What Does your hunting Grounds Hold? Camera Survey!
As each day rolls on by this Summer, I can't tell you how ready I am for deer season to get here. Sure, maybe some of that cooler weather that goes with it, too! As we're looking forward to the upcoming months, one of the things many of us are doing is setting up Trail-Camera Surveys. Mr. Lindsay Thomas Jr. wrote an excellent article on this over on QDMA's website, and I'll break it down for you here.
A Trail-Camera Survey is an incredibly useful tool to give you a look at your deer population, variety of grown bucks, and general deer traffic. It utilizes game cameras placed near corn on the ground. It's also a do-it-yourself kind of tool, in that you don't have to have the expertise of a wildlife biologist on hand to make it work. Some trail cameras, batteries and SD cards, and a whole lot of corn are all you need.
The ideal time for this kind of setup is before acorns start to drop, but after bucks have gotten out of velvet. Wait too late, and you risk messing with your hunting setups. Too early, and you won't get an accurate picture of your herd. Around here, with a bit of a later rut, October is probably a good time to do this. The other ideal time is after the season ends, but before the bucks start casting their antlers.
Of course, the first thing you want to do is check with your state laws and regulations to ensure that it's legal to use corn as bait for your camera system. As it stands in Alabama, you cannot hunt over bait. However, bait for cameras is fine. Just make sure you're following all of the regulations we have. You can check those out at www.outdooralabama.com.
Now you need to get your cameras together. You want to take a map or aerial photo (whichever is easier to get) of your hunting land, and you want to try and separate it into grids of 100 square acres (10 x 10). If your property exceeds 1000 acres, every 160 square acres is good. If you don't have enough cameras, set up a 2 week rotation for each area, swapping areas each year, starting at the same time each year. This way, you can get consistent results from year to year.
When it comes to placing the cameras, make sure you're placing them near the center of the block, if possible, and near a location where deer are going to travel. Wood roads, established travel points, etc. Scrapes aren't the best idea, as they're going to be visited mostly by bucks, which will bias your findings. Make sure you keep the camera free and clear of branches, shrubs, and other stuff that will block your shots, and try to have it facing north, so the sun won't create a lot of back-lighting on your photos. Bait should be placed a good 12-20 feet from the camera, on the ground. Feeders can not only block your camera shots, but they can also deter older, mature bucks from going near the bait.
Once you've got this all planned out, pre-bait the area in question for about 7-10 days before cranking up the actual survey. You wanna make sure the deer are used to the corn being there. Always mask your scent and tread carefully. Once you've got your deer traffic set, start your actual survey. The survey itself should run 10 to 14 days, with 14 being the preferable count. Make sure to check on your cameras and replenish your bait every so often, but be careful not to leave any trace of a human being there.
After all of that, take your photos and start compiling. Count the number of bucks, does, and fawns, or deer under a year. Pay careful attention to your bucks, as it's probably the same joker going from bait pile to bait pile. You may have 100 pictures of bucks, but there might only be 10 unique bucks among those. Button bucks are going to counted under fawns; if there's no horns, it's not a buck.
Without diving into all the math here, there's a handy form on QDMA's website from Linsay Thomas Jr. to help you get all the details worked out, which you can find at:
All the data that you get from that form will go a mighty long way to helping you figure out your deer herd population on your property. If you need further help figuring out just what all those numbers might mean, feel free to drop a line to your nearest friendly wildlife biologist or a private wildlife consultant; those folks know what those numbers mean.
All in all, it may seem pretty darn difficult, but it's definitely worth the work. Besides, I'm always itching to know what kind of buck I can look forward to seeing in the woods come bow season, and this is the best way to find that sucker before I even climb a ladder stand. So grab your cameras and corn, get out there, and go find'em!