Early-Season Trail Camera Strategies

Early-Season Trail Camera Strategies

Summer is quickly coming to a close and with that comes the opening day of bow season; accompanied by a lot of good intentions and well-laid plans. If your game plan doesn’t involve scouting cameras - it should. If it does, here are some early-season trail camera strategies to incorporate so that you can get the most out of your surveillance efforts.

Concentrate On Food

During the early season, bowhunting success revolves around one thing... groceries. Therefore, it only stands to reason that any opening day hunting scheme worth mentioning should somehow be connected to food. This includes trail camera placement in order to pattern bucks on a feeding schedule.

In the past, we've written about a number of trail camera placement strategies and tips, but for early season trail camera placement we recommend field edges or somewhere between bedding and feeding (along transition routes). Of course, your success depends largely on your ability to access either location with little-to-no disturbance to the deer herd. If your comings and goings lead to educating the deer then you need to reevaluate your entry and exit routes or move your trail camera altogether.

Acorns on the ground is a great place to zone in your cameras
Acorns on the ground is a great place to zone in your cameras

Deer will often bypass a lot of different food options for this timber favorite - acorns.

Most successful early-season hunts will occur during the late evening hours. Therefore, trail cameras (and eventually treestands) should be hung far enough away from field edges in order to catch bucks on their feet while there is still shooting light. Your trail camera images should provide clues as to which entry routes your target buck prefers.

Likewise, big-timber bowhunters should seek out good mast crops before opening day (if there are any) and set up a trail camera nearby. Once good acorn numbers have been located it’s time to set up a trail camera or two. After you determine that the area is worth hunting hang a stand. Sneaking in at mid-day and staying until the last legal shooting light can provide a great opportunity for an early-season bruiser who has been feeding undisturbed for several weeks prior.

Avoid Spooking Deer

While it may be easy to assume hunting pressure is non-existent because the season hasn’t started - nothing could be further from the truth. In the weeks leading up to the opening day, the woods and fields begin to see an increase in human traffic as everyone scrambles to put the finishing touches on their schemes.

Whether you are scouting or hunting make sure you’re not spooking deer in the process.

Contrary to what you might think deer don’t know the difference between scouting activity and actual hunting. All they know is that suddenly there are people where there hasn’t been anyone for months. Eventual the light bulb comes on and they adjust their travel and feeding patterns to basically avoid you.

Whatever your last-minute plans entail, be careful that your pre-season scouting/camera placement does not disrupt the natural feeding patterns of the deer or its game over before it’s even begun.

Control Your Odor

Much too often scent control is approached in a lax manner during the early season. Big mistake. Summer scouting and trail camera management mean high temps and humidity; both of which generate sweat that can easily compromise a sub-par scent control regimen. Be sure that you are as scent-free as possible before heading afield to scout or hang trail cameras.

In addition, consider wind direction and whether or not it will undermine your efforts. In other words, don’t walk into a potential hunting location to scout or hang a trail camera if the wind will be blowing your scent into the area you expect deer to come from. I shouldn’t have to explain the downside of that.

Controlling your scent is a must for success

To combat the negativity of hot summer conditions be sure to follow the same scent-reducing procedures you would when hunting.

Speaking of wind, DeerLab has a feature that allows users to track bucks during specific wind directions and speeds. This will allow you to decipher whether or not that big buck you are hunting moves during a specific wind direction or if he limits his travels. If you think deer either don't move during the wind, or move the same during the wind, be sure to check out an in-depth article answering the age-old question, do bucks move in the wind?

Incorporating Mock Scrapes

One method for attracting bucks in the early season, in addition to food sources, is the use of mock scrapes. Scrapes are merely a calling card that bucks use in order to communicate with other deer and establish their dominance in the area. When a buck scrapes and paws the ground he is creating a visual signpost. However, he is also leaving a distinctive scent by urinating in the scrape. This scent “calling card” lets other bucks (and does) in the area know that he is there.  

You have two options when it comes to scrapes. You can either doctor an existing scrape or create your own “mock” scrape. The idea is to pique the curiosity of the dominant buck in the area in the hopes that he returns in search of the “new” buck you’ve made him think has moved in on his turf.

Starting a mock scrape

Mock scrapes are a great alternative to bringing in bucks during the early season.

Of course, scent control is paramount when creating or doctoring scrapes. Also, strongly consider where you set your camera and how often you check it. For starters, you might consider hanging your camera at an elevated position; above the deer’s line of sight. Mature bucks are very aware of any changes to their surroundings. This includes a camera attached to a tree mere feet from the “new” scrape you’ve created or the scrape that was already there.

Also, make sure your camera has the strongest batteries you can afford (we think lithium is the best) and the largest SD card you can find. Both will limit the number of return trips you will need to make. Repeated trips to change either one only increase your chances of spooking your target buck; or any deer for that matter.


The early season is a great time of year to pattern a buck. Food dominates their thoughts and their travels. Trail cameras can play a significant role in your pre-season scouting. However, care must be taken when considering where to hang them and how often to check them. Do that and you will get the most out of your efforts and hopefully place your tag on an early season buck.

Steve Flores
Steve Flores
Receive DeerLab's Hunting Strategy Newsletter
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.