Digital trail cameras have probably revolutionized whitetail hunting as much as anything in the last decade. These devises allow hunters to do some serious scouting, even when they donâ€™t have time to actually be in the woods.
Two bucks taken in Marshall County in northeast Alabama last fall show just how effectively these cameras have changed the face of deer hunting.
In each instance, neither hunter knew such a buck was on his hunting ground until the animals showed up on camera.
Steve Kennamer and Rob Gillaspie both took bucks of a lifetime last year in their home county. Their experiences show why you need to add a game camera to your hunting arsenal, if you havenâ€™t already.
Here are their stories.
THE â€śMAGNUMâ€ť BUCK
Steve Kennamer has taken a lot of nice whitetail bucks over the years, most of them killed near his home north of Grant. His store, Kennamer Cove Trading Post, has his collection of heads on display.
The buck he got last fall is the one heâ€™d been seeking for years â€” a 10-pointer tallying 155 points on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system
Kennamer had grown weary of shooting the same size bucks year after year and had spent the last several seasons just looking for an exceptional buck to hunt.
â€śI hadnâ€™t hunted much for the last five years,â€ť Kennamer admitted.
But he had still been very involved in the sport of deer hunting. Heâ€™s the manager of a farm operated for hunting near his Kennamer Cove home. Itâ€™s owned by some men from Huntsville. Much of Kennamerâ€™s energy the last few years had gone into improving the habitat for deer on the land he oversees.
So many of Kennamerâ€™s bucks have been in 120- to 130-inches category that he just couldnâ€™t get revved about hunting more bucks that size. He wanted to go for a bigger trophy and was willing to bide his time waiting on such a deer.
He has eight trail cameras that he uses to monitor the deer herd on the farm. On Oct. 4 of last year he got a picture of a whopper buck and knew it stood out from the crowd. He immediately nicknamed the buck â€śMagnum.â€ť
â€śI thought, no one will ever see that deer again,â€™ Kennamer recalled.
But on Oct. 18, he got another photo of the buck in a different location. That caused Kennamer to start moving cameras around to different places.
Before long he had the buck patterned, or at least as patterned as you can get with a big whitetail like that.
â€śHe was running with four other bucks; a cull buck, a heavy eight, a seven and a cow horn spike,â€ť Kennamer said.
He soon figured out that the deer were laying up in thick cover where some timber cutting had taken place, then coming out of that area and hitting food plots in the evenings. Kennamer set up a stand in the cutover on Thanksgiving Day, counting on a forecast rain to then wash his scent out of the area.
The wind was wrong to hunt the set up that Friday. Then on Saturday, Kennamer slipped into the stand. He got there at 4:20 and shot the buck 30 minutes later.
It was a plan that was executed to perfection. He had hunted the buck some between opening day and Thanksgiving weekend, but knew he had to get deeper in the cutover to have a chance.
â€śI saw the cow horn coming and I knew the big deer had been running with him,â€ť Kennamer said.
The big buck was behind the cow horn. When it cleared the thicket, Kennamer could see that it was the big 10-pointer. He shot it at about 50 yards.
For the hunter it was a now or never situation. H had to get the buck before it went on the prowl for does.
â€śI knew I had to hunt this deer before the rut or he could end up anywhere,â€ť Kennamer said. â€śThe pressure was on me. I was prepared to go every day if it took that. I hunted the small plot the bucks were using for three days without seeing anything before I moved back into the cut timber.â€ť
The early success finished Kennamerâ€™s hunting for the year. He spent the rest of the season helping the owners of the farm get on some big deer of their own.
Kennamer credits the game cameras for allowing him the opportunity to take such a buck.
â€śBack in the old days, you had to rely on what you saw or what people hunting with you saw,â€ť he said. â€śNow you can have eyes in the woods 24-7. It makes it easier.â€ť
He started putting out cameras in September and had cataloged 30 different bucks using the farm before gun season opened in November.
â€śI told the guys we need to print the pictures and have a hit list and a lay-off list,â€ť Kennamer said.
The idea was to take out inferior bucks such as the cow horn and some 6-pointers that werenâ€™t up to potential and â€ślay offâ€ť of the bucks that had the potential to be trophies the following year.
The farm where the deer was taken covers 600 acres. Management work that has gone on includes cutting the timber on 100 acres three years ago to create thickets, planting 45,000 pine trees and a number of food plots of beans, corn, wheat and oats.
Kennamer said he still couldnâ€™t believe he got the bruiser buck.
â€śI had just about given up on having the opportunity to hunt this caliber of deer close to home,â€ť he said.
THE CONTEST WINNER
Have you ever heard of someone winning a big buck contest before he even killed the deer? Thatâ€™s essentially what Rob Gillaspie accomplished last fall.
Gillaspie got some trail camera pictures of a giant buck on a new property he was hunting near his home in Boaz. He entered the pictures in the Moultrie Monster Buck Contest. Sponsored by the makers of
Moultrie Game Feeders the contest is open photos taken by trail cameras.
Out of more than 500 entries from all over the country, his photo was chosen the winner for 2010.
That was exciting, but then the actual hunt for the big buck started. There was no guarantee Gillaspie was ever going to see it.
But a couple of weeks after he started hunting it, the buck came by his stand late in the afternoon, almost at the end of legal shooting light, and Gillaspie got him.
The rack had 16 points of 1 inch or longer and measured a gross 179 inches. Thatâ€™s B&C record-book quality. Such a whitetail is a rare find in Alabama.
Gillaspieâ€™s journey as a deer hunter and how he came to hunt this buck go back many years.
Rob Gillaspie is 42 and has been hunting since he was 12. Heâ€™s a former Marine who has worked in the automobile business for years.
â€śIâ€™m really a duck hunter at heart,â€ť he said. â€śI duck hunted in Arkansas for several year, but it got so expensive that I quit.â€ť
His home is very near the public duck hunting available on the Tennessee River, but itâ€™s ultra competitive hunting and that wasnâ€™t an option for him either.
â€śItâ€™s too much work to hunt the river,â€ť he lamented.
That led him three or four years ago to start doing more deer hunting. He had been leasing a hunting place near York in south Alabamaâ€™s Sumter County for a couple of seasons.
â€śThe man I was leasing from called me and told me his grandson had lost his place to hunt and he needed to let him hunt his place,â€ť Gillaspie said. â€śI told him I understood, that I would want my grandson to hunt my place too if I had a grandson.â€ť
That left Gillaspie scrambling to find new hunting land just before the season opened.
A friend suggested some acreage seven or eight miles outside of Boaz. They got permission to hunt, walked across it and figured it was a place to spend some time, but wasnâ€™t anything special.
Then Gillaspie hung up two trail cameras and he got pictures of two big deer.Â One of those was the real monster whitetail.
â€śWe were bowhunting, but it was a small place and we decided to just get out of there until gun season, figuring we would have a better chance with guns,â€ť he said.
But, he would still need some luck.
â€śMost of the pictures were at night,â€ť he said. â€śA couple were right as it was getting dark.â€ť
Gillaspie hunted the buck from daylight to dark the week of Thanksgiving. He put in a lot of hours and passed up the other big buck three times waiting on the monster one. He thought the big deer he passed on would score in the 150s, which would be a career best for just about any Alabama deer hunter.
â€śThere was a bedding area, a creek and some hardwoods and I donâ€™t think this buck was moving more than 500 yards from his bed to his feed,â€ť the hunter recounted. â€śHe had to cross a bush-hogged lane and thatâ€™s where I set up.â€ť
True to the pattern revealed by the cameras, Gillaspie bagged the deer just at last shooting light.
Rob Gillaspie encourages every hunter to use cameras to figure out the deer on their hunting ground.
â€śI know every deer on our land,â€ť he said. â€śWeâ€™ve got seven does and six bucks. Thereâ€™s nothing better than these cameras for deer hunting.â€ť
He also said hunters shouldnâ€™t get discouraged if they donâ€™t get a picture of a big buck, especially if theyâ€™re only using one camera.
â€śI had two cameras and they were only 500 yards apart,â€ť he noted. â€śI got pictures of the big buck on one, but he never went in front of the other.â€ť
If heâ€™d only had out the one camera, he might never have seen his buck of a lifetime.
There are a couple of lessons you can take from the experiences of Steve Kennamer and Rob Gillaspie in the use of game cameras for your own hunting.
In both instances, it was an early season â€śbed-to-feedâ€ť pattern that provided their shooting opportunity. Thatâ€™s probably where game cameras are most effective.
Once the rut kicks in and bucks start moving helter-skelter in search of does, all bets are off. But the bed-to-feed pattern can be very reliable.
For their successful hunts, both hunters elected to set up on just such travel routes, rather than right over the food source where they first got pictures of the deer.
Kennamer knew from experience that he had to go deeper into a thick cutover, but not so deep that he would bump the deer and ruin his chances. He waited for near perfect conditions to sneak in and set up his stand.
Gillaspie chose a bush-hogged path through a thicket as his stand site. It was a place the deer would eventually have to cross and provided a better view and better shot at his buck.
The second lesson is that multiple cameras are better than a single unit. Kennamer used eight to cover a fairly large hunting property. Gillaspie used a pair on his smaller property.
If you do have to use a single camera, move it around to get a better idea of the deer that are using different parts of the property.
If you do get a good buck on camera, the picture is just a starting point rather than an end to itself. Both Kennamer and Gillaspie used their pictures along with careful study of the surrounding terrain to figure out the pattern the bucks were on.
Apply the lessons these hunters used in the early season on your own hunts next year and it could be your story weâ€™re telling at this time next year.