Guideline and Expert Tips for Filming Deer Hunts
Summer Deer Management with Trail Cameras | Running Trail Camera Surveys
Do you completely understand the deer herd on your deer hunting property? Many hunters would probably say yes without really thinking about the question. Understanding your deer herd is more than just being able to harvest deer consistently. Trail cameras can unlock information about the health of your herd and the number of harvestable bucks roaming around pre and post season. But there is more to it than just hanging a few trail cameras up and looking at pictures.
Starting with the Trail Cameras
Whitetail deer camera surveys are more than just hanging a bunch of trail cameras. First of all, if you want to have more than a lot of pictures at the end of the summer, you have to put some science and thought into how you place trail cameras on your property. It starts with choosing high-quality trail cameras. Cameras that are not top-end will give you less than adequate images to review, categorize and compile into actionable information you can use to manage the deer on your property. The best trail cameras for deer hunting are those that have some of the following qualities.
- Fast Trigger Speed – first of all, is one of the more important qualities in a high-quality trail camera. Faster is better in most circumstances but ultimately it depends on how you plan to use your trail cameras. For those hanging game cameras for monitoring deer populations, trigger speed is less important because you are usually setting up a game camera over an area like a food source where deer are typically going to be stationary long enough to get quality images. On the other, trigger speed is critical if you are surveying trails. Slow trigger speed can be the difference between identifying a buck or only capturing a passing rump.
- High Image Quality – In addition to fast trigger speed, high image quality allows you to differentiate different bucks on your property. Poor images from lower quality cameras makes it harder to clearly identify unique bucks, which is important when trying to calculate deer density. Good image quality also saves you time categorizing photos into shooter or not shooter buck lists because you can easily see all the attributes each buck has from the quality of each deer trail camera picture.
- Battery Life– Finally, battery life is something many property owners do not consider with a good game camera. Perhaps the most significant deer trail camera tip is to choose a game camera that has a long battery life. Extended battery life is important for three reasons. First it saves you the expense of purchasing pack after pack of batteries to keep your cameras operating. Placement, the second reason, can be more remote since you are not having to go back as many times to change batteries. Third and final reason is fewer return visits to these trail cameras. Trail cameras – also known as game cameras as their name suggests, are cameras placed in areas where game are active or will pass in front of the camera, this often includes bait, trails, food sources, or water. With that definition, the name suggests that the game or this case deer, in order to be active, means no pressure. That means the more visits, more scent and disturbance, and ultimately pressure that can cause deer to change their patterns.
A good scouting camera can only get you so far. There is an art to getting great game pictures suitable enough to start making management decisions from. Trail cameras are commonly attached to a tree using the supplied straps. Step up security by incorporating a lock to secure it from any light-fingered trespassers that may come across them. Different trail camera mounts are also available if you are setting up a game camera to monitor a field or when trees are not where you need them to be to capture the best possible images. Mounts are nice because they can change angles and positions to place your camera in the right spot. Much of image quality relies on the type of game cameras you are using, however, there are a few deer trail camera tips that you can use to get better deer trail camera pictures. Focus in on the five C’s to capture good trail camera images; camera angle, contrast, color, composition and chips. Click below to dig into those trail camera tips.
Trail Camera Surveys
Managing your property for deer requires information. That information has always been collected, mostly through scouting and observation in the field, but trail cameras give hunters a technological advantage in collecting information. Summer is by far the best time of the year to monitor your deer herd population with trail camera surveys. Summer allows you to collect information like fawn recruitment, sex ratio, age structure of bucks and to compile estimates on deer density for your property. This information helps you to make informed decisions about how many deer can and should be harvested and whether deer habitat needs to be improved in order to promote better herd health. Trail camera surveys also provide pictures of the majority of the bucks on your property, which is a great resource to use to compile shoot and do not shoot photo books for the upcoming season.
Trail camera surveys are conducted in mid-summer as antlers mature and again in late-winter after hunting season but before antler drop occurs. Pre-season surveys provide information on herd health including fawn recruitment as well as giving you a glimpse at what type of bucks are lurking for the upcoming season. Post-season surveys give you a “what happened” look. These surveys can identify survival rates from hunting season and qualitatively look at the overall condition of the deer herd as winter approaches. Why these two times of the year for conducting camera surveys? In order to analysis your property, unique bucks have to be identifiable. Mid-summer and late-winter are times of the year when antlers can be used to I.D. bucks confidently.
Finally, the number of trail cameras needed depends on the size of your property. The goal is to capture as many pictures of each deer on your property as possible. Based on a deer’s home range size, a rough guide is to use one camera for every 80-100 acres. The more cameras the better but at about 40 acres the law of diminishing returns kicks in and any additional cameras are just wasting batteries. Try to position each camera near the center of each 80-100 acre section of your property in general, but more importantly near areas that deer will frequent like food plots, mineral sites or watering holes.
Summer Trail Camera Strategies
Summer is in full swing. Deer movements during this time of year are mostly driven by food availability. Position game cameras along field edges or near food sources like orchards or food plots to capture the most pictures as part of your survey. Where legal, you can use bait or mineral sites to attract deer into range of your trail cameras in areas like large forest tracts that have limited available summertime forage. Either way, food is number one on the minds of deer this time of year so it only makes sense to hang a camera where you are going to get the most deer trail camera pictures. Also do not dismiss water sources as an option for positioning a trail camera. The summer heat and increased consumption of food tends to force deer to travel to a watering hole at least some point during the day. These areas can be a place to capture deer trail camera pictures of bucks that may only be coming to your property for water and nothing else. Information like this learned from alternative trail camera placement strategies is invaluable and can be helpful to get a complete picture of the deer on your property.
The Actual Deer Survey
A typical trail camera survey should be conducted for two weeks. Check game cameras at a minimum during the survey to keep your results as natural as possible. When the survey is over, take your pictures back to your computer and start the exciting part of going through the hundreds of image you have captured. Retain each deer picture as all are important for a complete analysis. Use the pictures to classify and count each unique buck. Count all mature does and fawns. A good deer trail camera tip is to save all the buck images to a separate folder so you can come back later and easily classify them as a shooter buck or not. At the end of this exercise you now have the number of unique bucks and total number of does and fawns. All that is left is some simple math to calculate an estimate of your property’s deer population.
- Bucks – The math here is easy. The number of bucks is simply the number of unique bucks captured by your trail cameras during the survey.
- Does – Divide the total number of doe pictures by the total number of buck pictures. Then, multiple that result by the number of unique buck pictures.
- Fawns – Same calculation as determining your doe population estimate. Divide the total number of fawn pictures by the total number of buck pictures then divide that result by the number of unique buck pictures.
- Total Deer Population – Add together your results for bucks, does and fawns to get an estimate of the total deer on your property.
That is it! You have just completed a simple process to use game cameras to acquire baseline data on your deer population scientific enough to make management decisions on herd health and harvest requirements. More importantly, the numbers are beneficial to detect trends across multiple years. Trends like how your population is growing (or shrinking) or is the adult sex ratio becoming unbalanced are easily observed with data tracked from trail camera surveys from year to year. Finally this exercise allows you to be able to recognize bucks in the field more quickly so that harvest decisions in season happen without even thinking.
In conclusion, trail cameras are an essential part of your whitetail deer management plan. A well-executed trail camera survey can provide insights on herd health, deer density and even uncover trends from year to year that can drive decisions on management. If you are not already using camera surveys to check in on your property’s deer herd, summer is a perfect time to pick up a few Muddy Outdoors trail cameras and get to it.