Minerals and food. That’s the secret (not quite a secret) to capturing trail camera pictures of the bucks on your property during the summer months. For most of us, we run cameras all summer long and drool over photos when our trail cams show us what bucks are on our properties. This goes on roughly until about the middle of September, and then a switch flips, and those bucks that you have hundreds or even thousands of pictures of seem to vanish. Your cameras go absolutely dead, leaving you wondering where all your big bucks went. What happens during this time of year is a habitat, or a core home range shift.
One of the main reasons buck are changing their home range is due to the habitat that surrounds them. Those green bean fields you watched them feed on aren’t green anymore, wheat is being harvested, and then by October the beans are being harvested as well. In conjunction with this occurrence, hard mast is starting to drop back in the timber, and bucks have shed their velvet and are starting to establish dominance between each other. As bucks change their home ranges, your trail cameras should be moving as well to keep you in the game.
Buck Patterns Change, So...
Early to mid-September it’s time to transition your cameras from the mineral to funnels, pinch points, and scrapes if you want to know how mature bucks are moving throughout your property. Once you shift your cameras and start getting new information, what you do with those pictures can ultimately be the deciding factor on whether or not you time your hunt right and have it end the way you want it to.
It is still a popular thought among many hunters that scrapes are to be hunted over during the rut. The fact of the matter is most scrapes are actually being made leading up to the peak of the rut, and by the time most hunters notice them, they are already dormant. The best time to hunt scrapes can actually be during the early months of the season. Go for a walk and locate a couple scrapes to get your trail cameras over. Most bucks in an area will minimally come check them out as a social event, and this can be a great way to not only get an inventory of your bucks, but help you hunt them. While you’re out scouting for a good trail camera location, you will find two different types of scrapes, and being able to identify the difference between the two can play a major role in knowing how to hunt a buck.
Field Edge Scrapes:
There is a good chance you’re going to find scrapes along a field edge in your area. Field edge scrapes are a great spot to take inventory of the bucks on the property. Chances are, most of your trail camera pictures will be during the cover of darkness, as that is when most bucks hit scrapes along a field edge. These scrapes are still of great value, as you can get a good idea of what’s around without having to invade the timber.
Bedding Area Scrapes:
Scrapes found near a buck’s bedding area are much more likely to be hit during daylight hours. I am skeptical about placing trail cameras over a scrape in a buck’s bedding area, being the ever so cautious hunter that I am, but if you can locate a scrape in a bedding area not too far from a field edge scrape where you have pictures of a shooter buck, you will be in business.
After locating a buck hitting a scrape along a field edge, and finding a scrape near where you think he is bedding, it’s time to let your trail camera do the work for you. What makes DeerLab so helpful is all of the weather information it automatically pulls for you, like the wind direction and wind speed chart above.
Let your trail cameras gather as much information as possible during early fall, leading up to your season opener and then sync your pictures with DeerLab, and you will know a buck’s tendencies when he hits that scrape. For example, your target buck is hitting a certain scrape along the edge of a food plot, most of the time in the middle of the night. But every time there is a northerly wind, associated with a temperature drop he seems to get there right after dark. The next time you have a northerly wind and temperature drop, go in with the wind in your favor and sit just off the scrape you located near his bedding area rather than on the food plot. You know that buck is making it to the field edge just after dark, and is most likely hitting his scrape back in his bedding area much earlier, and this time you’ll be waiting for him.
Another highly effective area to transition trail cameras to are funnels near, around, or in between oak ridges. When the acorns start falling, you can count on deer being there, including mature bucks. The best spot for a trail camera is a funnel in between two oak ridges or a pinch point in between a bucks bedding area and an oak flat where you can effectively hunt with a good wind. Locating scrape or rub lines in these areas can clue you in as well to where the bucks are traveling.
Once you get your trail cameras up, and find a buck that you want to go after, understanding how he moves between bed and food is critical to success. I tend to avoid going after a buck in this situation until I can find a crack in his armor. When studying your pictures in DeerLab, analyze when he is moving near or in daylight. There will most likely be a pattern, and when you figure it out, it’s time to go after him.
This year, instead of being surprised when all of your bucks disappear in the late summer or early fall, get one step ahead and be ready for it. It’s not if, but when a buck will switch gears into his fall pattern, even if it’s not moving very far away. Every now and again, you might have a buck move completely off your property or even have a new one move in, but most of the time a buck will simply change how he goes about his day, still relatively in the same area. Get those trail cameras moved, and use the information they gather to your advantage to have a better chance of harvesting your target buck this season.
About the Author:
Alex Comstock is a 21 year old passionate deer hunter from Minnesota and currently lives in North Dakota. He runs a brand new website, WhitetailDNA which focuses on deer hunting tips and tactics for the most hardcore deer hunters. You will find advanced strategies, and helpful resources, where content is posted regularly. He also has written for the likes of Bowhunter Magazine and North American Whitetail.