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.

What Causes Warts On A Whitetail Deer?

deer warts 2Our friend Danny sent us these trail-cam photos of a young Maryland buck with what hunters commonly call warts.

The technical name for these growths: cutaneous fibromas. They are smooth, black to gray hairless tumors of the skin caused by a virus, which is thought to be transmitted to deer by biting insects, just as blue tongue is transmitted.

Warts may show as single, multiple, or in clumps; they can vary from 1/2 to 8 inches in diameter. They can be found anywhere on a deer, but are most common on the head, neck, and shoulders.

The growths rarely extend below the hide of a deer. When the skin from a deer with warts is removed there is typically no evidence of any problem with the meat. Biologists say only large tumors that become infected with secondary bacterial infection would cause a deer to be unfit for human consumption.

Growths like these are not all that uncommon on whitetail deer in the summer.  But I have spent more than 40 years observing and hunting deer and have never seen an animal like this. Have you ever seen a deer with warts?

deer warts 1

 

Can Deer Antlers Help Cure Cancer?

summer antlers cam pic.jpg 6-08According to an international study lead by Chinese researchers and published in the journal Science , a system of cancer-related genes allow deer to grow a new set of antlers every year, but the animals rarely die of cancer thanks to other tumor-suppressing genes in the body that keep the aggressive cells in check.

An antler is a complex organ of bone, blood vessels, nerves, muscle and velvet. “Deer can completely regenerate (this) organ. No other mammal has that ability,” said Wang Wen, the study’s lead author.

The researchers also noted that while deer might get tumors all over their body, the growths do almost no harm and disappear with time.

This jibes with what we have posted on BIG DEER blog about tumors and growths on whitetails here in the States. Unless growths occur on the face an restrict breathing and/or vision, scientists say they are rarely fatal.

The study says that some 19 genes work together in a deer’s body to allow antler cells to thrive without developing into cancer in other parts of animal’s body.

In a commentary article in the same issue of Science, Stanford University researchers said the discovery could help scientists develop new drugs to battle cancer. They also noted that the new findings related to antlers could help with tissue engineering and regenerative medicine in humans.