Summer has blown by, and we are less than two weeks away from archery whitetail opener here in Manitoba. The deer are deep into their summer patterns with many of the bucks in large bachelor herds feeding in ag fields during the early and late hours of the day. There is no better time to brush up on some trail camera tips and get those cameras up!
Early this summer, wet conditions allowed crops across much of the province to thrive. This produced plentiful food sources for whitetails to get their feed on in preparation for another Manitoba winter. Throughout much of my pre-season scouting this summer, there appears to be a very healthy population of deer, with every age class being well represented. A great population, doubled with phenomenal antler growth in the mature animals and the stage has been set for an unbelievable year in the whitetail woods to come.
Archery Whitetail Trail Camera Tips
This time of year, when whitetails are sticking to very predictable patterns, and in many situations sticking to just one food source daily; It is very important to have as low of an impact on this property as possible. This is where trail cameras come in. In the following, I am going to cover my top five archery whitetail trail camera tips to help you get the step on your archery whitetail this fall!
How to use a Trail Camera for Scouting
When it comes to scouting, after I have found the whitetail I’ve chosen to pursue, my number one scouting tool at this point is my trail cameras. When a bachelor herd of whitetails choose their summer feeding grounds, they choose it for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons being, quality of feed as well as proximity to water and bedding. Those three are very important aspects for deer. Taking these into account when searching for deer throughout the summer months will prove to be very beneficial.
Another reason a whitetail deer chooses their food source is correlated to their relative safety in that location. The safety of a location can consist of the deer’s proximity to shelter, for an easy retreat if necessary. If there is a road near the field, the location where these bucks will feed and feel the most safe will often be as far and secluded away from that road as possible – minimizing the disturbances they will face. Safety is a very important aspect when it comes to where a mature whitetail will feed. Their safety is also something that is in your control. Ensuring they continue to feel safe and unpressured as they feed, will help ensure that their patterns remain the same as archery season approaches.
Setting trail cameras on these food sources allows your human impact on the area to be as little as possible. However, it is still very important to be as calculated as possible when entering the property to set and check your cameras. What I will do prior to entering the property, is put in time e-scouting the land with satellite imagery. I will try to identify any probable bedding areas surrounding the food source.
Once identified, I will wait to enter the field until there is a favourable wind direction to keep my scent from drifting into these areas. Then, when I enter the property to set the cameras, I will make sure to do so mid-day. This best ensures I won’t be bumping any deer off of the field. When it comes to checking the cameras, it is important to enter the property as sparingly as possible and follow the same steps used while setting.
What Kind of Trail Camera do I buy?
Today there are a seemingly infinite amount of makes and models of trail cameras. Deciding which one to purchase can be a difficult and confusing task. The truth is, trail cameras have come a long way over the years. The majority of trail cameras made today, do the basic task of capturing what is in front of them very well. However, there are a number of features and settings on various cameras that sets some apart from the others.
Depending on your budget, you really can spend as little or as much on a trail camera as you want. I’ve found that the biggest sacrifice with a cheaper trail camera is the quality of the photo or video, with little sacrifice on the actual capturing of the event.
Over the years I have used a number of different brands of trail cameras, and today my favorite far and away, is the Browning Trail Cameras. I have a few different models now and have been extremely impressed by the Recon Force Edge model. Although a little pricier than some brands, the video quality is unmatched in this price range. Other more inexpensive options that I have used are SpyPoint and Stealth Cams. Both these brands have cameras with very low-price points and they do their job very well. However, you do get what you pay for.
Each year there is an abundance of new innovations of trail camera technology that comes out. In the last few years there has been a new wave of cellular trail cameras that have hit the market. For me, where I set my cameras up have limited to no cell phone service. So, I haven’t found value in those just yet. However, if you have great service, this could be an extremely valuable tool to completely eliminate your impact on the area. A couple brands that have taken a lead on the cellular camera market has been SpyPoint and Tactacam. I have heard great things about both these models. Cellular cameras require a cellular subscription to use the networks, so keep that in mind when purchasing.
Trail Camera Tips: Where to set up?
So, you have found your deer, you have scouted the property, the conditions are right, and are ready to set up your camera. When deciding where to set the cameras up, I will always lean on the information I gathered from e-scouting. The IHunter Manitoba app has revolutionized the way I scout properties. Using the satellite imagery in the app, I will pick out probable bedding areas and corridors around the perimeter of the food source to get an idea of how these deer are likely traveling. Then I will mark various waypoints in potential trail cam locations. Upon entering the property I will walk into these waypoints and begin setting up the cameras.
Trail cameras are an awesome way to begin studying the patterns of the deer. I like to start by setting trail cameras along the field edge. This will give me an idea of when the deer begin to filter out, and what direction they are coming from. As you begin to learn more of their patterns, you can begin to shift the cameras around the perimeter. This helps to get a better picture of how the deer are interacting with the entire property.
Perhaps you find that the deer are not coming to feed until just after dark. Another option if you have access to multiple trail cameras, is to travel deeper into the bush and set cameras closer to their bedding areas. In doing this, you can begin to learn where these deer are during the daylight. Which can help you form a strategy to have a daylight encounter during season. When setting cameras here, it is good practice to check them as sparingly as possible. This minimizes the impact on the deer and lessens the chance of pushing them out of the area.
Whether you are setting your camera up on the field edge, or the trails leading to the food source, it is important to be cognizant of the sun’s location throughout the day. As a general rule I will try to set my cameras facing north where possible. This helps to eliminate photos where the sun is shining directly into the camera and overtaking everything else in the image.
When setting up a camera on a trail. I like to set the camera facing down the trail rather than across the trail. This allows more time for the camera’s trigger to be initiated. This will give you a better chance at catching the entire deer in the image. The same is true for when setting the camera on a field edge. Often times deer will navigate along the field edges, where there is easy access to their cover. As opposed to walking right across the middle. Thus, when setting a camera on a field edge. It is good to angle it along the edge of the field.
Trail Camera Tips: Photo vs. Video Mode?
Over the last few years, I have began almost exclusively running video mode on all my trail cameras that allow for it. Video mode tells a much different story of what’s happening, than a still image can. In recent history the incredible innovation of trail camera quality has allowed for this option to be effective.
Why video mode? I have a few personal stories that should help explain why I have chosen this. For example, earlier this year, a young whitetail buck set off the camera. As the video progressed, I was able to watch a deer walk out of a swamp 250 yards in the background. Given that intel from the video, I set a camera in that location. From that, I was then able to learn that my target buck was bedding right in that swamp.
Video mode also allows me to see exactly which direction these deer are leaving and coming from. As well as exactly how they are interacting with the landscape. This also gives me the opportunity to get a great look at the buck I am targeting from all angles. What I learn from these trail cam events play a vital role in my set-up come season opener.
There are some con’s that come with video mode. These are certainty not deal breakers, but are good to be aware of. On video mode the battery of the cameras will last significantly shorter than if it was on photo mode. The memory cards will also fill up much quicker. To help combat this, here are a few trail camera tips to help maximize your video mode.
First of all, a big memory card is super helpful for the longevity of the camera. On my Browning Recon cameras, I run a 64gb card. To maximize the space on that card, I will set the camera to 20-30 second videos and a one-minute delay between each event. Buying high end batteries like lithium’s will also give you a noticeably longer battery life while running this mode. The footage captured does take up a large amount of storage on your computer. What I will do is back up all the footage on an external storage device. This helps keep your computer free of many gigabytes of trail camera events.
For me, the pro’s of video mode outweigh the con’s by a lot. The value of the intel from video mode can play a key role in helping you pattern your deer before season; and may be why you get a chance at your target deer. That’s not even mentioning how cool it is to play back these videos when checking cards!
Adapting your Trail Cameras to the Changing Seasons
As the seasons change, it is good to keep note of the buck’s patterns. Be ready to adapt your strategy as they begin to shift into their pre-rut ways. Come September, most whitetails will have their velvet shed by the first week. The hardening of the antlers and shedding of the velvet is caused by hormonal shifts in the bucks body. As testosterone levels rise, the deer begin to switch from their patternable summer feeding routine, into their pre-rut festivities. This really starts around mid-September through October. As these patterns change, the bucks will begin spending much of the daylight hours within the confines of their travel corridors in the woods.
Buck’s will begin making rub and scrape lines to communicate with each other and establish their dominance as the rut approaches. When this happens, successfully harvesting them on the food source becomes less and less likely. This is when I will begin cautiously finding travel routes on the field edge, and following them back into the woods. Once into these travel corridors, I will look for the most well traveled routes. This will likely lead to the whitetail’s rub and scrape lines. I will then set up trail cameras down these lines to start to get an idea of how well used they are, and the times that the deer are using it.
This method will likely lead a high percentage of daylight whitetail activity, which will give you a pretty good idea of how to set-up during this phase of the whitetails seasonal pattern.
With whitetail archery opener fast approaching in Manitoba, I hope these early season trail camera tips provide some last-minute insight for you to get a step on a mature Manitoba whitetail this fall!
Check out our Top Spring and Summer Scouting Tips and Fall Deer Scouting Tips articles for more whitetail content.
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