I'm always surprised when I talk to someone who mostly runs their trail cameras just before the deer season and into the season. I suppose not everyone is as addicted to the sport of running cameras as I am, but in addition to that, hunters who wait until the last minute to get their cameras working for them are missing out not only on a lot of great enjoyment, but also some good information that will pay off later on.
The enjoyment comes from watching the deer lazily biding their time through the summer and observing the amazing spectacle of nature that is the growth of antlers each year. The information comes in learning patterns and most importantly taking an inventory of the bucks on the properties you hunt. Knowing the potential of any property is a valuable part of deciding what areas you will hunt come fall and choosing which bucks will become your targets when the deer season rolls around.
There are four places I feel it's critical to keep cameras operating during the summer. I may not have cameras on all four of these on each property, but I will at some time during the summer be monitoring these for at least a couple weeks. I try to let the cameras sit for at least two weeks and some of the prime spots may have a camera on them all summer. Let's look at these four spots and examine why they are good as gold.
While deer get most of their water from the plants they eat, they will consistently supplement that with any clean water that is available on the property. This may be a natural water hole, pond, stream or swamp. The ones that are easy to cover with a camera are the small ponds where you can set the lens to take in the entire pond. Bucks will use thede day and night if they are secluded in areas which give them a secure feeling.
Deer tracks around these ponds will tell you which ones are getting the most use. Deer tracks will also offer clues as to where the deer are drinking on larger waters. Banks will be stomped down where the deer go down to the water. Creek crossings are one of my favorites because you are monitoring both a trail and water simultaneously. Deer will loiter and take a drink at the creek whenever they cross, giving you ample opportunity to get good photos of them.
I start my mineral sites in the spring as soon as the snow goes off, and the deer will hit them periodically all summer. Hunters, land managers and biologists will argue well into the night around a campfire about how much benefit the bucks' antlers receive as a result of the minerals, but one thing is for sure, they sure bring the bucks in front of your camera.
I don't mind a mineral with a goodly amount of salt content because the deer will stay at the site longer and the hole that develops as a result of their pawing and licking is also an attractor. A salt or mineral block can work just as well. Put them in spots where the deer feel comfortable during daylight hours and resist the temptation to check them too often. Keeping human scent intrusion to a minimum will ensure that the biggest mature bucks will visit often.
Food and Corn piles
Natural foods attract deer all summer and these food sources can be excellent places to put a camera. Problems come with this as most food sources are large and difficult to cover with a scouting camera. They may be using a large soybean, corn or alfalfa field for example. You can attempt to find the access points where the deer are entering the field but they are often so numerous that you'll be using too many cameras on each field.
I have found that it pays to use artificial food source whenever possible. A 50-pound bag of corn will last about week in most places with an average number of deer in the area. With high deer numbers it might take two. Most every deer will stop in for a bite or two of corn even when food is abundant. I have a source where I can buy 30-pound boxes of crushed peanuts really cheap and it works wonders but it also disappears much faster than corn and every bird and critter in the area will fill up your camera's SD card so it's a toss-up.
Many people are afraid to put a camera right in known bedding areas and there are good reasons to avoid doing so. However, there are a couple things we can do to minimize disturbing the deer to the point that they avoid the area. The first one is simply do not check the camera often and then check it right before or during a rain or at night. The rain will wash out your scent and checking the area at night allows you to sneak in and out when the deer our off feeding somewhere else.
The introduction of cell phone and wifi cameras has changed the game for those of us who like to put cameras right in the bedding areas. I have a Covert Blackhawk camera that uses Verizon towers and it only costs me $15 per month for up to 1000 photos. It will text or email me photos as it takes them. I can monitor it from an app on my smartphone so I don't need to go get it until the app shows that the batteries are dead, and that's usually several weeks.
I place this cell phone camera right in the areas I know the deer are bedding and it's amazing what I have learned from it, even during the middle of the summer. I can see what times deer are entering and exiting the area. I have also noticed that they tend to use certain bedding areas with variances in wind directions and weather conditions. A camera in the bedding area is one of the most educational tools I use in the summer for learning about the deer on the properties I hunt.
So don't wait until the cool evenings of fall get your hunting juices flowing to put those cameras out. Keep them out all summer and you will not only know much more about your deer, but you may also become addicted to the sport of scouting cameras like I am.