November 21, 2016
By Travis Faulkner, OutdoorChannel.com
When it comes to deer hunting, luck is always a good thing to have by your side, but consistency is a whole lot better. If you want to tag big bucks season after season, then you’re going to need to rely on hard-work, preparation, and skill much more than a four-leaf clover or fury rabbit’s foot.
One of the fastest ways to put more heavy bone on the wall is to maximize scouting efforts by getting the most out of your trail cameras. Here are some ways you can take your deer scouting and hunting to the next level this fall.
Do Your Homework
The very first step of your scouting needs to start well before you even walk into the woods to hang a trail camera. It actually starts at home by researching harvest totals, Boone & Crockett entries, and general hunting information regarding specific areas online. You can also contact state fish and wildlife agencies to find out what areas or counties typically produce the best bucks. This type of homework can reveal productive public-land hunting availability and opportunities as well.
After you’ve done some legwork and picked a particular hunting area, your next move should be to complete some high-tech scouting from home. Visiting Google Maps or accessing aerial photos and topo maps of your chosen hunting spot can be very productive. Doing some homework can help pinpoint potential feeding areas, staging points, likely travel routes, and possible bedding locations without spending countless hours in the field. High-tech scouting techniques like these will allow you to get inside of a buck’s comfort zone without disturbing an entire area.
Pick Prime Locations
Locating whitetail high-traffic areas from Google Maps or aerial photos is only one piece of the total puzzle. Next, you need to strategically plan some safe routes into these sensitive areas for a closer look. These routes should allow you to get in and out without being detected by whitetails. It’s also important to keep in mind that you should always scout an area the same way that you would hunt it.
Basically, this means that you need to take steps to eliminate potentially alarming and unfamiliar odors. Utilizing scent-neutralizing soaps, shampoo, deodorant, and body spray before entering the field is definitely a good policy. Lastly, wearing knee-high rubber boots and gloves should top-off your scent-eliminating ritual when scouting highly-sensitive areas.
Another high-impact tip is to scout hotspot locations and big buck core areas during adverse weather conditions. Rainy and windy weather can really minimize the amount of scent and noise that is typically generated from these backwoods expeditions. Over the years, I strongly believe this little trick has really helped me tag bigger bucks. I always try to scout, hang trail-cameras, and position stands or ground blinds during inclement weather whenever possible.
Network of Trail Cameras
Next, throw everything you have in your scouting arsenal at mature bucks. This does not mean simply hanging one trail camera over a heavily worn trail or fresh scrape. A single unit can definitely capture some images, but it will not produce the kind of details that are needed to fully establish a predictable big buck routine. Relying on one camera to scout a mature buck will only provide you with a small piece of the overall patterning puzzle.
In order to maximize your scouting efforts, try networking a series of trail cameras within a mature buck’s core living area. With this cutting-edge scouting technique, you’re able to take a sneak peek into a shooter’s daily habits and routines. Strategically placing a network of trail cameras near key locations will enable you to figure out and exploit big buck patterns. The trick is to setup multiple cameras overlooking potential bedding locations, current food sources, major travel corridors, watering holes, and staging areas. This type of in-depth surveillance will tell you exactly what a long-tined bruiser is doing on both a daily and weekly basis.
When setting up and checking trail cameras, it’s vitally important to keep the area and camera human-scent free. (Travis Faulkner photo)
One season, my son, James, was able to take a really nice buck by utilizing this same scouting strategy. According to our trail cameras, the particular buck James was hunting had switched over to a strict nocturnal schedule. However, this hard-to-handle whitetail was sneaking off his bed during the mid-day hours to work a mock scrape. The game camera photos revealed this routine occurred about every two to three days. This information paid off big, because James dropped the hammer on the nocturnal nightmare around noon shortly after establishing this buck’s habits and tendencies.
By networking our trail cameras we knew the bedding location, primary feeding areas, preferred travel routes, and the key active periods of this shooter buck. Successfully utilizing a series of cameras can really take the guesswork out of when, where, and how to hunt. It’s also much easier to detect subtle behavioral and pattern shifts that typically occur throughout the season. In my opinion, this high-tech scouting strategy is almost like having your own government spy satellite to monitor daily buck activity.
Enhance Trail Camera Stations
On the other hand, setting up multiple trail cameras will not solve all of your scouting problems, especially when hunting super tough bucks on large open tracts of land. With this challenging situation, there are a few sneaky tricks you can use to enhance your trail-cam setups and capture more buck photos. For example, strategically constructing mock scrapes, bait stations, and watering holes will enable you to pull more high-racked bucks in front of your camera lens in far less time.
As mentioned earlier, my son, James, was able to tag a really nice shooter over a carefully positioned mock scrape. Creating mock scrapes is one of the fastest ways to learn what caliber bucks you have living in a particular area. The key to this strategy is to be completely scent-free when making these sites and to keep the mock scrapes fresh with automatic drippers or time-release dispensers.
Minimize Costly Intrusions
With any type of scouting, it’s almost impossible not to alert at least some deer to your presence. There is no doubt that continuously going into highly-sensitive areas to check trail cameras can be more detrimental than helpful. However, there are some ways to sidestep having to constantly go into the field. In fact, some trail-camera companies have developed solar panel accessories and other innovations that can greatly extend your battery life.
In addition, several companies have introduced units that actually email or text your phone captured images in real-time. You can even organize and delete photos without ever stepping foot into the field. These cameras are perfectly suited for monitoring super sensitive areas like bedding locations and staging points. It’s extremely important not to contaminate these areas with human scent and noise. Mature bucks will often alter daily routines when bumped or spooked from these protective zones. Being able to observe buck activity from such areas with minimal disturbance will increase your chances of punching a monster tag.
If you want to consistently harvest heavy-racked bucks year after year, then you need to be prepared to take your scouting to a whole new level. Relying on advanced scouting strategies like these to locate and pattern giants is exactly what is needed to make it happen. These techniques will definitely bring you one step closer to connecting with that trophy-class bruiser.