ON THE HUNT
If I was asked to describe White-tailed deer hunting in one word, it would be “challenging.” It is absolutely physically and mentally demanding, but so rewarding when all the hard work that you put in finally pays off. Many hours throughout my year are spent scouting, monitoring trail cameras, and setting up hunting stands and blinds when permitted.
Similar to fishing, when it comes to hunting you can never have too many spots. When I head out in search of deer activity and new hunting areas, the first thing I watch for is narrow, matted-down trails leading through the brush, this is key. If it’s not too close to hunting season I’ll walk right on the trail and follow it to find more deer sign and also find a good spot to install my trail camera for further observation. While walking pay attention to see if there are any fresh deer droppings, if it’s an active trail you will definitely find some. Glance over everything in your path from your feet up to eye-level.
Deer love to walk and graze, check for small plant shoots or branches that have noticeably been chewed on. It’s also easy to spot their beds if you come across them; large round areas of matted down grass is a good indication that a deer has rested there recently. Another common spot is under the low branches of evergreen trees as this is a place they like to take shelter as well. Take mental notes of areas where the deer have been feeding or resting, this will come into play when you finish scouting and start setting up your stand or blind.
The most obvious sign to look for is their actual track. Once the snow comes they will become much easier to find and there is nothing better than walking to your stand after a fresh snowfall and seeing big tracks along the way. If you are lucky enough to come across a big buck track you will know right away, trust me! They are significantly larger in size and sink down deeper in the snow. Last but certainly not least are the rubs and scrapes that bucks make prior to the rut.
They “rub” their forehead and antlers up and down small tree trunks and shrubs; it almost looks as if someone took a cheese shredder to it if I had to describe it. This will help release the velvet from the antlers and scent is deposited from their forehead glands which marks that bucks territory. You can tell if it is an old rub or a fresh one based on its appearance, if you see a dark dry spot its old.
Scrapes are the same idea; they scrape away at the ground and use their antlers and forehead to rub mangle branches and shrubs above. When finished they will often urinate on the ground scrape to leave behind more scent and let their presence be known. It’s funny because our dog, Diesel, does the same thing at home when he marks his territory; he scrapes the ground and shoots mud everywhere.
TRAIL CAMERA INSTALLATION
You’ve gathered all the information you found, where the deer are feeding and commuting, but where do you install your trail camera? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. If you found a rub or scrape that would be the best place to start in my opinion, we’ve had bucks return to the same rub multiple times and if you’re lucky he may do the same to you too.
Often I will set up two or three cameras in one area and after a few weeks I will keep the camera up that provides the most action and move the other ones to a new location. We shuffle them around quite a bit because when you are hunting in the thick timber, a matter of a few yards can make the biggest difference. Deer will sometimes form patterns and stick to certain trails they are comfortable with, and it’s your job to find them. This will be my seventh year using my Bushnell trail cameras. I don’t have anything negative to say about them, seven years of harsh cold winters and year round action and they are still work just as well as the day we brought them home.
I keep a few cameras up year round at home; it’s nice to see all the wildlife that comes through and it also works great for surveillance on our property. Through some trial and error I learned a few key points with regards to camera placement. Try not to face the camera directly towards the sun if you can help it. The morning sun is the worst for this problem and sometimes it can cause a glare which can ruin any potential pictures. If you place the camera too close to the trail or rub, you will end up with pictures of big brown bodies as they walk by, and it’s impossible to judge exactly how large the deer is. It’s better to set it back a bit so the entire deer will be featured in the picture.
WEAR GLOVES FOR INSTALLATION
I also keep a few pairs of latex gloves in my hunting pack and they aren’t only for processing meat. I wear gloves when installing my cameras now. One year Dad and I roasted a few hot dogs for lunch while out in the woods. After lunch I installed our brand new trail camera in my favorite hunting spot. About a month later I returned to find a bear attacked the camera, my hands must have transferred the scent of our lunch. It was a tough learning experience.I was so excited to see all my pictures and there were none and now I was also down a camera.
You will learn many small tips like this as you start placing cameras and with experience you will be able to obtain some really amazing pictures. Another good place to set a camera is at an intersection…a deer trail intersection! If you notice a few different trails cross at the same spot you’ve just increased your chances of catching more deer on camera. Narrow, neck-down areas between thick brush and funnels of trails leading between where the deer are eating and sleeping are good too. Again, there are no right or wrong answers and if you install a camera and don’t have any pictures keep moving it until you do.
If you start to notice a pattern based on the time of the day, when the deer are moving around and what direction they are travelling you can use that information when it comes time to set up your ground blind or tree stand. If you can’t find a pattern try setting up near a trail between their resting area and where they are feeding so you can intercept them when they walk back and forth. You should always have a few options in each area that are different based on wind direction.
I recently began hunting from my tree stand but some days when the wind is swirling or it’s not a favourable direction I always bring my ground blind as a backup and have a few places where I can walk and set it up so I don’t ruin my hunt.
Prior to season opener we will actually visit the locations we may put up a ground blind and rake all of the debris and dry leaves away, this way we can be as quiet as possible if we need to do a last-minute set up. There is nothing worse than the sound of crunchy leaves under your feet. If you have limited a time frame you need to hunt every day to its fullest even if the wind doesn’t co-operate. Rolling out of bed, grabbing my gear, and heading out before sunrise to spend a quiet day in the woods is something I won’t ever be tired of.