Hunting: Using Game Cameras to Pattern Deer Activity

Chad HensleyCorrespondent IMay 1, 2011

Baited trail cameras sites are not optimal for patterning deer
Baited trail cameras sites are not optimal for patterning deer

Trail cameras are easily one of the greatest technological innovations in the last couple of decades within the hunting industry. Unfortunately very few hunters realize how much information these tools gather, especially when it comes to patterning deer activity.

Most hunters who use game cameras only use them for one thing—seeing how big the bucks are on their property.  They will set a game camera over bait, check the camera every week or so, and if a big buck shows up on the camera, they will probably end up putting a stand nearby.  

If the hunter lives in a state where baiting is allowed, this may work, but it isn't really patterning deer activity, and it leaves a lot to be desired.  For instance it doesn't show where the deer came from or what route he was travelling.   

If the hunter doesn't live in a state where baiting during hunting season is allowed, this is crucial information.

The hunter may spend all season moving stands all over trying to figure out where the deer are travelling.  This wastes the hunter's time, and also disturbs the habitat as human scent will no doubt be spread all over, possibly causing the more mature bucks to change their patterns, go nocturnal or leave the area entirely.


Position the trail cameras correctly to maximize success

Whether you are using them to pattern deer or baiting them (for a trail camera survey or just to get a better look at your deer), all game cameras should be positioned with the following basic techniques.

  • Set up the cameras so that you can easily identify the deer, especially bucks, to pattern them individually later
  • Remove limbs and brush from the viewing area
  • Point the cameras in a direction where the sun will not affect it, preferably north, but south works too
  • All game cameras are different, so make sure you test each one to make sure it is in a good position

For patterning deer activity, game cameras should ideally be positioned on trails leading to and out of food sources, or entrance/exit points on a property (this is in addition to the above techniques).

Putting trail cameras on trails instead of directly on bait limits the amount  of images you get, but it creates a more reliable data source for patterning deer.  

The reason is that any one deer could stay at a bait spot for one minute, 10 minutes, one hour, three hours etc.  Since this is unpredictable, and varies from day to day, your results will be extremely skewed when analyzing the data, whether it be manually or with a program like W.I.S.E. Trail Camera Software.

For instance, one deer could stay at a baited camera for one hour, and there could be 100-plus pictures of that same deer.  If five deer come through (at different times) on an un-baited camera, you will most likely have significantly less images.   

When analyzed in a program like W.I.S.E., the weather reports will show a huge percentage difference for all categories for the initial deer on the baited camera. This skewing of the data affects the pattern of the data.   This hurts your chances of success.

You may need to move your cameras often to find a good trail that gathers the most images without spooking the deer.   This should be done in the spring so not disturb the deer right before the hunting season begins.  Once you find a good spot, leave the cameras there for the rest of the year.

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