The Effects of Trail Cameras on Mature Bucks

By Jeff Stirland

In the world of modern whitetail hunting, trail cameras are considered the primary means of gaining valuable scouting information for a large number of hunters. The benefits of trail cameras are undisputed, and a lot of successful hunts have resulted directly from the knowledge provided on an sd card. Although these cameras are an asset in determining travel patterns of deer, is it possible that they are altering the movement of the deer that really matter; mature bucks? Many hunters have witnessed deer being spooked by white flash cameras and even some wary deer spooking from red flash cameras.  The creation of infrared cameras with no flash solved this apparent problem, but there was still a major hitch.

A mature buck notices the camera and stays at the edge of the camera area.

Trail Camera Case Study

Although young does and bucks seemed to be unaffected by these cameras, mature bucks and does both acted uneasy when encountering infrared trail cameras. My recent trail camera observations have shown that bucks older than 4.5 years old tend to avoid trail camera sites if possible. Mature buck photos diminish rapidly after they notice the camera, and I have even seen bucks trigger a camera and stop at the edge of the picture as they hear the shutter. Although this does not push the buck out of the area, it does cause him to avoid areas with trail cameras.

In order to avoid pushing deer away from your best hunting locations, there are a few things to make sure of when setting up trail cameras.

In the right side of the photo, a big right main beam from the same mature 10 point is seen. This is the only photo of him at this site, as he changed direction after noticing the camera.

Low Impact Trail Camera Strategies

First and foremost, always ensure that you are doing everything in your power to keep your cameras free of human odors that will alarm wise bucks to your presence. Wear rubber gloves while putting them up, when checking cards, and even when walking in to the area. Make sure to spray the camera with scent-eliminating spray every time you put it up, move it, or check a card.

In order to reduce the odds of informing a mature buck to your presence, trail camera location is critical. Low-impact trail camera placement is the most effective way to gain scouting intel without being intrusive into a buck’s core area. To put it simply, low impact sites are areas that can be easily accessed without deer seeing, hearing, or smelling you at any time.

Areas such as field edges, atv trails, creek bottoms, and any location that limits human odors are great low impact spots. Another method that will also help restrict human intrusion is to keep your cameras to the outer edges of the property, and always approach if possible with the wind blowing away from known bedding or feeding areas. Placing trail cameras along entry and exit routes also allows you to check cameras only while you are hunting, which allows you to limit your presence.

A mature 10 point buck coming through a low impact trail camera area in daylight during the season. He does not notice the camera, and comes back through the same food plot later that day.

When placing cameras, try to avoid pointing them down a trail as to where an approaching deer will easily see or hear the trail camera. The best thing to do is to position the camera perpendicular to the trail you expect deer to travel on. To hide your cameras better, place  them around 6 to 8 feet off the ground angled downward. This location puts the camera out of the deers direct line of vision and smell, which allows you to put the camera in some higher risk areas with more confidence.

Patterning Mature Bucks

Positioning trail cameras to pattern mature bucks requires much more thought than just considering general deer travel routes. In order to pattern wily old whitetails, attention to detail when observing trail cam pictures is crucial. No matter what time in the season it is, daytime pictures of mature bucks are reason enough to hunt a stand in the area of the sighting. If you are only seeing mature bucks after legal shooting light, usually a buck is either travelling farther to reach the area or is staging close to his bedding area to avoid moving in the open in daylight. In this case, try hunting along the travel corridor that you believe the buck is using, and try to get within 100-200 yards of where you believe he is bedding. If the buck is showing consistent daylight activity for a few days, pay attention to the weather conditions and the wind direction. If these conditions arise again, hunt your better stands and be more aggressive.

In contrast, if you observe a buck avoiding a trail cam site or being spooked by a camera, try to hunt areas that are devoid of trail cameras. In the early season, find a remote funnel between his bed and the current food source. During the rut phases, avoid placing cameras in travel corridors between doe bedding areas so that bucks feel comfortable traveling here in daylight. After the rut winds down, bucks will be visiting late season food sources to replenish their bodies from the intense activity during the rut. No matter how tempting, avoid placing trail cameras directly in or around primary food sources, as this may deter mature buck movement.

Recon Done Right

Using low-impact trail camera strategies will most likely cause an overall decrease in trail camera pictures. Although this may be disappointing, the increased deer sightings and mature buck sightings in the stand will surely make up for it. Keeping pressure to a minimum in hunting areas will ensure consistent deer sightings throughout the season, and smart scouting strategies will help decrease overall human impact on the deer population. No matter where in the country you are whitetail hunting, low-impact trail camera strategies will prove to increase daylight activity of your target bucks in and around your hunting areas. Trail cameras are not special, they are a tool just like anything else. The effectiveness is dependent not on the product, but on the hunter using it. Improving your chances of hunting success is the main purpose of scouting, and trying to outwit a clever mature whitetail is the motive that drives us to grow in our passion of bowhunting.

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