Not surprisingly, last year’s trail cam photos can help you solidify this year’s hit list; however, those old photos can actually help you formulate a plan to kill those hit list bucks months in advance. In my opinion, trail cameras don’t get enough credit. They are by far, the most powerful scouting tool we as whitetail hunters can employ. It’s great to use trail camera photos to survey bucks during the season, but I think it’s time to look at the big picture. Those priceless peaks into the whitetails world reveal buck habits and patterns that often repeat themselves year after year. This time of year is perfect for reflecting on the seasons past, and using the photos gathered to glean dependable evidence as to when and where you can expect to encounter your hit list bucks next fall.
EXAMINING LAST YEARS TRAIL CAM PHOTOS
Last years trail cam photos contain information most hunters overlook. Examining and dissecting your future hit list buck photos can tell you why that deer was there, and potentially when he will be there next year. Here are 3 important things you can learn from examining last year's trail cam photos.
1. Are Your Hit List Bucks Core or Non Core bucks
This is a concept that I feel really needs to be hammered home. By looking back on your trail cam photos of bucks, you can tell which bucks you can expect to frequent your property again. A core buck, is one that you get photos of at or close to daylight relatively frequently. He isn’t bedding far from your trail camera, and therefore can be hunted accordingly. Core bucks in my opinion, should be the heart of your hit list.
Non Core Bucks on the other hand, I consider a bonus. Their presence on your land and in your trail cam photos is sporadic. You may get a few midnight photos of these deer throughout the season, but rarely during or near the daylight hours. These bucks are traveling much further to reach your trail cams. If they are on your land during the daylight, something significant pushed or pulled them from their core area. Times of increased hunting pressure on neighboring properties and the peak/post rut are typically your greatest chances to encounter these bucks. If you do have a few daylight trail cam photos of these deer, check the dates, were your neighbors hunting at the times that buck showed up? If that’s the case, you can use your neighbor’s presence to help forecast when that non core buck will be back.
2. Weather's Influence on Mature Buck Movement
Rather than fixating on the date stamped on your trail camera photo of a hit list buck, focus on the environmental conditions that got him on his feet. Weather is the most powerful predictor of buck travel. When looking back on last years mature buck photos, it’s important to note what conditions influenced his daytime movements. Was there a cold front that persuaded him to move on a certain day? Had heavy winds or precipitation kept him from moving and feeding prior to the photo? Using these factors to determine why he chose to move during the daylight can help you to predict when that hit list buck will make the same mistake again this season. The timing however, is a bit elastic. For example, If you noticed a buck moved because of significant changes in weather conditions such as a cold front on October 20th last year, you should be on the lookout and ready to hunt him on a similar weather change within a week or so of October 20th this season!
3. Measuring Hunting Pressure Impact with Trail Cameras
Did your hit list buck numbers increase or decrease in your trail camera photos as the season progressed? If you make similar efforts next year, you can expect the same pattern to repeat itself. Your trail cam photos can reveal your hunting pressure and impact on hit list bucks. If you had lots of bucks at the beginning of the season, but they disappeared when you began hunting more frequently, odds are that the bucks headed for parcels with less hunting pressure. If your trail cam photos suggest your hunting efforts are negatively influencing your hit list bucks, you should checkout Jeff’s great article on Predatory Access, and implement those strategies into your own hunting efforts to reduce your impact on hit list bucks.
RECOGNIZING HIT LIST BUCK PATTERNS WITH TRAIL CAM PHOTOS
This is the big picture I was hinting at earlier. While trail cameras can’t do all of the work, they can lay the foundation to recognize and predict patterns of hit list buck movement on your property for years to come. Determining why bucks had their photos taken at certain locations in certain conditions is the best way to foretell when he, or another buck will do the same in the future. When it comes to scouting a mature hit list buck, I like to think of him as another year older and another year wiser. Hit list bucks reach maturity because they are cautious and stubborn. As bucks age, their core area typically tightens. They tend to use the same configuration of bedding, travel and feeding areas because they know that they are safe. Using your trail cam photos from seasons past, you can determine when and where bucks feel most secure and strategically formulate your attack.
Is your hit list already assembled for the season ahead? If you have reliable trail cam photos of bucks on your property from past hunting seasons, use them to devise a plan to kill hit list bucks in the future. In the whitetail world, patterns repeat; so use the intel you already have to create opportunities this coming fall!