New Trail Cams Are Changing Way Some Hunt The Rut
Get a text every time a deer walks in front of your trail camera.
Everyone knows the rut is your best chance to bag a wall hanger. You save your vacation days, have all your honey-do’s completed on time and cast aside the rest of society, so that you can spend more time chasing your dream. Even with all this effort, you need to hunt efficiently to get the most bang for your buck. Here are a few ways to increase your odds by “smart hunting” the rut.
During the rut, a giant buck could show up in your local Piggly Wiggly parking lot. I think we can all agree that you don’t need to put up a stand and hunt there. Since bucks may be anywhere during this time of year, it’s time to focus your efforts on areas where mature bucks are going to be located.
To determine this, I use a combination of game cameras and scouting. I have used a variety of trail cameras in the past and still use Moultrie, Browning, Bushnell and Wild Game Innovations. However, as modern technology improves, so do game cameras. I have recently started using the new cellular game cameras by Covert Scouting Cameras. When a cellular camera takes a picture, it immediately sends the picture to your cell phone or e-mail address. Real time information is extremely valuable when hunting and can be the difference between spooking your buck and killing him.
A good example of this occurred last year when my old Bushnell game camera revealed that the buck I was hunting was at my stand when I got there that morning. I never saw the buck or knew he was there until after I got home and checked my pictures. If I would have had a cellular camera, I would have known he was already there and would have hunted somewhere else.
Another way the game cameras can help is to show you if you are hunting a deer you want to be hunting. Kyle Shepherd, of Jeffersonville, found several rubs on trees as big around as his leg. He was certain this was the monster buck he wanted to put up on the wall, so he set up a game camera. When he checked his pictures, he found out the large rubs were being made by a large-bodied buck with an average rack. Kyle just saved himself a lot of time by hunting smart.
The drawback in the past for the new cellular cameras has been the cost. After spending the money for a new camera, you then had to purchase a SIM card and then a data plan. Covert has corrected this issue and has made it a simple process. The new Covert Code Black 3G cameras now come with an SIM card, and the data plan costs less than $9 a month for 10 GB of data. That’s a lot of pictures over a three-month time span. You must have good cellular service where you hunt or the new cellular cameras won’t transmit the pictures. They will still work like traditional game cameras, but you lose the texts and e-mails.
Since most of my cameras are always under a heavy canopy of leaves, I opted to get the optional booster antenna. The booster antenna gave me one or two more bars of cell service.
A good example of the importance of using cameras in funnels or pinch points came last year from bowhunter Derik Still, of North Augusta, S.C. Derik had 18 stands set up on his hunting properties in Georgia and across the river in South Carolina. As fate would have it, Derik chose to sit a lock-on set on a pinch point between a hill and a pond that connected two big blocks of timber. Derik had only sat in that stand one time that year and had seen one small buck and a group of does.
Of the 18 different places Derik could have hunted, he was very fortunate to hunt that stand that morning because a very large 13-point came down the trail that day. Derik was cool as a cucumber when he let the arrow fly from his Obsession Phoenix, and the buck officially scored 156 3/8.
Derik did not know at the time, but he had a picture on his trail camera of that huge buck from the previous evening in the block of timber next to his lock on. If Derik would have had a cellular camera, he would have known the buck was there. But as fate would have it, Derik made the right decision that day on where to hunt. I wonder how many times we choose the wrong stand location when a big buck is elsewhere?
Even if you don’t have a cellular game camera, you can still get timely updates in the field from your game camera. Instead of buying a mini-tablet or card reader that will cost you around $75, you can buy a USB card reader for your cell phone. They cost less than $5 on eBay, and it will fit in your shirt pocket. I like to carry a small battery charger for my cell phone when I use the USB card reader. You can drain your battery much faster scanning through a lot of pictures.
I was talking with my hunting buddy Tim Knight about his views on trail cameras. He believes that you stink up your hunting area too much by using them, and that woodsmanship is more important when scouting. I agree with his thoughts on woodsmanship being important, but we disagree on the use of trail cameras.
There are huge advantages to using trail cameras and even more advantages to using the new cellular cameras. I scout with a cellular camera in my backpack, and if I find a smoking hot trail or a fresh scrape the size of a truck hood, I will put out the cell camera. I always mark where I put my camera on my GPS, so that I won’t forget. When you have multiple cameras out at one time, it is easy to forget where one of them is located. I’ll also write down where I put the cameras in a log book that I keep in my fanny pack. I record any pertinent information from my scouting and hunting trips in the log. It’s crazy how much I forget, and reading back through my notes helps me remember what I’ve seen and found. I write things like the direction deer are traveling, how well-used a trail is, and if there is any good buck sign in the vicinity of the photo.
I’ve said it before, but I prefer cameras with black flashes on scrapes and trails as opposed to the standard IR flash. I just haven’t had good luck using the old IR flash cameras on scrapes since some mature bucks don’t like seeing the IR flash.
The new Covert Code Black has a black flash, and I’ve never even had a picture of a deer looking at the camera. I do use the IR flash cameras on food sources where you expect to get your pictures at night, and the deer are more likely to get accustomed to the flash.
Where are the best places to put your cameras? During the rut, Jeff Shepherd, of Dublin, likes to put his cameras over food sources where he has his stands in areas where there will be a lot of does.
Jeff says everyone has a magic three- or four-day window where the bucks just show up from what seems like everywhere, and if you can keep the does coming, the bucks will be there with them. He prefers the inexpensive game cameras, and since his cameras are on a food source, the camera’s trigger speed and IR flash doesn’t matter as much.
Jeff does use good scent control and also likes to spray a couple of squirts of his favorite deer scent when he checks his cameras. Jeff uses Voodoo deer lure, but any good scent like Tink’s 69 or Bowhunter’s Fatal Obsession would work. Jeff says some people kill deer every year because they hunt just about every day, but he doesn’t have time to hunt that much. He checks his game cameras twice a week during the rut so that he can be in the woods at just the right time.
Another place to put your cameras during the rut is between food sources and the bedding areas. I prefer several hundred yards away, so that I don’t spook any deer that may be close to the food source when I am coming and going.
Putting your cameras in funnels, pinch points and around advantageous natural terrain can be very beneficial. I’ve used three cameras to cover the entire width of a drain. I didn’t get the buck I wanted on film, but I was able to rule out that he was using that drain.
There aren’t many people who have killed as many impressive bucks in Georgia as David Campbell, of Marshallville. When I quickly scanned through the GON County-by-County Bow Rankings, I saw he had at least three deer listed that scored more than 160 inches. I asked David how he utilizes game cameras during the rut to increase his chances and got an unexpected answer.
David likes to put the regular IR flash cameras in his second-best place to hunt and actually hunt in the best place. Sometimes he’ll put the game camera in his best place and hunt his second best place. David believes like I do that big bucks will not tolerate an IR flash on a scrape or a trail junction. He says you can get away with putting a regular IR camera on a food source where about 80 percent of the deer will continue to come after seeing the IR flash, but you definitely can not get away with it anywhere else. So in essence, he’s using the IR camera to change deer movement or narrow down where the deer will be.
David says he’ll often put his game camera 50 to 80 yards away from where he’ll be hunting and anticipate the deer to bypass the camera. He only checks his cameras about every two weeks, and all he wants is one picture of the buck he is hunting. David said he just wants to make sure the buck is big enough to hunt and the deer is still alive.
From talking with David, I got the impression that he doesn’t rely on game cameras that much to hunt, but they are a tool to help in his scouting and decision making while in the woods. When you have as many good trophies as David has, he must be doing something right.
Lastly, don’t forget to use Google Earth or your county’s tax assessor’s website with the bird’s eye feature to help determine the funnels and food sources where you can place your cameras. Add in cell phone apps like Antler Insanity or Polaris Navigation, and you may have a little better chance of taking that buck of a lifetime. That is the beauty about hunting, you never know when or if you will kill a buck of a lifetime. However, by learning to hunt smart, you will increase your chances.
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