December 07, 2023
Elvis, the late king of rock and roll, once made a hit holiday record, crooning about having a "Blue Christmas." Some deer hunters might feel the King’s pain right now, because as the 2023 rut fades away into memory—except in the deep South and south Texas, where the rut’s main show is actually in December—the end of hunting season for another year threatens to deliver a different version of the holiday blues.
Certainly, there’s still a chance to find some buzzer-beating success as the season’s hour glass empties, but if you do somehow end up looking for a tag soup recipe as the season ends, move forward with the lessons learned from this year that can help you win next fall.
Strategizing for next season has to include a trail-camera plan. The increasing technology available in cellular camera systems—like Moultrie Mobile's Edge Pro and Bushnell’s Cellucore Live—can provide deer-behavior data that hunter’s couldn’t access last decade. Those systems allow hunters to scout effective anywhere, anytime and all from the palm or your hand. If you’re still on the hunt in your state, cell-cam systems can help you fine-tune your late-season strategies.
With all that in mind, here are five ways to keep your cameras working, gain some key information while it’s still fresh and help you avoid tag soup next fall.
1. Let Cameras Work Overtime
For some deer hunters, there’s little point in leaving cameras out once the season has come to an end. After all, exposure to weather, potential for theft and the fact that hunting is closed means that it’s time to gather up these valuable tools and stow them safely away until duty calls again.
But game cameras can also do more than get you ready for fall hunting with a late-summer inventory, developing a fall hit list of potential shooter bucks, or carry you through the various parts of the season with fresh Intel. Being willing to keep game cameras up in the weeks after the law has closed things down can also give valuable clues for next year, clues you don’t want to miss.
Sure, it means a little more work when we’re all tired, filled with post-season obligations with family and friends and enjoying time in front of the fire. But letting cameras work overtime right now can pay big antlered dividends later on and that’s good enough for me.
2. Figure Out Core Needs and Deer Range
You should never quit learning about whitetails in general and the places you hunt specifically. Because even after years of experience in one location, things are ever-changing in most spots and even subtle alterations to the local landscape can upset a deer's apple cart and force changes in how they behave.
That’s why scouting right now—both with your boot leather and your trail cameras—serves as the opening moves in the woodsy chess game you’re going to play next fall. Like a college football coach scouting an opponent and watching film to discover clues for game day, you’re doing the same with these efforts in the off-season.
What you’re looking for is when, where and how core needs are met on a deer’s turf, and where, in general, that turf is. Food will be a key consideration in where to start with off-season camera scouting, and not just the food plots that so many of us plant or the corn-feeders that are widely used in places like my home state of Texas. You'll also want to put some cameras around agricultural fields. Think soybeans, leftover corn, fresh winter wheat and oats, and even spent milo fields where stalks and a lot of waste grain can be found.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box here, because when my home turf used to be home to hundreds of peanut farmers, the local deer would use those fields to find sustenance after the goobers were turned over, thrashed and harvested. Leftover acorns can also be a draw, as can be the bean pods from locust trees or mesquite trees, and never forget the green browse that deer depend on throughout the year.
If food sources are the first spot to consider for off-season camera intel, then a second key consideration will be to focus cameras on bedding areas. I'll confess that I've not always been the most successful at understanding these areas over the years, but there is a sure-fire way now in the off-season to find such spots. What’s that? Simple—walk through your hunting area and mark locations where obvious beds are found.
Another way is to set a Moultrie Mobile Edge up on the edge of the thickest and nastiest cover you can find on your hunting ground and look for movement photos and/or video into and out of such spots. And don't forget that in its simplest terms, a deer bed offers a whitetail a place to rest and find secure cover as snow falls and north winds blow. With that last thought in mind, a cedar thicket down South or an evergreen patch up North can be a likely spot for a buck to bed—with one of your cameras looking on.
And like other big-game animals out West, never overlook southern facing slopes that offer some sunshine and warmth on a cold winter's day. Snow will melt away from such spots first, green sprouts will pop up as winter starts to wane, and the sunshine feels much better than a chilly shady spot does and deer figure this out and utilize such areas. Since winter can often bring dryness to the landscape, now is also a time to monitor waterholes on a patch of hunting ground, especially those that are hidden away. If you find such a spot loaded up with deer tracks set a camera there and see what is showing up for a drink.
One thing I’m always wanting to have a better understanding of is how deer move about on the places I hunt. Where do they feed and where do they bed, certainly, but also where are they moving about, where do they come from, and where are they going?
That can mean walking out your hunting ground to determine heavily used and even faintly used travel routes, but it can also mean using game cameras around field edges, trail intersections and areas where there was a lot of scraping and rubbing activity last fall.
3. Camera Considerations for Winter Usage
There are a few camera considerations right now, and I’ll admit that I’ve learned some of these lessons the hard way. Like the El Nino winter when a game camera was set up near a creek bottom, only to be submerged when heavy rainfall arrived on the local radar. The swimming duck photo was cool before the camera went under, but it was an expensive lesson.
One key consideration now is that you'll want the broadest field of view you can get and delay settings that offer the chance to get the most pictures possible. Yeah, that might mean going through a lot of photos on your computer, but remember that you're trying to figure out patterns right now, and not get the next big buck glamour shot that will win a contest.
Also, make sure that you have fresh batteries installed (lithium batteries will last longer in cold weather) or a reliable power source and a big empty SD card if your camera isn't an Edge Pro. Make sure that the camera and its lens aren’t peering into the direction of sunrise or sunset. Work on the proper height of the camera and take some test shots to ensure you’ve got it where it needs to be.
4. Gather Data and Analyze in Off-Season
Again, scouting season isn’t hunting season, so the goal here is different than it would be in mid-October, early November or the post-rut phase shortly thereafter. You’re trying to gather clues that help decipher deer needs and deer movement patterns, so build a file on your computer or even fill a notebook with notes and diagrams as you discover these clues.
Getting all of that intel into one spot and mulling it over can be a fun way to spend a late-winter’s evening as the fire roars and you’re sipping a hot beverage. And sometimes, there may be an "ah-ha" moment when you figure something out that you didn’t previously know.
Once you’ve gathered this post-season information, you can begin to sort through it and figure out how to fine-tune stand locations before next fall, as well as put together an early hit-list of potential bucks that you’ll want to spend a tag on next season.
5. Look for Shed Season to Begin
Between the last day of the season and the first day you start seeing bucks parading about without their headbones, keep gathering deer data. But once you see those first antler drops, it’s shed season and time to walk the woods again to pick up what an acquaintance of mine calls "antlered Easter eggs."
Because when it comes to deer hunting, and putting a set of big antlers on the wall or a set of sheds on the fireplace hearth, we can never get enough of it all, right?
From my perspective, that’s ample reason to keep your cameras up and running during the early off-season, because we’re always figuring out our next move in the woods and how to win the big-buck game when next fall arrives on the calendar.
Moultrie Mobile Edge Pro Cellular Trail Camera
- Info: moultriemobile.com
- Price: $179.99
- More: One of the most technologically advanced new scouting cameras, the Mobile Edge Pro is the first trail camera ever to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to help eliminate false triggers (False Trigger Elimination). The artificial intelligence fuels three all-new features: SmartCapture, SmartTrigger and SmartZone technologies. SmartCapture uses AI to let hunters select which species they want the Edge Pro to capture, which saves battery life and reduces sorting time on the back end by eliminating unwanted species. SmartTrigger uses AI analysis to adapt in real time, only triggering the camera when a desired species is in range. With SmartZone, meanwhile, you can designate custom detection zones and ignore areas where tree limbs or grass might create false triggers. Moultrie estimates these innovative technologies combine to reduce up to 99 percent of false triggers in the field. BUY NOW
Bushnell CelluCore 20 Solar Cellular Trail Camera
- Info: bushnell.com
- Price: $149.99
- More: The CelluCORE 20 Solar combines the reliability and image quality of the CelluCORE 20 with an integrated solar panel to dramatically increase battery life. The Dual-SIM configuration allows it to automatically connect to AT&T or Verizon−whichever offers the strongest cellular network. BUY NOW