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Today’s deer hunters are better than any before them at tagging big whitetail bucks, and trail cameras are a big reason why. They’ve given modern hunters more insight into deer behavior, which has allowed us to adapt our strategies accordingly—not just in one week or one season, but over time. And, maybe more than we’d like to admit, trail cameras have helped us practice restraint. It’s easier to pass on a little buck when you have pictures of a bigger one running around.

Trail cameras aren’t perfect. Sometimes they spook deer. Sometimes we’re too reliant on them. And sometimes—like when we have 500 photos of a buck but a neighbor shoots him—they can bring out the worst in deer hunters. But overall, trail cameras are a good thing that I enjoy, and from June to January, I have 15 to 20 of them keeping tabs on farms that I hunt myself, and where we guide other hunters. I sort through thousands of photos every week of deer season. Here’s a look at some of my favorites from the past few years.

The Comeback Buck

A whitetail deer with a wounded shoulder walks through an open clearing in the woods.
This wounded buck first appeared in 2019. Will Brantley

On occasion—rarer than you’d think by watching outdoor television—trail cameras allow us to closely follow and pattern a single buck for an entire year. This whitetail first appeared on our cameras in the late season of 2019. Firearm season had just ended, and the buck was obviously wounded (though I’ve always thought that wound looked more like a broadhead mark than a bullet mark).

A deer stands next to a feeding machine.
The buck returned to a corn pile in 2020, and the author’s wife tagged him in the fall. Will Brantley

Whatever hurt him, the buck bellied right up to a corn pile, healed fast, and then stuck around all summer, eating in our food plots and at our feeders. By early September, you could barely tell he had a scar. One of the hunters we guided during opening week of bow season had a close call with this deer, and nearly got a shot. After that hunt ended, my wife, Michelle, sat in that stand for two evenings, and shot the buck with a crossbow at 25 yards. There was a slight scar on the buck’s hide, but two solid handfuls of scar tissue around the wound underneath. Still, Michelle said, the buck had no limp, and no obvious signs of injury. He was one of several bucks in a bachelor group and despite having the largest antlers by a good margin, he was relaxed, chill, and even submissive to some of the rowdier, younger bucks. Seeing this buck shot was bittersweet.

Read Next: The Best Trail Cameras of 2020

The Menagerie

Two black mules walk in a large field.
A pair of black mules triggered the trail came in 2018. Will Brantley

Trail cameras are always watching—even when you’re not there. We even use them for home security. But the candid stuff trail cameras capture in the woods is way more fun than seeing photos of the UPS guy. I have no idea, for example, where these two escaped black mules came from on that first day of October in 2018. I never saw them again, either on camera or out hunting, and so I assume they made it home.

Two gray foxes walk through an open clearing in the woods.
Here’s the best daylight shot of gray foxes the author’s cams have captured. Will Brantley

We’ve gotten multiple photos of that pair of gray foxes on our farm over the years, but this one is the best daylight shot. As for the coyote below, he walked through a hardwoods pinch point, past a camera that I’d left out and forgotten during the rut. We don’t get much snow around here but when we do, it gets critters moving.

A coyote walks through deep snow in the woods.
A fresh blanket of snow got this coyote moving. Will Brantley

The Early Season

A deer lays in a clearing.
A whitetail buck takes a nap. Will Brantley

It’s easier to get photos of good bucks early in the season than at any other time of year, but think beyond the corn piles. I like to put cameras over water holes, and on the edges of bedding areas and crop fields. I might leave them out for a month between checks. You won’t get those cards brimming with two thousand pictures like you would over bait, but you might get neat stuff like this—such as a buck that’s shedding his velvet and taking a drink, a bachelor group in a hayfield backlit by a sunset, and bucks sleeping.

A deer drinks from a puddle of water. Velvet is falling off his antlers.
Shedding velvet makes for a thirsty buck. Will Brantley

On long-term camera sets like this, angle your lenses north or south when possible to avoid flares that can trigger the camera and wash out images at the best times of day.

Deer standing in a field against a sunset.
A group of bucks feeds in a hayfield at sunset. Will Brantley

Read Next: 13 Pro Tips for Getting Better Trail Camera Pictures

“Buck Mode” (a.k.a. The Rut)

A large open field with a few deer standing in it.
During the rut, the author sets four or five cameras per 100 acres to up his odds of finding some trophies, such as these two brutes. Will Brantley

This year, we were headed to camp on the eve of the gun opener when a doe came crashing out of the woods and ran across the road, right in front of the truck. I stopped, and from the back seat my 6-year-old son said, “Daddy, that one’s in buck mode.” Sure enough, a little forkhorn ran across the road a few minutes later.

A buck walks through a pathway clearing in the woods.
Placing a camera on a scrape line can help you take inventory of bucks during the rut. Will Brantley
A deer walks through a pathway at night.
Nighttime scrape patrol. Will Brantley

We’ve called it “buck mode” all year, but most of us know it as the rut, and there’s simply no better time to be in the deer woods. If you can’t hunt, at least have some cameras out, because you’ll get some awesome pictures. My trail camera strategy during the rut is to blanket the farms I’m planning to hunt with several cams (four or five per 100 acres). I put some of them on scrape lines to inventory bucks around Halloween through early November (see the two images above), but most of them go in travel corridors near doe bedding areas (like the three shots below). Others go on the edges of major food sources where we caught those two dandy bucks posturing on November 11.

Two deer walk through a clearing in the woods.
The author hangs several cams in travel corridors that lead to doe bedding areas. Will Brantley
A single whitetail buck walks into a bedding area.
A buck comes into a bedding looking for love. Will Brantley
Trail camera photo of two deer.
Keep scrolling down. Let’s give these two some privacy… Will Brantley

For hunting purposes, I check rut cameras often, and I’m as interested in knowing where there’s daylight doe activity as I am buck activity. Often, if I’m putting a cam near a bedding area, I’ll pour out some shelled corn, which is legal here in Kentucky. Does that are tired of being harassed on major food sources usually can’t resist stopping by for a bite of golden delicious, and they’ll drag bucks right in with them.

Flip the Bird

A hawk lands on top of a deer feeding machine.
A red-shouldered hawk enjoys a meal on a gravity feeder. Will Brantley

I use trail cameras in the spring to monitor for strutters on food plots, but you can get cool bird photos year-around. The red-shouldered hawk in the shot above seems to be nabbing a breakfast critter from atop my gravity feeder.

A flock of crows fly towards the trail camera photo with a deer in the background.
A couple young bucks spook some crows off the corn. Will Brantley

The time stamp in the photo above is obviously wrong—we don’t have velvet bucks and greenery here in February—but it’s a late-summer pic of a couple yearlings running a mob of crows off a corn pile. One of the crows nearly smashed into the trail camera I had affixed to a 4×4 post in the field.

Trail camera photo showing turkeys flocking into a large open plot of land.
A couple turkeys make a late fly-down, and land right in front of one of the author’s ladder stands. Will Brantley

Read Next: Trail Cam Bloopers

Crazy Moments

Sometimes a trail camera photo can tell a full story, if you look at the context of the moment. Here are some of the craziest stories my trail cams have captured in recent years:

Trail camera photo of a deer at night.
A whitetail and a firework blast in the same frame is a rare shot, indeed. Will Brantley

This shot was taken on the night of July 11, when a lot of folks in the Kentucky Lake area still had fireworks left to shoot and must have been tired of being stuck inside in 2020. I don’t know what the odds of catching a firework and feeding buck in the same shot are, but I haven’t done it before or since.

Two young whitetail bucks lock antlers in a tussle.
Two young bucks have at it. Will Brantley

This is probably the clearest photo of two sparring bucks that I’ve ever gotten. It was taken late in the season, when the rut was mostly over, but that didn’t seem to matter to this pair of young bucks. That guy on the right looks mad as hell.

Two deer in a clearing in the woods.
This doe had to resort to drastic measures to run off this buck. Will Brantley

I captured this shot recently. Most adult does will run button buck fawns off, starting as early as mid-October. Those young bucks usually disperse to new territories all together. It’s nature’s way of keeping a robust gene pool. But button bucks don’t always leave, and it can cause problems. See Exhibit A. Seems there should be a Norman Bates joke in here somewhere…

A whitetail buck stands solo in a field.
Look close, and you can see the author’s wife in the treestand in the background. Will Brantley

This is my favorite trail camera photo of all time. It was taken in October of 2019, and you can see Michelle in her stand, looking that buck over carefully. She passed on that deer—but the ancient 9-pointer that followed the same trail out a half-hour later wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t quite make it in front of the camera before Mish heart-shot him with her crossbow.