Updated: Jul 31, 2020
You've purchased a brand new trail camera and learned When to Put It Out, but now you're scratching your head as to where you should set it up to get the best and most pictures of deer.
If you're new to trail camera use or are just looking for some tips to fine tune what you're already doing, you're in the the right place! Let's take a season by season approach to where you should set up trail cameras to get the most out of your new piece of equipment.
There are 3 main strategies I employ for summer trail camera use:
1.) Mineral Sites (private land only)
2.) Food Sources
3.) Travel routes to food sources
My primary goal in the summer when running trail cameras is to first see what bucks I could reasonably expect to hunt in the fall and second determine where they're bedding and feeding the majority of the time.
Keep in mind that some bucks you have on camera in the summer months will move out and other bucks will move in as deer enter their fall range, but I like to have an idea of the average buck size and age class in my area when making my fall hunting plans. Knowing where these bucks are bedding also helps me create my early season game plan, taking advantage of unpressured deer being on their summer patterns.
My absolute favorite place to hang trail cameras in the summer is by far mineral sites, both natural and man-made (where legal). Why? Because deer, especially bucks, will visit them frequently until losing their velvet, making it easy to capture several close up pictures throughout the antler growing season.
A bachelor group of bucks stop by a mineral site, one of many times that summer
The down side is that to my knowledge, mineral sites are illegal on public land in all states, as well as private land in some states. It's always best to first check your state's regulations when creating an artificial mineral site.
Where legal, mineral sites are extremely easy to make. There are several commercial options available with most hunters having their own preference, but simple iodized salt will do the trick as well at a very affordable price.
In the summer, deer are very predictable in their routines, especially what food sources they're utilizing. If you are able to locate a quality deer using a specific food source such as clover or soybeans, chances are you will catch him using the food source regularly all summer.
Because of this, food sources can be an excellent location to hang a trail camera in hopes of gathering intel on what other bucks are using that food sources, and possibly where they're coming from, helping to determine bedding locations.
Food sources such as food plots or agricultural fields can be found on both public and private land alike as some state agencies will plant food plots on public land. In my home state of Pennsylvania, you will also see instances of farmers leasing land from the state to be farmed and the state entering into a co-op with farmers to make their land accessible by the public.
Trail cameras will do best when set up on the inside corner of these fields as deer will often enter and cross fields from a corner to stay covered. Finding a natural scrape on the edge of a field or a very beaten path leading to the food source not in a corner can also be an excellent place to hang a trail camera.
If you're unsure where to hang a camera, utilizing the time lapse mode to watch the entire field is a great option to see where deer are entering and exiting the food source.
If you are in a situation where you cannot create a mineral site or have no access to a summer food source, a known travel route will be your 3rd best option.
I've seen and hunted many areas where public land will border a private farm that does not allow access. Despite not being able to hunt these places, the deer will often bed on public land and feed on private land, making them able to be hunted.
In these situations, you will want to find which trails the deer, specifically the bucks, are using and when they're using them. If the deer are using a particular trail but you're only getting night time pictures, then you know that you will need to hunt these travel routes much closer to known bedding.
Intersecting trails, funnels, and pinch points can be especially good if you need to hang cameras on travel routes!
These areas will require a bit more boots on ground scouting to figure out the best travel routes being used. However, once these areas are identified, you will be in much better position to hunt these areas as you will know which ones are best and when they're being used.
As we transition to fall, many of these trails will remain in use by the deer so you may have to do very little tweaking in your trail camera setups to keep tabs on the bucks you're after.
As bucks lose their velvet and testosterone levels change, so do their daily patterns. During September, they will briefly stay in their summer pattern but as hunter pressure increases and we enter their October lull, your hunting and trail camera tactics will need to change accordingly.
One major change in buck behavior during October is that they will start being more "nocturnal" and sticking tighter to their core bedding areas. They may still visit primary feeding areas like the summer but will do so under the cover of darkness.
To combat this, you'll need to locate their daytime feeding/browsing areas. Acorn flats are a great option to hunt and run trail cameras on during this time period. Trail cameras can be kept in large food plots and ag fields, keeping in mind that it will serve as an inventory purpose more than anything to see what bucks are in the area. If you find an oak tree that is littered with acorns and deer tracks, put a camera up immediately!
As rut activity picks up, I love running at least one or two trail cameras on the most active scrapes I can find in the area, especially if they're primary scrapes. Although I don't hunt scrapes or scrape lines often, I do enjoy seeing what mature bucks are in the area based on scrape activity and if there is any pattern to it.
A mature Ohio buck is captured by my Primos Proof Cam visiting an active scrape during daylight late in the rut. This scrape saw 7 different bucks during shooting hours that day!
If I realize that a buck is using a scrape line in a very predictable manner, I will definitely not hesitate hunting it when the wind is right.
When I know that rut activity has really picked up, it's a great idea to run trail cameras on pinch points and other natural funnels between known doe bedding areas to capture bucks cruising for those estrous does.
To fully understand how topography and terrain features affect deer travel and create these natural funnels. I HIGHLY recommend Brad Herndon's book, Mapping Trophy Bucks. It's a must have resource in my opinion for any serious bowhunter.
Mapping Trophy Bucks by Brad Herndon is an excellent resource to educate yourself on how topography effects deer movement and how you should use it to your advantage
As a final consideration, I will also run a spare camera near the actual trees that I hunt to see what would have been in bow range had I been on stand. I will often times check these cameras on my way in or out of the woods.
As hunting seasons winds down, temperatures drop, and the snow starts to fly, food again becomes the priority for all deer. Rutting activity and hunting pressure causes significant weight loss in bucks so they will frantically start feeding to put some survival weight on.
Any food source, and trail leading to or from it, should have at least one camera watching it if you're still trying to fill a tag and pattern your local deer.
Keep in mind that this time of the year, December through February, food sources will come and go depending on how big they are, how many deer are using them, and regional weather.
Fields that are green in a warm December may turn brown in colder February. Likewise, food such as standing corn can be browsed to the point where it no longer is a viable option. If you find a food source that is active, put a camera on it as quickly as you can for as long as it it is being used.
If you are in an area without any ag fields or food plots, it will be up to you to locate more natural browse such as uneaten acorn flats. Trees that blow down in the winter will also get browsed on by deer, especially if they have some spring buds starting before they're blown over.
Running trail cameras on these locations will also let you know when bucks are losing their head gear and you should switch from bow hunting, to shed hunting.
Lastly, we come to the slowest trail camera season, for me anyways: spring. At this point in the season, nearly all bucks have lost their antlers with some even beginning to regrow in late April and early May.
If you decide to run cameras this time of the year, food sources will continue to be where you want to focus your attention.
Spring can also be an excellent time to use trail cameras to locate your local long beards in preparation for the spring turkey season. Putting your cameras in known strut zones can provide you with some excellent pictures of strutting Toms putting on a show!
One important point to mention when talking about where to hang trail cameras is Access. Regardless of the time of year you're hanging trail cameras, you want to be able to check them with minimal disturbance to the deer.
This doesn't mean you need to put them in obvious places in the wide open, but at the same time you don't want to put one so close to bedding that you are jumping bucks or does every time you check them.
Just like when you are hunting, your entry/exit routes for checking cameras should be ones that leave little scent behind, can be used with favorable wind directions, and do not pressure deer more than necessary.
The last thing you want to do is educate the bucks you're after before the season even starts, so be mindful of this when hanging cameras.
Like most things, there are endless possibilities for where you can hang trail cameras. While the tactics recommended here are not exhaustive, they will certainly get you in the ball park regardless of what season you decide to hang them. From there you will be able to fine tune your set ups to best suit your individual needs.
As a reminder, if you're not sure when to put out your trail cameras, be sure to check out THIS ARTICLE.
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