By: Brennen Nading (@nadingbr)
July is the month when deer really put on the inches. In June, it was all about the frame. In July, the tine length explodes. It is said that deer antler can potentially grow at a rate of 1 inch/day right now! Growth will continue into August but for the most part, you should have a pretty good idea of what a buck is going to be by the end of this month. By mid August, blood flow to the antlers will cease and the antler hardening process will begin.
That said, it is no surprise that trail cameras are a hot topic right now. People across the country are flooding the woods with trail cameras and for good reason. It is time to see what bucks are around, and trying to pin point the areas that they are living in. Yes, the annual shift from summer range to fall range is inevitable but recon right now is not wasted. Learning the area a buck is using right now will give you the upper hand if he holds onto his summer pattern into the early part of the season.
Trail cameras are an invaluable tool. I can remember when I began hunting and we went to the woods and had NO IDEA what kind of bucks lived there. Hunting back then was certainly more about optimism and the excitement of the unknown. Trail cameras today give us a pretty darn good idea of what is living in the areas we hunt, and when they are moving through certain areas. When used properly, we can effectively monitor areas with very little intrusion. I am going to cover what I would consider to be the Top 5 places to hang your cameras right now to get the most use out of them.
1.) WATER SOURCE
Scientific studies show that a deer must consume 2 to 3 quarts of water per day per 100 pounds. Yes, this number fluctuates but it will generally fall within that window. With that knowledge, it is no surprise that water sources make the top of the list for places to put your trail cameras. This source of water doesn’t have to be a pretty pond, or a bubbling brook for deer to utilize it. A rain puddle will suit them just fine. The important thing is to figure out where the deer are getting water on your property and this will allow you to get a solid inventory of what is around.
Often utilized during October and November when the breeding season draws near, but surprisingly overlooked this time of year. Many people do not realize that bucks will frequent scrapes/licking branches for the better part of the year. In travel corridors or around field edges, this is an excellent way to get them to come in front of your camera for a picture. I like to make mock scrapes in high traffic areas where deer using the area almost have to check it out. I have had luck with scrape inventory pretty much from May through the end of the year. Yes, the activity isn’t as aggressive during the summer months but the bucks will still frequent these low hanging branches/limbs/vines to leave their scent behind for the rest of the deer in the neighborhood.
In the midwest, bean fields and alfalfa fields are the destination food sources for whitetails and will be moving into early fall. Deer will continue to hit beans until when they begin to turn yellow in late September…at that point they will slack off of them until they turn brown in late fall and harden…at which point they will start hitting them again. Alfalfa takes the cake for summer food if you are lucky enough to have it on your property. Alfalfa is packed with the protein and nutrients that deer need right now and they will hammer these fields into early fall. Placing cameras on large fields can be tricky, but not impossible. If possible, watch from a distance and see where deer are entering the fields in the evenings and start there. If all else fails, I like to focus on corners and high spots where deer feel safe.
As hunters, it is important that we have realistic expectations when it comes to supplementing the deer herd with minerals. Minerals are put out for 2 primary reasons…the first is to help the deer meet nutritional requirements that they may not otherwise obtain through their natural diet. The second reason is to get deer in front of our trail cameras for inventory. In a wet year, when forage is plentiful, don’t be discouraged if your minerals aren’t getting the attention you think they should be. These mineral licks are something that deer will visit on an “as-needed” basis. Wet year, or dry year…these locations are always worth a trail camera.
Naturally, the phrase “work smarter, not harder” can be applied in the whitetail world as well. Gate entrances, fence gaps, pond dams, ditch crossings…any spot that makes it easier for a deer to get from point A to point B. These are great locations for trail cameras. If there is an easier route, deer know about it and the trails that are beat down in these areas will prove it. Trail cameras are highly effective in these areas, and I like to run mine on multi shot bursts with 5 second delays so I am not missing anything.
July is almost gone, and August will undoubtedly fly by as well. If you don’t have your trail cameras out yet, the time is NOW! Fresh batteries, a large SD card, and let the camera do the work for you over the next month and a half. The less intrusion the better. Have fun, be safe, and cheers to big velvet bucks!