Lessons From Warm-Weather Trail Camera Work

While deer in our Northeast Region are now beginning to change from soft antlers in velvet to hard antlers, this is a look back at this summer, when bucks were growing their antlers.

In my first rut report this year, I suggested getting an early start setting out trail cameras. My first trail cams went up on May 28 in an attempt to monitor the growth of buck antlers. The first of these I checked had no photos, no doubt the result of some foolish mistake on my part.

The SD card had been stolen from the second trail cam I checked. It had been replaced, but was missing the mark I put on my SD cards and trail cams. I started doing this a few years ago when I became suspicious that SD cards were being stolen. When you see fresh deer tracks, photos should be on the memory cards.

At least the thieves did not take my trail cams. How they drew the line between it being ethical to steal memory cards but not to steal the trail cams is bewildering.

My third spring-set trail cam was a winner. It had the photo shown at the right, which is the buck that would become the 12-point shown at the left, as mentioned in my previous rut report.

The buck was just starting to grow its antlers. The mass and branching at this early stage shows promise for what will become of these antlers after just a few months. Notice the body profile and the thick waist. This is an older deer, maybe five years or older.

Setting out trail cams over the past several days has revealed some changes in deer patterns. A property in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, which is owned by a relative of mine, is a great place to set trail cams for big bucks.

While scouting my traditional places to set up the trail cams, I found that that deer in the area changed their movement patterns. A couple of trails that had been well worn year-around now are not used at all. The new trails are not far away, which begs the question, why?

Changing movement patterns is not unusual for deer, since the better feeding places may change from one year to the next, and from one season to the next. But the changes I noticed in this particular large wood lot are not changes in direction, nor are they changes by large distances, in most cases no more than 10 yards of nearly parallel directions.

One of the biggest mistakes I see deer hunters making is habit hunting: hunting the same place year after year, at the same stand, no matter what is going on around them. Forests and all deer habitats evolve. Plants and trees go through stages of succession, which has a great deal to do with where deer can find food.

In forested areas, deer populations tend to grow after timber cuts. A lot of sunlight reaches the ground, promoting growth of things deer eat and can reach. But then the section grows to the pole timber stage and there is little to eat so deer go elsewhere. Years later the area becomes mature forest, which produces mast crops. This may not support as many deer as the few years immediately following the timber cut, but it will support many more deer than the pole timber stage could do.

Changes in farmland habitat might take place from one year to the next as farmers change the crops they plant. But since this forest evolution takes decades to complete, few deer hunters even notice it happening.

Looking for changes taking place should be a top priority when you do your deer scouting. Be observant to all than is happening.