Developing a Winter Trail Camera Strategy
February 02, 2016
When the hunting season ends, or all the tags are filled, most hunters pull their scouting cameras and toss them in the corner of the garage until the following summer. That may be a mistake; a strategy of year-round monitoring of the deer herd can help you learn a lot about the deer in your area, and the challenges that face them.
Here are four places I would recommend running your game cameras from the first of the year until spring.
This might seem an odd place to put a camera, but there are a couple reasons I like to have at least one camera in a known bedding area. First, it helps me keep track of the condition of the deer. If they are getting run down during the winter, I can tell by their body condition. I might need to get some supplemental feed out there. Here's a caution, don't introduce a pile of corn all at once. It can make the deer sick to radically change their diet in mid-winter. Use a deer feed with a mixture of alfalfa pellets, corn and other proteins.
Secondly, having a camera where the deer are bedding is the best place I have found to keep any eye on the predators. If you have an abundance of coyotes in the area, they are sure to show themselves in the bedding areas. A high population of coyotes means some trapping and hunting is in order.
Here's a bonus I discovered quite by accident by having a camera in a bedding area. I checked my camera after two weeks of surveillance, and discovered that a buck had shed his antlers, but he was still carrying them two days before. I rushed back out there and found both sides.
I avoid violating bedding areas during the hunting season, but a visit every couple weeks during the winter doesn't move them around much at all.
Trails are really easy to find. With the normal snowfall here in Minnesota, the deer's winter patterns become very predictable. Find the food sources and the travel ways the deer use to access them and you will find trails. They can't hide what they are doing, and well-worn trails are great places to inventory the bucks and does.
Photos I get on these trails help me keep track of which bucks made it through the hunting seasons. I find it remarkable how many bucks I find on these trails that I had never seen before. They just show up wherever there is quality winter food available.
In states where it is legal to supplement the deer's feed, I put out feed regularly and keep a camera on it at all times. Start early and don't abandon the deer when they become dependent on your feeding. Use a mixture of feeds which will keep the deer healthy through the harshest conditions. It's hard to beat corn because the deer love it, and it's super high in carbohydrates they need to create body heat and preserve fat.
Mix other feed items in with the corn as much as possible and be consistent. These feeding sites help me inventory the deer and also monitor the antler shedding process, something that is important to me. I want to get those sheds before the squirrels do.
As winter is coming to a close, I refresh my mineral licks as soon as the snow melts, which is usually in early April. Bucks and does both crave minerals, and a good mineral supplement will help the overall health of the bucks, and the condition of the does during the latter stages of their pregnancies.
Because the bucks have shed their antlers, trail camera footage this time of year doesn't help me assess the herd. However, I can watch the new velvet growth start to develop, which is exciting to me. Having a camera on the minerals is more for fun than any other reason, but that's enough reason for me.
Checking game cameras is like a sport unto itself. I love getting out for some fresh air in the winter and walking through the woods. I also love the anticipation of looking at the pictures on my computer. If you are putting your cameras away during the winter, you might find that you have a lot to gain by leaving them out. But be forewarned, it can be addicting.