Enquirer Herald

Brad Harvey: Pre-season scouting for deer season starts now

With each passing day bringing us closer to the annual mid-September opening of the deer season, I get a little more excited every morning.

That itch to return to the woods grows and becomes more intense along with the longing to climb into a tree on that first morning of the season.

However, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to be sure I’ll be sitting in the right spot that will give me the best chance of success.

Though it’s just the last day of July, it all starts now.

Most successful deer addicts spend these weeks placing scouting or trail cameras around their property in hopes of catching a glimpse of a potential trophy buck they can chase all fall.

The problem is that, after spending as much as $500 for the camera, far too many think that using these little gadgets is as easy as strapping it to a tree and walking away.

If you’re really lucky, this may work every once in a while, but there are a number of things you can do to increase your chances of later retrieving good pictures.

Knowing your trail camera is a must. With just a three and a half month deer season, there’s no excuse for not finding a little time during the other eight and half months to get to know your equipment.

Set it up on a tree or fencepost and walk past it at various distances. Most camera manufacturers advertise incredibly fast trigger speeds but much of that is just hype.

Every unit on the market is fitted with a wide-angle lens and if the unit is placed at the proper distance from where you expect the deer to travel, it won’t matter if the camera triggers in one second or as many as five. That wide-angle lens is going to catch whatever is out there.

The key here is knowing what that optimum distance is for the camera you own. That’s pretty easy to figure out by looking at those pictures that were taken of you as you walked by it.

Once you’ve done that and then know what to expect from your camera, there are several considerations that come into play when you head to the woods to place it.

Keep these in mind every time you look for the right spot and you’re sure to be pleased with the images you’ll have to show off to your buddies.

Take a compass. You always want to point your trail camera north or south. If it faces east or west, the rising or setting sun will ruin those shots, which are the prime time for deer movement, no matter the time of year.

Clear the area in front of the camera of any tall, young foliage. These can easily trigger your unit hundreds of times during a single day as the move around in the breeze.

Triggering the camera this many times will quickly kill the batteries and give you thousands of pictures of nothing that you’ll have to sort through.

Think logically. Want to see what’s passing through a particular deer trail? Putting the camera parallel to the trail, so that the view is from the direct side, will frustrate youwhen you find tons of pics showing nothing. It’s not that there wasn’t a deer there. It’s just that your camera missed it.

It’s better to aim the camera either up or down the trail.

This will keep the deer in front of the camera for the longest possible time, giving you numerous images of the animal entering or exiting the location.

Found some rubs or scrapes? If you want to see what’s tending them, the best vantage point is from up high. Take your climbing stand with you and put the camera about 15 feet up a tree. You can easily aim the camera down toward your target area by using sticks or twigs to shim it from the top.

Watching scrapes is also a great way to pinpoint when the rutting period starts. As long as you’re seeing bucks hitting those scrapes, it hasn’t turned on yet. You can bet, however, that as soon as you’re no longer getting pictures of bucks there, the rut has officially started.

Is there a perfect camera tree? Yes. Any tree that measures between 10 and 15 inches wide where you mount your camera will work best. If you’re putting yours at ground level, a height of 30 to 40 inches is ideal.

Remember, it’s still hunting. Every time you enter the woods to place a camera or retrieve a memory card and swap batteries, treat it as you would if it were November.

Keep a low profile and find the most direct route into and out of the area while also keeping the wind in your favor. Go in scent free and try not to touch anything that you don’t have to.

Carry a small bottle of one of the many scent killers on the market and spray down the outside of the camera once it’s been positioned, activated and you’re about to leave.

Have a few tissues in your pockets so that you can wipe down the camera lens after you’ve sprayed it.

It’s also important to resist the urge to check the camera too often.

It’s completely understandable to be excited about seeing the results, but why spend the money and go to all of the trouble of using cameras if you’re not going to give yourself the best chance of seeing what’s rambling around your hunting grounds?

As long as your camera has fresh batteries and an empty memory card on the day you first strap it to a tree, it should be good for several weeks. This means that you should give it a minimum of a week before each return trip to swap the card and add new batteries. There are a handful of units that have hit the market lately that, despite being fairly inexpensive, are said to operate a full year on a single set of batteries.

Hopefully, these tips will spark you to put a little more thought into how you use your trail camera this year. It’s guaranteed that if you take the time to incorporate them, you’ll get better results than you’ve gotten during your pre-season scouting in years past.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.