Every year people get big bucks on their trail cameras over the summer and then never see them during the season, especially when hunting smaller properties like most people in the country. Bucks and deer in general often “summer” in one area that is usually fairly small, sometimes less than 200 acres and less for does and fawns. However, if the food sources and cover are not there for the deer, their range may be 2 square miles. Trail cameras are a good way to get an idea of a deer’s range.
Getting a deer on a trail camera every day or even every other day usually indicates a small summer range for that deer. Deer move very little in the summer months because they don’t need as much food and they try to stay cool. This also means that deer choose to move at night more often. Most, not all, trail camera pictures during the summer are in late evening, night, or early morning. So how can you pattern these deer so you can be in the stand when the big one is under it? Keep track of how often and how many pictures of the deer you get. The more pictures you get, the better chance there is that they are calmly walking through the area or feeding. Next, pay extra attention to the pictures you get during late August and Early September when the velvet is coming off. This point shows that the deer are going to be starting early prerut activities. Scrapes and rubs should be slowly showing up. This sign will help you tell whether that deer is in your area for the long haul. Usually scrapes and rubs will mean that the deer that made them will be checking them and roaming that general area, especially during the prerut. So, make sure you are hunting the area hard during the early season, especially about 2 hours before sunset until sunset and at sunrise for about 2 hours at least.
Many deer during late August and early September start to move off or expand their summer range. If you stop getting pictures of the huge buck that you have had on your camera all summer long, don’t worry! He most likely moved off of his summer range or expanded his range to make his territory bigger. You may not see him much if at all early season, but once the rut starts to go into full swing, you will want to be in your stand! It is not uncommon at all for big buck to check his core summer range during the rut for hot does. They know the area very well, so they will feel very comfortable there when they are there. If you are in this situation, all day sits are not a bad idea. If that isn’t possible, the 4 hours or light before sunset and after sunrise are the best.
So now you have been chasing that buck around all season long and still nothing. You may start to worry that he has been shot by someone else, but don’t! He is out there still. If he has evaded you the whole season, there is a good chance that other hunters haven’t had him in range either. In many areas of the country, gun season can really pressure the deer. So much that late archery season is an even more challenging. The deer usually start to get into their winter pattern, meaning large groups. The winter range is usually completely different than their summer range, although there are always exceptions. However, the good news is that if you can find big groups of deer within a couple miles of your hunting area, there is a good chance that the buck you are after is nearby. Usually these areas are spots with a good food source (ex. Standing corn, standing beans, etc.) A lot of landowners are very lenient with late season bowhunters. Gun season and muzzleloader season is over, and up here in the Midwest, its 10 degrees with 2 feet of snow. They may think you are crazy, but they usually don’t have anyone else hunting out there at that time so you have good odds of getting permission. This is also a great way to start building a relationship with the landowner for future seasons. Deer in their winter patterns will often do the same thing every day and they are very focused on food to stay fattened up for winter. Putting a stand up over a food source or heavy deer trail will often be your best bet. Late season deer will eat all day long if they have enough cover around them, but again, if all day sits in this kind of weather isn’t a possibility, it is usually best to hunt the 2 hours or so before darkness in the evenings. Just be cautious with the snow, you stick out like a sore thumb and it can be loud to walk through.
With trail cameras becoming more popular every year and with everyone’s busy schedule, hunters are relying more and more on the trail cameras to do the scouting for them. While this sometimes works, trail cameras are an aid in scouting, but only an aid. Nothing can take the place of walking your hunting area and looking for new and old sign. Putting on a few miles scouting during the summer and early fall is what will give you the biggest advantage over the deer.
Following these few tips should help you put your trail camera bucks on the ground this season and for many seasons to come! I wish everybody good luck this season!