Big Bucks: 10 Secrets for Trailcam Success

Two pros share their best secrets to patterning trophy whitetails with trail cameras

Big Bucks: 10 Secrets for Trailcam Success
Mike Clerkin often uses time-lapse cameras to inventory summer bucks. These frames, taken from PlotWatcher Pro video, show the same Indiana buck "blowing up" in just one month. Photo courtesy of Mike Clerkin

It's no secret that trail cameras can offer a wide variety of information throughout the year on deer inhabiting the land that you hunt. And when Mr. Big shows up, a trail cam array can help your set up a strategy to puts you in a better positon to harvest that buck. The question every whitetail hunter asks at some point is: What's the best way to use trail cameras in trying to pattern trophy whitetails?

Here's how some of our deer hunting experts answered that question.

Chris Parrish | Knight & Hale

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"On one hand, trail cameras are among the best tools for locating and tracking mature bucks. But if improperly used, they actually can help keep a buck alive to reach the next age


Be Patient

"While I do use cameras, I use them sparingly and with tons of patience. I hunt mostly public land, which presents two challenges. First, you run a risk of having cameras stolen. Secondly, on many public lands it isn't legal to use an attractant to get deer in front of a camera.


"If I'm not able to use any mineral or food for bait, in the summer I'll often hang cameras around water holes or river crossings, as well as in heavily used areas going into or out of food sources.

I tend to mount my cameras 7-8 feet off the ground, tilting them downward. This usually will keep those with sticky hands from walking off with your goods.

Use An Attractant Where Legal

"I like to find places that lead from known buck bedding areas, as this increases the chances of getting images of what I'm looking for. While hunting private land on which attractants can be used, I just add corn or mineral to help ensure a stopover in front of the camera.

"I force myself to give the cameras at least three weeks before checking in the early season. This is generally an inventory check, as we all know many things change even in early September. However, this should give you a pretty good indication of where your efforts should start in early season.


Setups For Scrapes

"Once we get through the first week or so of bow season, I back off and wait until the first good scrapes start to show. I will then lock onto good scrapes closer to cover. These places are where I tend to get more daytime photos of mature bucks.

"I give the cameras several days before I check them. And when I do, it's during non-peak movement times. This depends a lot on the moon. If we have a full moon and appropriate temps, midday might not be the best time to check.

"I fully believe deer change areas during different times of the year/rut cycle. For example, on Oct. 30 I shot a big 4 1/2-year-old 10-pointer a half-mile from where I'd been photographing him in late September and early October. Without finding good scrapes to place the cameras on, I wouldn't have known where he'd moved.


Place Cameras on Funnels

"I also like to place cameras in funnel areas between bedding cover and food sources; this tells me if bucks are traveling, searching for receptive does. Again, in these places I get more daytime photos and am able to set up a game plan to hunt.

Don't Overpressure Your Area

"Late season can be a tough time, due to weather conditions. If it's bitterly cold and the deer are locked in on food, they tend to bed very close. Often the slightest pressure can set a bad tone. Putting cameras on posts in the food source seems to be a good way to alleviate some pressure and makes them much easier to check. This time of year has some of the best hunting, but it's also one of the toughest times to get good photos without messing things up.

Watch Your Scent

"I tend to go overboard on keeping scent to a minimum while setting and checking. I don't allow anyone to go with me other than my son, as he does what Dad does. Keep clean and keep pressure low: These are, in my opinion, two of the most important things with using trail cameras.

Place Cameras In Easy Access Areas

"I also like setting cameras in an area I can check going into a stand or coming out of it. This doesn't always work out, but it's handy when you can find this setup."

Mike Clerkin | NAW Television

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"As the calendar approaches mid-summer, a great fever starts building in any serious whitetail hunter. We've missed chasing them for months now, and the embers are starting to glow. For many hunters, all interest now is focused on getting trail cameras out there to capture those first up-close-and-personal views of target bucks.

"The technology we now have in motion- and infrared-activated cameras, as well as time-lapse units, is outstanding. Thanks to these tools, some hunters have become almost as interested in getting photos of that 'ghost' buck they've been after for several seasons as they are in actually shooting him. But I've learned to be careful not to mess up my hunting in an effort to get photos.

"As opening day approaches, often we find our fever has progressed into a serious sickness. We can't stay away from our cameras. But then we find the buck photos have stopped coming. When this occurs, our fear turns into outright panic. Why have these deer chosen to abandon my property? I have all their needs covered here! Yet, after weeks of getting incredible daytime photos, it seems "my" bucks have left. And when that happens, I start to question myself. What happened? Do I need to move my cameras?

Manage for Scent Control

"The explanation for this shift took me a few seasons to understand. I truly enjoyed seeing shooter bucks on my trail cameras and didn't realize I was pressuring them off the property with my frequent card checking. I also wasn't taking my scent control that seriously when I went to the camera locations. Since then, I've learned it's critical to have scent-free boots and clothing when mounting or checking cameras. Failing to adhere to this strategy was a serious mistake on my part in the early days of using cameras. Where legal, using an attractant to hold deer in front of your cameras longer can also help.

Keep Cameras On Food Sources

"Remember: Trail cameras really are just tools to help you achieve a goal. Use them to survey the property at limited times, and don't get carried away with putting them in areas where deer feel safe. I mount cameras only in food sources or in staging areas where trails lead to/from daytime movement areas. Even if I only get nighttime photos as a result, I gain knowledge about the herd and don't create problems in core areas.

Scout Smart

"Although many properties don't provide an elevated spot from which to survey deer at long distance, I'm always looking for one. Examples might be barns or grain storage bins, or simply the highest hill on the property. Scouting is about more than just getting cool photos of deer. Use your own eyes, too."

Aaron McGraw, Ohio

It's going to be difficult for Aaron McGraw to pass up an opportunity at this buck.

Cody M., Missouri

Cody M. was understandably excited when he pulled his cam to find this nice bachelor group. Two 10 pointers, a 6 pointer and a young spike waiting his turn in the back.

Drew Merz, Kansas

Drew Merz won't hesitate to make a mount out of this stud this season.

Jared Graddy, Georgia

Jared Graddy loves getting pics like this on his trail camera. So do we, Jared. So do we.

Jared Graddy, Georgia

Whoa. They may not be bucks, but that is one serious herd of does.

Jonathan Collier, North Carolina

Jonathan Collier called these just a few of the top hits off of just this farm. Looks like it will be a great year in North Carolina.

Jonathan Collier, North Carolina

Who wouldn't love for these North Carolina tall tine twins to show up on their lot this season?

Kyle Tasselmyer, New York

Kyle Tasselmyer will certainly be keeping his eye on this great New York buck.

Matt Pritchet, Indiana

That's going to be an awesome trophy there, Matt.

Steven Wilson, Indiana

Steven Wilson has dedicated his season to hunting this monster. Can you blame him?

Steven Wilson, Indiana

We're seeing double on this one.

Steven Wilson, Indiana

Steven Wilson captured this nice 10 pointer posing for the camera on his property.

Sutton Carpenter, South Dakota

Whatchu' lookin' at?

Sutton Carpenter, South Dakota

Wacky Rack certainly lives up to his name.

Sutton Carpenter, South Dakota

The season can't get here soon enough for Sutton Carpenter as he prepares to hunt Slick WIlly.

Nick Witte, Minnesota

This group of bachelor's certainly has a few shooters in the mix.

Louis Davies, Ohio

This nice 8 pointer named Sherman by Louis Davies of Ohio is definitely at the top of his hit list.

Tyson Hilyard, Kansas

Tyson Hilyard has a couple of fledgling bucks on his hands over in Kansas.

Andrew Belvis, Virginia

Andrew Belvis spotted this drop tine giant with a couple of up and comers. As you can imagine, it's at the top of his hit list.

Drew Merz, Kansas

This near perfectly symmetrical 4 1/2 year old has Drew Merz hoping the buck doesn't pull a Houdini this season.

Drew Merz, Kansas

King Buck has tons of character. Yes, character...

Jason Wandling, Ohio

Now there's a rack you'd take home to Mother.

Tom Draper, Tennessee

Tom Draper won't hesitate to take this beaut, nicknamed Fred, especially with heavy hunting pressure all around him.

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