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Summer is a busy time. There are family vacations, chores to do around the house, fish to catch and golf balls to hit. It’s also hot, and let’s face it, with the mercury cresting, you just don’t feel like doing much outside.
But then it hits you. Wham! Deer season is just weeks away, and you don’t have a clue as to what’s walking around on your hunt property, much less where to set a stand that will give you a realistic opening day chance. No worries. It’s easy to make up for lost time, but you need to get going—now.
Lights. Camera. Action.
Infrared trail cameras able to capture both video and still images are without a doubt one of the best products to come along for the serious deer scout. They serve as 24-hour sentries, watching and recording every racked and slick-headed whitetail that strolls in front of their sensors. By recording the time and date on every image, a trail cam can tell you not only what bucks are on your property, but when they are on the move. By setting up cameras at multiple sites, you can determine where the better deer are hanging out on your land.
To get started, first set cameras up in those places where you’ve enjoyed success in the past. “Deer are creatures of habit from season to season, and if we have a good spot that produced for the last few years, we’re going to pay attention to that spot first,” says David Sichik, a New Jersey hunter and taxidermist.
When hitting a piece of land for the first time, however, set out a salt lick, corn or other attractant such as Primos Swamp Donkey or Hunter’s Specialties Vita-Rack 26 (where legal, so check your state’s hunting regulations for more information). Place it near a likely bedding area or along a well-used deer trail and place your camera approximately 15 to 20 feet away. Units also should be set about 3 feet off the ground on a tree or post for obtaining the best field of view. If local crops are really producing or white oaks are dropping acorns, you may simply want to hang your cameras in these areas instead.
Check cameras in the middle of the day to avoid spooking deer or even well after dark.
“I even know some guys who will check them at two or three a.m. so they won’t be associated with normal hunting pressure,” Sichik says.
Rotate cameras to new spots every few days to quickly determine those areas with more deer activity. As opening day draws nearer, key in on those spots where you’ve seen the most or more importantly, the biggest bucks, noting the times they were photographed to determine their patterns. Should you spot one bruiser that stands height and width above the others, you may decide to specifically target that deer once the season opens.
Don’t Stop Glassing
While trail cameras are the deer scout’s best friend, don’t give up your binoculars just yet. There is still a lot to learn from actually burning some shoe leather and scouting your property. Bucks may still be bunched up in bachelor groups right now, so find a good band coming to feed and size up their antlers and how they respond to each other.
Determine the dominant or biggest buck of the group and whether he is usually the first one or the last to enter the field. Typically he’ll be the last. Note how the other bucks respond to him as he enters the field and try to determine if this buck is aggressive or not.
This can help you later in the season as you determine how to call or decoy the buck. If he’s aggressive, posturing to the other deer and causing them to step out of his way, you will want to rattle, grunt and decoy a lot when the season opens. If he simply keeps to himself, he may have a milder temperament and be less likely to charge up to a decoy or into the sound of rattling. Doe bleats and lower toned grunts may be the way to grab his attention.
Pay attention to when and from where deer appear and jot down in a journal other conditions such as moon phase, weather and wind to determine how to hunt a stand when similar conditions occur once the season opens.
In the evenings, pick a spot that provides a good view of a likely field, sit back and glass. If you choose to sit in one of your stands, approach it just like the season is open and control your scent and wear camouflage. A spooked deer now is a spooked deer come the opener, so don’t risk it. Nothing affects deer patterns more than a sudden change in human activity. You definitely don’t want to force a change in the local whitetail’s habits until you get a chance to take a crack at them with a bow or gun.
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