Photo by T.A. Harrison
As velvet-covered antlers transform into shiny hard-horn, your deer camera placement should also change.
By T.A. Harrison
I'm no biologist, but I'm convinced that some sort of chemical imbalance begins to occur the minute velvet is shed from a whitetail's antlers. Testosterone levels begin to increase and a temper's fuse will become quite short.
They just get sick of each other; a lot like brothers once they enter the shared high school hallways -- there is only so much air sharing they can take. Low tolerance leads to testing the waters for a potential confrontation, which eventually leads to locked horns and flared nostrils.
As summer bachelor groups start to break up, daily travel and feeding habits will change to favor more rut-like activity.
Unlike the does, this change is not nearly as food-driven as it is establishing a pecking order and earning one's spot in the local deer hierarchy. They will begin building scrapes and ripping saplings to shreds in an effort at pre-rut taunting, or even neck and shoulder exercises in preparation of certain battles once the rut arrives.
The moment a whitetail buck's antler velvet comes off, his attitude changes. Food is still a priority, but not nearly as important as establishing his spot in the pecking order. His aggressive nature increases by the day, while his tolerance of other bucks decreases at the same rate. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)
For the ladies, the change is largely dependent upon oak mast and local agriculture. If it's one of those years where acorns will be abundant, you'll find your summer licks and bait sites will slow down dramatically. An acorn is like a piece of chocolate for a whitetail, and it seems they prefer that food to just about everything else they might consume.
Where soybeans are abundant, the deer will feed heavily on them until they turn yellow to brown when they'll almost completely ignore them for acrons or alfalfa.
Generally speaking, acorns will fall and cover the ground late August through much of September -- the same time beans mature and dry out. That, of course, changes year-to-year and property-to-property depending on local moisture and other factors.
The does will follow this food preference change until it's all consumed.
But the fact remains: A change happens early in the fall that hunters keeping their hunting property under surveillance will want to adapt with.
Summer food sources like feeders or licks will begin seeing less activity as pre-rut aspirations and acorns become the primary focus. Adjust accordingly and your trail-cam pix will stay exciting.
As far as the female component to this equation is concerned, don't overthink things. The does will still visit destination food sources such as ag fields and food plots, and you'll be able to keep pretty accurate tabs on their general whereabouts.
I'd suggest keeping food-observing trail cameras still managing that task. But sticking to this observation point only will leave you scratching your head.
Since you are likely focusing the bulk of your efforts on harvesting a mature buck, the biggest change you'll want to make is to reposition your cameras to likely pre-rut activity locations.
If there is an area that has traditionally received a lot of rub and scrape action, hang a camera up â€” especially if you know of an annual scrape that gets hit every year.
Rubs and scrapes tend to appear in similar locations year after year. Time on your property will help you identify these areas, and zero in on where the most consistent activity takes place. However, keep access in mind -- getting in and out undetected is a very important aspect to being successful.
The minute antler velvet comes off, the bucks will be thrashing trees and ripping up and maintaining scrapes. This kind of spot can be a trail-camera gold mine.
Areas of Focus
Getting in and out of spots containing with a large, naturally occurring community scrape without disturbing deer can often be a challenge. Sometimes you need to make the spot work by building a mock scrape or rubbing tree that is in an easy-to-access spot.
Keeping camera locations fresh is key to staying on top of deer activity. Once the season begins, making subtle adjustments to camera location will also keep you full of recent data that might help end your season early. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)
Building an effective mock scrape is not rocket science, but it is a bit of an art that requires an understanding of movement and deer tendencies. For a full tutorial on how to build a good mock scrape, read this story.
A mock rub can also be very effective. Find a junk tree that's about 10 feet tall and roughly 3 to 5 inches in diameter, cut it down and place it in an open and obvious place that's easy to access. Bury the bottom of the tree trunk about 16 to 20 inches of it in the dirt so it will stand on it's own. Make sure there are accessible licking branches for a potential scrape.
Then place a camera about 15 yards from where you anticipate the action to occur. Don't have a tree available for a camera? Build or buy a portable trail camera stand, there are a lot of options out there.
The bottom line is artificial scrapes and rubs draw attention at an impressive level. In fact, you'll get some of the finest pictures of the fall, and a solid buck inventory by expanding your camera-scouting routine.
Just remember, keeping tabs on food sources all summer is critical data collection, but making an adjustment to accommodate a certain shift in activity will keep you a step or two ahead of the bucks on your property.
The more you know!
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