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Boots on the Ground: Trail Cams Only See So Much

Boots on the Ground: Trail Cams Only See So Much

Most hunters use their trail cameras to monitor areas they already know hold deer. A better use is to set them up in places you can't watch that may have potential. (Photo by Tony J. Peterson)

Trail cams are great tools in scouting for deer, but use them wisely for better prep for the fall season.

Trail cameras have revolutionized our ability to digitally document some great deer. However, many hunters have resorted to these as their only means of scouting. But truth be told, trail cameras are tools to help us scout — they can never replace your boots on the ground scouting. The fact is, you'd have to run 200 or more cameras to replace one "you."

A trail camera, while a valuable scouting tool, can only answer limited questions about a very large expanse of woods. Trail cameras are best utilized to monitor areas you simply can't watch and aren't quite convinced are worthy of your stand time.

Too many hunters put trail cameras in spots where they fully expect to get pictures of mature bucks, or at least, lots of deer. My question is this: What good does it do you to monitor a spot you already know produces? Sure, it's fun to get some cool pictures, but what value that provides to a hunting plan is usually limited.


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Instead, try this. Carry your cameras to the spots that are the biggest question marks in your hunting area and leave them there for long enough to tell you what you need to know. Sometimes eliminating areas, or dead spots, is just as important as identifying what the best producing spots are.

deer huntingNaturally, you'll also want to scout the way we used to, which will consist of taking a careful walk through the woods. Several, in fact. I like to time my summertime in-cover scouting trips around rain showers because it's less intrusive scent-wise, and I am able to move through the woods quietly.

For those nights with clear skies and no chance of drizzle, drag the spotting scope out and sit back. Look for those spots where you can glass that are difficult to get to and plan your entrance and exit so as not to spook any deer. This is harder than it sounds, but well worth it. You might have to hike through the nettle-filled woods in the dark to get out, but it's better than barging through a bachelor group at dark.

Remember, not every place sets up to glass like a made-for-TV farm that features dreamy strips of soybeans and alfalfa. Sometimes you have to rethink what it is you really want to watch or have the option to watch.

You won't see herds of deer, but you might see one, or a few. And how they approach that location might play into a solid strategy once the season opens. Or maybe you'll catch sight of a velvet-antlered loner getting up out of his bed and heading for the neighbor's distant agricultural fields. Few things are worth as much to a bowhunter as knowing where a specific buck spends his daylight hours. That's the kind of Information that can get a buck in the back of your truck.


Use your trail cameras, your boots-on-the-ground time, and your long-distance sightings through the spotting scope to start confirming all of the hunches that you were able to make with your digital scouting. Some spots will rise to the top while others will prove themselves to be duds. That's how it works, but the goal thus far is to start to develop the best strategy you can use for hunting efficiently when you've got limited time during the season.

It's important to note that not every picture you get or sighting you experience matters during bow season. Summer deer aren't always fall deer, and things will change. What won't change is some of the travel routes that summer deer use to reach their bedding areas or just how they like to browse their way to a secluded cattle pond. A percentage of the deer movement you divine now will work for you in September, so keep in mind that while some of it will prove fruitless, enough of your deer work will pay off to have been worthwhile.

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