Scouting during the season is often the difference between seeing deer or killing deer and missing out on great opportunities. There two primary means of scouting during the season. Other methods are progressive and may lead to spooking mature deer, but if done correctly can pay dividends.
1) Scouting with Trail Cameras. Trail cameras allow the hunter to see what deer are doing during the morning, evening, at night, and even during the rarely hunted mid-day period. These devices provide eyes in the woods when traveling or busy at work. The information provided is often invaluable. Trail cameras can map deer movements quite effectively without alerting deer like a hunter in the woods might. A hunter that hunts every day or every other day will have much better information than cameras, but for most individuals that type of time in the woods is nothing but a dream. Not to mention deer, especially mature bucks, will often key in on hunters over hunting an area. Overhunting is a common reason mature bucks turn nocturnal outside of their core area due to the presence of human scent. If cameras are kept scent free and hunters use cameras that possess a black/infrared flash these devices can be quite helpful. Well placed cameras can lead to incredible buck sightings and aid in the kill of trophy animals. Working to conceal the camera from both deer and humans is wise. Deer are curious and will often look at cameras cautiously, sometimes even run in fear. The best place to place cameras is well above deer 8-12 feet in the air. Cameras placed up high are rarely noticed by deer. If this is not an option concealing cameras is another option to attempt, by concealing cameras that are at standard heights deer and trespassers are less likely to notice the device. Trail cameras generally provide better success rates in hunting, but used unwisely they like any careless acts in the woods simply scare deer and push them to move more during the cover of dark or even to bordering lands. The QDMA has developed a detailed guide on how and where to best place cameras. I highly recommend reading their thoughts.
Deer primarily move during the night and dusk hours already, it is wise to avoid anything that might push deer to move under the cover of dark. The best time to check cameras to avoid bumping deer is roughly 1:00 PM. Deer rarely move during this time of day, realize that during the rutting stages: pre-rut, rut, and late-rut deer may move any time of day. Hunting is far more important during any intense phase of the rut than checking cameras. The middle of the day is still the best time to check cameras during the rut phases, but do so with caution.
Below are essential places to place cameras trail cameras during the season. The location recommendations are based on personal experience in combination with recommendations from experts. Cameras can be placed anywhere, but the locations below have proved successful for many. The time intervals suggestions are there to prevent excessive photos and also to maximize chances to capture pictures of bucks. It is recommended to avoid placing cameras near tree stands if those cameras are going to be checked during times when hunting won’t take place. By doing this a hunter is simply putting unneeded pressure by his stands. If it makes sense to place cameras near tree stands aim to only check the cameras when hunting that stand.
Recommended Trail Camera Locations (Ranked in Order of Preference):
- Early Season: Food Sources & Water Holes, Scrapes, Travel Routes, Pinch Points, Rubs, Near Tree Stands
- Pre-Rut: Scrapes, Pinch Points, Travel Routes, Rubs, Food Sources, Near Tree Stands
- Rut: Pinch Points, Travel Routes, Food Sources, Near Tree Stands
- Post-Rut: Food Sources & Water Holes, Travel Routes, Scrapes, Pinch Points, Near Tree Stands
Recommended Trail Camera Time Intervals Depending on Location and Shot Settings:
- Preferably always use single shot mode when using a standard flash, triple shot mode can be used with a black flash, video and triple shot mode should generally be used when cameras are placed high and out of sight, or if the camera uses a black flash. Be aware that some cameras make a noise when taking a picture, triple shot mode therefore would make triple the noise.
- 30 Second Intervals Over Food and Water (place cameras high in these locations when possible)
- 30 Second Intervals Over Mineral Licks (place cameras high in these locations when possible)
- 5- 10 Second Intervals or less on Scrapes and Rubs (scrapes are the most important place to put cameras high in my opinion)
- 2-5 Second Intervals on Deer Trails
2) Scouting Going To and From the Tree Stand or Blind. This is perhaps the best time to scout. Since it is necessary to walk to and from the hunting spot, and it is critical to do so in a slow and cautious manner there is plenty of time to scout. Looking for scrapes, rub, trails, deer tracks, deer terds, or even deer hair provides additional information as to what the deer are doing at the present time. The difference between this information and the information that a trail camera provides is that it is often difficult for a hunter to tell if this sign is from the evening or during daylight hours. When mature buck sign is found via a scrape, rub, or track this is always encouraging. Take actual notes or mental notes of sign found. This information may provide additional help when seeking to choose a stand to hunt or even where to place a new stand. Scouting at this time provides information that pre-season scouting cannot offer; it expands your knowledge beyond the limited abilities of trail cameras. Even the trail camera that can provide 360 degree coverage of an area doesn’t likely provide some of the intel that left behind sign might. This traditional type of scouting is an excellent aid to killing a trophy. Anytime deer sign is present this reveals they feel comfortable in the area or are drawn to the area for bedding, travel, feeding, or even mating purposes.
Caution Against Other Types of In Season Scouting. Going out just to scout during the season is typically not a wise approach, unless an aggressive approach of hunting is being used to locate bucks. Hunters using climbing tree stands, ambush slings or quick set up stands are typically hunters that would go afield with the intent of scouting and then placing the stand in the area that offers the best sign. The only other type of in season scouting that might be warranted is to the individual who needs to place a new stand due to lack of success of his other stands, or needing to add extra stands to the property. In this case it may be wise to scout before placing the new stand. When traveling vast distances to hunt land it is often necessary to scout and place stands, or even move stands during the middle of the day if the morning did not produce. Otherwise it is best to have your scouting done prior to the season. Adding extra pressure to the woods you hunt will not cripple your season, but it will likely decrease deer sightings in the near term future. If it is necessary to do in season scouting for other reasons the best approach may be to still hunt while doing in season scouting. This is a quiet approach that also allows a hunter the chance to kill a deer while scouting.
The better the property the more likely the property will be able to tolerate in season pressure due to scouting. On small tracks of land in season scouting that pressures the deer could be the difference between getting a buck and not getting a buck. It’s hard to attract a buck on a small piece of land that has neighboring lands with better options when too much pressure is being applied to a small piece of land. Numerous experts explain that putting too much pressure on deer is detrimental, and emphasize the importance of creating sanctuaries on hunting property. This is the danger of scouting sessions in season. Mature bucks are already weary of hunters so it is wise to give them no more reasons to be weary. Keep in mind that every time a hunter enters and exits the stand in some way, shape, or form the deer habitat is being disturbed. Anytime a deer is shot and retrieved is another major disturbance to the property. Keeping disturbances at a minimum is the best approach. Many wise hunters wait almost a month into season (anytime after October 25th) to start hunting their best pre-rut/rut stands. This puts no pressure on those stands up until that point. This hunting technique reveals the importance of keeping disturbances to a minimum, mature deer nearly always key in on human activity.