Spotting Scopes or Trail Cameras?

For years now I’ve relied heavily on trail cameras both mine and the neighbors to gather an inventory of both the bucks and does in the area. For the most part I’ve found this to be quite an effective method of gathering information. Up until this summer I’ve always considered cameras as my only true option to have a visual record of the deer in the area. I’ve consistently used a Luepold spotting scope during the summer months, but never quite taken it to the next level. This summer I turned the spotting scope into the ultimate trail camera. From this day forward I’ll continue to use the spotting scope as the primary method to gather information on the bucks and does in our area.

Whether you use a trail camera or a spotting scope during the summer; most hunters are using them to identify the mature bucks in the area. Some also use them to inventory all the bucks and does in the area.

150 Class Buck in Bean Field
150 Class Buck in Bean Field

Why this Method Works so Well for Me 

Before I convince you to drop $1000 plus dollars on a high end spotting scope let me explain why spotting scopes work so well for me. The timber I hunt butts up to a large agricultural area. Every year the farmers rotate between primarily corn and beans. Every other year when there is mostly beans the roadside scouting with a spotting scope is dynamite. During these summers there is roughly 471.5 acres of beans and alfalfa that the deer feed in all summer long. The summers with mostly corn limit me to only 275.5 acres of beans and alfalfa to scout. Regardless of what the rotation is there is still good scouting to be found. Due to heavy amount of agriculture in our area I can drive around just about any night and spot at least 1 if not all of our mature bucks in the area.

If you do not have agriculture in your area this method of scouting is not really for you. Beans and alfalfa or large food plots allow this type of scouting to be quite effective.

Deer hunting is my favorite hobby and passion, so I invest evenings in the summer to scouting deer. If I have time during late July, all of August, and good chunks of September I will be scouting deer with the spotting scope from my car.

Cameras Vs. Spotting Scopes 

My biggest issue with cameras is they’re stationary. Yes they work 24-7 and they also work well at night, but they only cover a certain amount of ground. I currently have 9 trail cameras, so I’m able to cover a good amount of turf with them. In my specific case the land I hunt and run cameras on is primarily timber, so the deer aren’t as present during the summer months in my area as they are near the bean fields. So while I have alot of cameras if it wasn’t for minerals or a water hole they don’t have as much of a reason to come into my area during the summer scouting season. My state and some states regulate mineral use during the summer and that limits my ability to effectively inventory deer that way. So while I can often get decent pictures in the area I hunt I for a fact I’m still missing alot of the deer in the area with the cameras I do have out.

If you have well placed trail cameras alongside of bean and alfalfa fields with mineral licks in front of them chances are you are going to get a great inventory of bucks in your area. However if you have the itch to check those cameras too much this could decrease your odds of getting all those pictures you’re hoping to get. If you spend more days checking trail cameras then letting them rest, you may actually bump that mature buck out of the area if there are other good food sources around with ideal bedding and water near them.

Spotting scopes offer mobility that not even the 360 degree wildgame innovations camera can provide. With properly timed scouting (during the arrival of rain or a cold front), you may be able to drive around with a spotting scope and see all of the mature bucks in your area within a night or two.

Big 8 Point in a Bean Field
Big 8 Point in a Bean Field

Why I’d Pick A Spotting Scope Over a Few Cameras for Summer Scouting/Inventory

  • Using a smart phone at the eye of a spotting scope you can record video or pictures of all of the deer you want while out scouting
  • You don’t spook deer out of the area or leave scent around the area by driving around with a spotting scope in your car which allows you to scout each and every night, try checking your trail cameras every day, probably won’t be too effective at getting good pictures 
  • You can now scout deer that are just off your farm likely to spend time on your land during the hunting season
  • You can capture not just deer that spend time right around your area/farm but you can also look for deer that live further away that may venture through during the rut
  • Sometimes there’s big bucks out there that your cameras are missing, if I had to bet that buck is visible at some point during the summer and the spotting scope with give you valuable details about that ghostly deer that your cameras constantly struggle too
  • You can do scouting with buddies using multiple spotting scopes allowing for both a good time and more effective videos/pictures
  • If you still run cameras you have far less of an inclination to visit them likely leading to much better deer activity when you finally do check your cards
  • You have something awesome to do any summer evening that keeps you around deer during a time when you can’t be hunting them and you get to see the final progress of their racks during the last month and a half of the velvet season
  • You can never have enough trail cameras (which need memory cards and batteries) while you only need one spotting scope (downside you do spend gas money driving around)
  • Mature bucks can be the weariest animals there are, if you can stay out of an area by simply locating them during the summer with a spotting scope and then stay out of the area except during the hunting season this should aid in your success of tagging that animal 

Exceptions as to Why a Trail Camera is a Better Option for Buck Inventory 

  • You don’t live in the area you hunt, then go with a camera for sure (use minerals if legal) 
  • You have no agriculture or food plots in your area to scout with a spotting scope
  • You have unlimited resources (money) and can afford wireless trail cameras which negate the need to check your cameras on a regular basis
  • You don’t want to save up for an invest of over $1000 to buy a good spotting scope (and car mount) and would rather just buy cheaper cameras
  • You have kids in summer baseball, or other reasons that would prevent you from having much time at all to scout in the evenings with a spotting scope 
  • You value using trail cameras not just during the summer, but during the season, and after season to monitor deer (spotting scopes are most effective during the summer)

Summary 

Obviously the are some pros and cons to both. If you’re like me and already have 9 cameras and live in an area with agriculture it’s time to make the switch. Save up for a good spotting scope and mark your calendar to spend summer evenings driving back roads. For a long time I always wanted another camera and always had the itch to check them. Now I just want to be scouting mature bucks during the summer evenings. I’ve begun to enjoy this time of year just as much as I do the hunting season itself. What other time of year can you drive around and see every mature buck on his feet during daylight? Maybe during the late winter over standing bean field, but not many bean fields are left standing. I think the strategy of staying out of my hunting area and checking cameras months apart will pay off. Deer really don’t like people. Deer like to feel safe. By spending more time roadside scouting and less time in their bedroom checking cameras I think this is a win win for both.

Before you make the switch weigh all the options and consider what makes the most sense for you. If you do make the switch to spending time and money using a spotting scope I promise you won’t regret it. Also realize that I’m not saying by any means to not use trail cameras. Please use them, I believe in them, but also seriously consider the value of adding a quality spotting scope to your arsenal of deer gear.

 

 

Pre-Season Efforts for July

Nutrition:

Food: We intentionally planted our beans  on July 1st and they’re doing pretty good. In general the deer are spending lots of times in the farmers beans and alfalfa these days. I recently mowed our clover and chicory plot. Beyond that we haven’t done alot of food plot activity during the hot month of July. Things have dried out a bit recently after alot of rain in the first part of July. Pretty soon I’ll be doing some spraying for fall food plots. Most experts recommend planting fall food plots in August-September.

Plot Preparation: With fall around the corner, it’s time to think serious about the preparation for fall food plots. First we did a soil test early in the year. At this point we’ve sprayed all of our plots, some multiple times. We’ve also mowed them to knock down all of the dead vegetation. Then we proceed with tilling. After tilling it’s time to plant. When we go to seeding we’re spreading the fertilizer and the seed. After that we roll (cultipaking even better) the plot to ensure for good seed to soil contact. Then it’s time to let Mother Nature do her thing.

Minerals: I’ve refreshed a few mineral sites during the month of July. My preference is to mix the minerals with dirt as best as possible. Deer like to eat minerals mixed in with dirt better then they prefer straight mineral. I have a couple of mineral sites that are getting buck and doe activity in them. I’ve made it a priority to have minerals at each of the properties I hunt. I’m doing my best to stay out of these mineral sites as much as possible, keeping the human activity in the area to a minimum.

Water: Thanks to all of the rain early in the month my water holes are now full of water and receiving good deer activity. Hopefully the recent dry week hasn’t dried them out too much.

Trail Cameras:  The cameras I have over minerals are getting lots of activity. I have one camera another over growing beans and another of a favorite water source deer frequent. All of these locations are quite effective this time of year.

Mock Scrapes/Rubs: All of my mock scrapes are basically old deer scrapes that I make sure to freshen up and add scent to. Most of them are getting pretty good deer activity. This is an effective way to get deer to stop where you want them too. All of these locations are just off of or directly on deer trails.

Food Source Scouting: With the arrival of mid to late July came serious food source scouting. I have been scouting the farmers bean and alfalfa fields on almost a nightly basis. Spotting scopes are incredibly valuable to anyone interested in this type of scouting. Look to scout on cloudy nights, cooler nights, and the best if right after a rain not to long before dark.

Two bucks in the beans.
Two bucks in the beans.
Buck in the beans.
Buck in the beans.

Stand Scouting and Preparation: Pretty soon we’ll be hanging tree stands. I’ll do my best to hang them in conjunction with rain to wash the scent away after we’re done hanging the stands.

Shooting Practice:  I’ve been shooting my bow a bit more as of late. I’ll be continuing to ramp up my shooting practice as much as possible and will challenge myself more and more as we get closer to the season.

Continual Learning: Avid whitetail hunters should always be learning. Summer scouting has become one of my favorite things to do. Here’s a great article from North America Whitetail on this topic. This is an interesting take on one of Bill Winke’s target deer for the year know as Lucky. Bill discusses the challenges of targeting primarily one mature buck.

It’s hard to believe only 2 months until season and for some states it’s even sooner then that.

Pre-Season Scouting for Early Season Success

Scouting velvet whitetails has begun. There is no better time to locate and find big bucks you’re interesting in then during the summer months. Now that the bean fields have truly started to express sufficient growth and bucks have really started to put on their head gear scouting is in full effect.

Locating Bucks 

Summer food sources will allow you to easily locate bucks this time of year. Minerals can provide that type of opportunity as well, but in most instances food sources will be more effective to hunt over at the start of the season. Bean fields, alfalfa fields, and any other green food plots or food sources in mid-September and early October are what you’re most interested in. The first step is to locate bucks on these food sources during the months of July-August and possibly even as late as September. Once you’ve located a buck the process begins.

Keep in mind that if you don’t have any of these types of food sources and you have the land and the equipment you can always create food sources that will allow for early season scouting and early season hunting success.

Patterning the Buck 

Certain bucks will have more consistent patterns then others. Seeing that most bucks are in bachelor groups this time of year you’ll likely be patterning a group of bucks. Out of that group there’s often a buck or two that you are interested in harvesting. Finding what the bucks typical pattern is may be best determined by a trail camera, but cameras risk putting your scent in the area or even spooking the bucks with the camera. If the situation is right put a camera on a field edge in field scan mode and determine what the weekly pattern of the bucks on this food source is. When putting a camera out be sure to use scent elimination spray and scent free clothes; placing the camera and checking it on rainy days is best to wash the scent away. Also place the camera high so the bucks are less likely to notice it. If placed in the correct spot the camera should be able to provide some sort of deer pattern. In the case that no pattern is present then you’ll simply have to take risks as to when to hunt the buck at the start of the season.

Cameras aren’t the only way to pattern a buck and perhaps not even the best way at all. The other way simply takes more time and commitment. Nightly scouting trips on the road will allow you to get a very good idea what the deer are doing in particular fields. It also allows one to scout multiple fields in a single evening. (For fields that are not located by a road the task becomes more challenging and stealth in scouting is of much importance. You’ll need to sneak to a proper scouting location and spend time there without spooking deer on the food source. Do everything possible to remain scent free and keep the wind in mind.) Field scouting with binoculars and spotting scopes not only informs a hunter of which deer are in the field but it also reveals important information about which locations bucks are entering and exiting fields. Keep these details in mind as you begin to think about stand placement.

150 Class Buck in Bean Field
150 Class Buck in Bean Field

Preparing for the Kill 

Putting a stand up is one of the most important steps of the entire process. Some hunters doing long range scouting or those that have used cameras to pattern a deer deeper into the woods may actually set-up to hunt a deer on the route to the food source. However many food source hunters will place a stand directly on the food source. Using the best available information from cameras or from your scouting determine which tree is closest to the most common entry point of the bachelor group of bucks. Keep in mind that wind direction is critical in this decision. Not only are you trying to kill a buck in the wide open, but you may very well be dealing with a group of bucks. If wind direction and thermals are not properly taken into account all of this work can be thrown away by getting busted. Once the proper tree is determined with the wind in your favor hang the stand during or just before a rain storm to once again wash away scent after the stand is hung.

After you’ve hung your stand and you’re able to confirm that the buck is still using a similar pattern you’ll simply have to wait until season arrives to move in.

When to Hunt the Buck 

If your camera or scouting reveal that a buck is moving regularly during daylight simply wait for the right wind and move in once season starts. If however the bucks shows only minimal daylight activity you may want to wait for a good cold front and the proper wind direction. Cold fronts typically get bucks on their feet during the early part of the season to feed. In the case that your season starts sometime in September you’ll have a longer window to work with this type of tactic. Seasons that open in October only allow for a short window for this tactic to work. Keeping that in mind don’t wait to long to try this type of early season tactic, but try not to move in too fast either. Use logic and do your best to put the odds in your favor. When all else fails just go with your gut, sometimes that can pay off too.

The art of the early season harvest isn’t exactly easy, but if done correctly it can offer some amazing mature buck hunting.

Pre-Season Efforts for June

Nutrition:

Food: Clover/chicory/corn/beans should now be planted. These plantings types provide whitetails with good summer forage. Browse in the timber is equally as important to the whitetails diet during this time of year. Throughout much of the whitetails range there has been ample rain for food plots. The only reason you may want to wait on putting bean in the ground is to have them green during the first of October, with this in mind wait to plant your beans until late June/early July. This is a tactic we’re trying.

Plot Preparation: First we did a soil test early in the year. At this point we’ve sprayed all of our plots, some multiple times. We’ve also mowed them to knock down all of the dead vegetation. Then we proceed with tilling. We’re still in the process planting right now. When we go to seeding we’re spreading the fertilizer and the seed. After that we roll (cultipaking even better) the plot to ensure for good seed to soil contact. Then it’s time to let Mother Nature do her thing.

Minerals: I’ve been refreshing mineral sites lately. My preference is to mix the minerals with dirt as best as possible. Deer like to eat minerals mixed in with dirt better then they prefer straight mineral. I have a couple of mineral sites that are getting buck and doe activity in them. Deer certainly love the minerals this time of year. I’ve made it a priority to have minerals at each of the properties I hunt.

Water: Thanks to all of the rain my water holes are now full of water and receiving good deer activity.

M2E38L125-125R399B307
Bucks at the Water Hole

Trail Cameras: My trail cameras over scrapes are continuing to get some activity. I’ll be leaving a few cameras over scrapes for a long time. The cameras I have over minerals are getting lots of activity. I also have one camera over alfalfa and another over growing beans.

Mock Scrapes/Rubs: All of my mock scrapes are basically old deer scrapes that I make sure to freshen up and add scent to. Most of them are getting pretty good deer activity. This is an effective way to get deer to stop where you want them too. All of these locations are just off of or directly on deer trails.

M2E1L0-14R350B300
Buck on a Scrape

Food Source Scouting: I’ve just recently started doing a tiny bit of food source scouting. I’ve seen a little bit of activity in doing this, but until the beans get bigger they’re not going to be offering the type of activity I prefer would scouting over food sources. Come mid to late July food source scouting should heat up.

Stand Scouting and Preparation: I have one more new stand that I really need to trim shooting lanes for and get a nice access trail too. Once that is done I’ll be somewhat happy with where I’m at getting stands ready for the season.

Shooting Practice:  I’ve been slacking in this area. Pretty soon I’ll need to get the bow out and begin fine tuning my shot. A buddy of mine is in the process of getting some of my arrows refletched. Once that is done hopefully I get excited about getting myself in form for the season.

Continual Learning: It’s food plot season so I’ve been teaching myself as much as I have time to regarding food plots and how to go about planting them. I’ve recently come across to food plot seed websites that I am very impressed with: Deer Creek Seed and Hancock Seed Company. These sites offer individual seed sales as well as seed blends. My favorite aspects of these sites is the attention to detail provided regarding nutrition information, planting dates, seeding rates, ect. In addition to that I’ve been enjoying some great habitat articles from Jeff Sturgis as of late. Here are a few that I found to be very insightful: Creating Daytime Buck Travel and Attracting a Buck to your Property

Magazine Guide

Most serious hunters agree that there is no offseason. When you’re not hunting it’s time to learn, and it’s time to get ready. I make every effort to do at least something everyday to either learn or prepare for the upcoming season. Certain days that doesn’t happen, but 9 times out of 10 it does.

Here’s the magazine’s I’ve come to appreciate and learn from when I’m looking to gather more details about whitetails.

  • Field and Stream: If you’re looking for unique ideas and approaches on how to tag a mature buck this magazine will deliver that. Certain parts of year this magazine shifts it’s focus to other topics, but when it’s time to cover whitetails you can count on great information.
  • Whitetail Journal: This magazine cover’s everything whitetails – food plots, hunting strategies, calling in deer, habitat management…you name it, they cover it.
  • Peterson’s Bowhunting: Experts write articles to fine tune your hunting skills in this magazine. Grant Woods and Bill Winke are regular contributors along with the Peterson’s staff. Monthly excerpts will provide you with an edge coming into your next season.
  • North American Whitetail: For monster buck stories, deer biology information from Dr. James Kroll, and more turn to this magazine. I always enjoy the contents of NAW.
  • Quality Whitetails: You can’t go wrong here. All QDMA members receive Quality Whitetails. This magazine provides all things whitetail. If you’re a habitat manager this is a magazine you need to get your hands on.

Pre-Season Efforts for May

Nutrition:

Food: Clover/chicory along with any other spring season perennials should be in the ground now that we’re nearing the end of may. We planted our clover/chicory plot last weekend. With some timely rain it should be looking good soon. Farmers have already begun to plant a lot of their corn and it’s starting to show good signs of growth. You’ll want to make sure you get any corn or beans you’ll be planting in the ground sooner then later. If you want green beans for the season opener wait to plant your beans until late June/early July otherwise get those crops in the ground now.

Plot Preparation: First we did a soil test early in the year. Now we’ve sprayed nearly all of our plots. We’ve also cut them to knock down all of the dead vegetation. Then we proceed with tilling. We’re in the process of tilling and planting right now. One of the plots is done and a few more are already tilled and should be planted soon. When we go to seeding we’re spreading the fertilizer and the seed. After that we roll the plot to ensure for good seed to soil contact. Then it’s time to let Mother Nature do her thing.

Minerals: I’ve been getting the minerals going good as of late. My preference is to mix the minerals with dirt as best as possible. Deer like to eat minerals mixed in with dirt better then they prefer straight mineral. I have a couple of mineral sites that are getting buck and doe activity in them. Deer certainly love the minerals this time of year. I’ve made it a priority to have minerals at each of the properties I hunt.

Bucks love minerals
Minerals

Water: With the dry summer thus far I’ve had to dig my water holes a bit deeper to keep the water in them. That technique has worked quite well for getting some water to show up in the hole.

Trail Cameras: My trail cameras over scrapes are continuing to get decent activity. I’ll be leaving a few cameras over scrapes for a long time. The cameras I have over minerals are getting a lot of activity as well. Beyond those two areas, green food plots are the other great option for trail cameras or growing soybeans.

Scrapes work year round
Scrapes work year round

Mock Scrapes/Rubs: All of my mock scrapes are basically old deer scrapes that I make sure to freshen up and add scent to. Most of them are getting pretty good deer activity. This is an effective way to get deer to stop where you want them too. All of these locations are just off of or directly on deer trails.

Food Source Scouting: I’ll be holding off on this type of scouting until the beans are bigger and the bucks have put some serious headgear on. It’s still quite early for that. I am not seeing a ton of buck activity in the alfalfa fields at this point.

Stand Scouting and Preparation: I have one more new stand that I really need to trim shooting lanes for and get a nice access trail too. Once that is done I’ll be somewhat happy with where I’m at for getting stands ready for the season.

Shooting Practice:  I’ve been slacking in this area. Pretty soon I’ll need to get the bow out and begin fine tuning my shot.

Continual Learning: It’s food plot season so I’ve been teaching myself as much as I have time to regarding food plots and how to go about planting them. Whitetail Institute has a good web TV site dedicated to all of their various blends. They also have a planting date recommendation for all of their products as well. It’s based on specific states as opposed to regions, which I found to be quite helpful. The QDMA has compiled a list of good resources to visit regarding different plant species and planting ideas.

One of the Secrets to Killing Mature Bucks

It’s simple. Stay out. It’s easy to think that we can do countless things to get bucks to be on our property. In some cases that is true. But more often then not a mature buck needs to feel safe. The best way to do this is to stay out of the area until it’s time to hunt.

Food plots have their place to draw in deer. Intense habitat management can and will be effective over a period of time, but making these changes doesn’t happen overnight. There are tons of steps that need to be taken to make a highly managed property an incredibly effective place to hunt.

The perfect call you see in an add, or that tempting new scent you read about in the magazine are far less likely to kill you a the buck of a lifetime then proper respect for a mature animal will. Respect the fact that these animals are masters of survival. Specifically I’m speaking to the big buck you’re after. Respect that fact that the more pressure you put on these animals the harder they’ll be to kill.

So after you’ve stayed out…when is it time to move in for the kill; that all depends.

If you are hunting over food sources probably the first part of the season or the late season. In this case you can ask yourself if trail cameras are helping or hurting you since you have to go in and check them. Obviously the wireless options are great, but I only personally know one person with one. So you may want to just wait for an early season cold front over that food source or a late season drop in temperature to move in during that time of year. In order to keep the area pressure free in may be the time to forget using a camera altogether over that great food source.

If you’re hunting deep in the woods, possibly near bedding areas hold off to pre-rut and rut. This is often and always will be one of the best times to see mature bucks. The cautious approach is to wait until late October, certainly no earlier then the 20th. Waiting until the 25th or even Halloween isn’t a bad idea either. The safest bet is to wait until the first week in November. By this point in the season you’re sure to see some good action. These dates can hold true for your favorite pinch point, the great staging area you know about, the secluded CRP grounds or quite simply an area that receives little human presence.

One of the keys to success for all this tactic is to get your stands up early. Just following the season is the safest bet. The middle of the summer is the next best option. Waiting until just before the season to place your stand can be a costly mistake if this is the tactic you’re looking to deploy.

Regardless of what type of plan you have going into this upcoming season do yourself a favor and try this somewhere. Give it a try on a 5 acre part of your property, your best spot that you think no-one enters on state land, or even an entire property if you’re blessed to have multiple hunting locations.

If you’re really serious about killing large deer then take this seriously. It can work quite well. One way to increase your odds for this tactic is to get multiple locations to hunt. The more locations you have to hunt the less pressure you’re likely to put on them. In turn the more likely a buck is to feel safe and free of human pressure in that location.

Please don’t take this article as an excuse to do nothing. I strongly recommend habitat improvements on a property you own. Work hard to acquire multiple properties to hunt, work hard to scout on state land, but remember when it comes to the time a few months before the season and during the season itself, respect these deer and give them their space.

Here’s how it paid off for me in 2014:

On November 3rd I had the best hunting day of my life. I waited all season long to hunt my main property. I did use cameras on this property and it does get human activity on part of it, but I did everything in my power outside of that to keep these deer pressure free. They had not had any hunting pressure up until this point.

On that day the following took place. I saw one of our oldest bucks for the first time ever. I also saw 3 immature bucks that morning as well, one of which was a young 8 point. This flurry of activity took place within 15 minutes. Two does were being chased by bucks and new bucks quickly began to filter in after the scent the doe was leaving behind. Roughly 10-15 minutes later the mature buck returned chasing a doe. I chose to do some calling to that buck and he let out a powerful buck growl in response to my calls, not just once but a handful of times.

One of the bucks seen after waiting all season to move in.
One of the bucks seen after waiting all season to move in.

After such a successful morning in the woods I knew it was time to move further into the back part of our property. My father and I headed back for yet another exciting hunt. Within minutes of getting on stand we had young bucks cruising the area. In total we say 4 immature bucks that evening. Again one of them was an immature 8 point. To conclude the excitement my father had a good encounter with a mature buck we called Mr. Perfect.

The buck my father saw that evening
The buck my father saw that evening

While we didn’t seal the day that day close calls and excitement marked the best hunting day of my life. Did this have to do with pre-rutting activity? You can be certain it did. I planned for this; I knew that the deer activity would be good around this time of year so that is why I waited. Would my hunt have been this good if I had been hunting this area all season long? I certainly don’t believe it would have been that good. That fact that this 90 acres was holding that many bucks made it very clear to me that the holding off to hunt this property clearly allowed the deer to feel quite safe here. Both does and buck wanted to be in this area.