spotting a big buck in an ag field or food plot, sneak in and set a couple of cameras on well-used trails near the closest river, creek or marsh. As summer deepens, mature deer spend a lot of time hanging out near water in low-lying areas. If you get lucky and set your cams in the right spot, you can find out where a giant is bedding. Then plan your ambush on a trail between the bed and the feed.

va spartan 2Another great spot for cams in the early season: small clearings in the timber 50 to 100 yards off a crop field or clover plot where deer feed on September evenings. Mature bucks often hang up in these staging areas in late afternoon before moving out to a field at or after dark. Find a staging area and set a cam on a fresh trail, or near an oak tree where acorns are falling. If you photograph a good buck, slip into the staging area, hang a stand and try to shoot him if the wind and access in the area let you do it.

In the book Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting Wisconsin bowhunter and QDMA member Todd Reabe reveals where he gets amazing daytime photos of monster bucks. And day images are what you want, because that shows when and where you might arrow a whopper when he’s on his feet in shooting light. Todd stays away from field edges and instead aims his cameras into pockets and strips of security cover. “Small funnels and bottlenecks of thick cover between feeding and bedding areas are the best spots for my cams,” he says. Look for these secret cam hotspots on aerial photos and then go in and ground scout.

Dr. Mickey Hellickson, one of the top whitetail biologists in America, has taken camera surveys for more than 10 years on his Iowa hunting property with the sole intent of finding terrains and covers where mature bucks routinely travel. “The spot where we’ve gotten the most mature buck photos is where 2 or more drainages or fingers of timber come together,” he says. Mick notes that these funnels may be large or small, but one constant is that “there is thick security cover nearby.” Hang cameras near these bottlenecks and you will find big deer. Then cross-reference the photos with aerial maps, consider fresh sign on the ground and hang tree stands for ambushes.

Hellickson’s surveys have revealed a second great place to set your cameras, especially later in the fall when the leaves blow down and the days get colder. “Our photos show mature bucks regularly use small blocks of timber with evergreen trees because the conifers provide increased security cover late in the year,” he says. Copses or wind rows of pines or cedars also break the wind and provide a warmer climate for deer on cold, north-wind days. Beginning in late November, set a couple of cameras in these habitats and be ready to move in with a stand when a bomber buck shows up.

spartan buck scrapeAnother top deer biologist, Dr. Grant Woods from Missouri, has analyzed hundreds of thousands of cam photos taken in all imaginable types of habitat from September through January. He says the best place to get buck shots bar none is at scrapes during the rut. Look for big, active scrapes deep in the timber and “monitor them throughout the rut, not just for two weeks during the peak,” he says. He explains that different bucks of all age classes show up at different scrapes at different times of the season—some come early in the pre-rut, some at peak, others don’t show until the post-rut phase. “Monitor the best scrapes for four to six weeks and you’ll see almost every buck big and small in the area,” says Woods. “You’ll get images of the local bucks on your land, and many of the transient bucks that work through too.”

Midwestern bowhunter and TV personality Terry Drury loves to hang cameras near “fence jumps.” “It might be a low, drooping spot in a wire fence, a hole in a ditch below a fence, an open gap gate, or a spot where a tree has fallen across a fence and knocked it down,” he says. “Any point where deer funnel to and cross a fence every day.” Second only to scrapes in the rut, fence crossings are where Terry captures some of his best buck images every season. “Whether you have 2, 6 or 20 fences crisscrossing your property, bucks are going to cross them in funnel spots all season long,” he says. “If you watch those spots enough with cameras you’re going to find some big deer.”

Minnesota hunter Ron Bice often hides a camera in cover where he thinks or knows a good buck is bedding. “In dense cover deep in the timber, deer get up and move around a lot in daylight hours to browse or just stretch,” he says. “You never know what kind of buck you’ll catch in there.” It’s risky business because you have to sneak in there at least twice—once to set a camera and again to check the memory card–but it can pay off. “Get a picture of a big deer in his bedroom, and you’ve got a huge advantage,” notes Bice. “You get an idea where that buck is moving out of cover at dusk, and where he’s heading back at first light the next morning.” Then hang a tree stand along a nearby trail or funnel for a high-odds ambush.

Should You Shoot Straight Down At A Deer?

bow shot downMike: At one of my best bow stands, deer often walk in and stop right below my stand, 17 feet straight down and less than 10 feet from the tree. I have passed those shots but maybe I should be taking them, shooting down through the front shoulders of the deer and below the neck. What do you think? Hard to pass such close shots, but I’m not sure of the angle.—Doug from Michigan

I was in a stand in one day last September, thinking about Doug’s question. A trail ran directly under the stand I was in and 5 feet from the toe of the tree. Five does walked under me that evening, and I envisioned trying to kill one. All I could see was bony spine, and one narrow lung on either side.

Not a good bowshot in my opinion, and I would not recommend it.

BUT, when a deer you want to shoot walks straight under your stand, don’t just sit there–draw when you can and wait. Many times the deer will keep walking 5, 10 or 20 yards, stop and turn slightly right or left, going broadside or quartering away and exposing the lungs. There’s your shot. Just remember, when the shot is quartering away, move your sight pin back on the deer’s ribs to drive the arrow forward through the boiler room.

Summer Deer Scouting: Mock Scrapes And Trail Cameras

mock summer scrapeA new regulation this year in Virginia prohibits the use of minerals to attract deer in one of the counties I hunt. Since I’m now forced to give up monitoring mineral licks, I’m making mock scrapes and setting trail cameras beside them.

Several studies have shown that whitetail bucks will visit scrapes with fresh scent year-round, and especially in the summer months. The fake scrapes are good places (not as good as mineral licks, but the next best thing) to get images of bucks that will roam your area this fall.

A mock scrape is not only scent-based, but also a visual sign. Rake out at least a 2 foot by 3 foot area below an overhanging branch.  As you rake, envision a buck. He scrapes with his hooves primarily in one direction, and your raking should be done the same way, leaving the debris on the back side of the scrape.

Make your scrape below a prominent “lick” branch that bucks will most definitely rub with their eyes and racks, and chew on. The branch should be approximately 4 feet high–never touch it!

Use a dripper system with a scrape solution. Notes: 1) Do not use doe in heat or an estrus scent in the summer, but a basic deer smell; 2) Here in Virginia urine-based scents are prohibited, so I use synthetic scent in my drippers—check your regs.

While any dirt will do, the best mock scrapes have soils with real deer scent in them. Once you create a mock scrape in a spot you really like this summer, make it a point to collect urine-soaked soil and droppings from real scrapes later this fall. Rake an existing scrape down to bare soil and trowel 3 to 5 pounds of the deer-scent dirt into a plastic bag.

Carry the dirt to a mock scrape and spread it evenly across the soil. While this urine-scented soil is not necessary, it adds realism and makes for a quicker and a more consistently attended scrape year-round.

Tennessee To Hold CWD Workshops For Hunters, All States Should

tn cwdI have researched, written, blogged about and produced TV shows concerning Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the biggest potential thread to deer herds and deer hunting to come down the pike in the last 50 years, maybe ever.

I still find myself confused and scratching my head as CWD is documented in new areas, and as wildlife agencies come out with new info and regulations for dealing with the disease in the short and long term.

I can only imagine how confused you, the average hunter who works hard and raises a family and doesn’t have time to research stuff like this, might be.

That’s why I was so glad to see a tweet from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) saying they will host 6 CWD workshops this summer in West Tennessee counties where the disease has been documented.

The first workshop will be in McNairy County July 7. Five more will be held in various locations through late August.

Experts from the TWRA and University of Tennessee will be on hand to answer all your questions, such as:

What exactly is CWD?

How can it impact my hunting?

I hunt the next county over from where CWD has been found, should I be worried?

Can I carry a buck home I shot in another county, or another state?

Can I eat the meat from a buck I shot in a CWD area?

Is deer meat possibly contaminated—can it hurt my family?

Should I have my deer tested for CWD? How and where do I do that?

 

You can read all you want about CWD (you should) and its potential risks and impacts, but there’s nothing like getting answers first-hand from experts and biologists on the ground like you’ll be able to do at these workshops.

I applaud Tennessee deer managers for having the vision and spending the money to do this, and I ask all state wildlife agencies to do the same in regions where CWD has been found.

Hunters and wildlife agencies working together is the best way to combat CWD!

 

5 Tips For Summer Camping

tent camp

The 4th of July is right around the corner, and many families will head to the woods. Some things to keep in mind:

Get the Kids Involved

Keep your kids busy and off their phones and gaming devices. Start out with a little required work—setting up the tent, collecting firewood, etc. Then move on to a whole lot of fun. Go hiking with your son or daughter, show him or her deer tracks, fish for trout or bream, etc. If you’re in a safe, remote area, show him or her how to plink with a pellet gun or 22 (make sure shooting is legal if you’re on public ground). The more active your kids are the more fun they’ll have, and they more they’ll enjoy the outdoors and camping and want to go with you again. 

Fire Up

For starters make sure open-air fires are legal and safe in your camping area. Depending on weather conditions, there could be seasonal restrictions, so check.

To build a rip-roaring fire put your lighter or matches to good tinder, like cedar shavings or handfuls of dry, brown grass. Better yet, here’s a modern-day trick: Shave off slivers of one of those “fast start” sticks you use to light big logs in your fireplace and pack them in a plastic sandwich Baggie. Pop your super-hot flame on that fake tinder and your fire will blow up fast. Top with handfuls of small, dry, dead twigs and then move up to mid-size sticks and logs.

Be Bear Aware

In black bear country follow these 9 commandments of from the Missouri Department of Conservation: 

Keep a clean camp. Food and all items that come in contact with food carry odors that bears find attractive.

Thoroughly clean all utensils immediately after use. Never deposit food residues such as cooking grease in campfires.

Place garbage where bears cannot smell or gain access to it, either in bear-proof containers or dumpsters. DON’T burn or bury garbage. Bears will dig it up.

Do not eat or cook in your tent. Avoid storing food or attractants in tents, sleeping bags or backpacks. Suspend such items from trees when backpacking.

Treat nonfood items such as gum, soap, toothpaste or deodorant as food. They are attractive to a bear’s acute sense of smell.

Immediately store food articles (including pet food, livestock feed and garbage) in airtight containers after every use. Coolers are not airtight, and bears often associate them with food. Secure coolers in a locked trunk or truck cab concealed from view.

Plan your meals. Generate as little food garbage as possible.

Never attempt to feed a bear or any other wild animal.

Keep your dog on a leash and clean up leftover food and scraps after your dog has finished eating.

Tent Know-How

Kampgrounds of America offers these tips for tent campers.

New tent? Practice setting it up in the backyard before going on a trip.

Invest in good sleeping equipment. Choose air mattresses, cots, or sleeping bags that will give you adequate rest so you can get the most out of your daytime activities.

To stay dry, use a ground cloth under your tent as protection from rips and moisture…use the rain fly, even if the sky looks clear…to prevent rain from leaking into your tent, apply a seam sealant to the inside and outside of all exposed tent seams.

Keep your tent clean; use a whisk broom to sweep out dirt and leaves…place an indoor/outdoor rug in front of your tent entrance for dirty shoes.

Bring duct tape for quick repairs of small tears, splintered tent poles and the like.

Bugs Off!

To ward off ticks, mosquitoes and other pests, wear light-colored clothing and avoid thick woods and brush as much as possible…. cover as much skin as possible…wear calf-high boots and tuck your pants inside. “High tops” keep ticks, fire ants, spiders and the other creatures from crawling up into tender places, and you’ll appreciate their basic snake protection…before you hit the woods shower with an unscented hunter’s soap–the less you smell, the less bugs you’ll attract…never use scented soap, shampoo, shaving cream or cologne; that sweet stuff will draw mosquitoes, flies and bees to your body and into camp. Use a good bug repellent.