July is time to put trail cameras back into play

A well-placed and maintained trail camera can give hunters and land-managers an idea about the scope and quality of their herd and the travel patterns of local whitetails. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Burleson)

Trail cameras can give you insights for the fall

Trail cameras can provide hunters with an endless amount of information to help make the upcoming season a success. From buck inventory and movement patterns to trespasser identification and food-plot surveillance, trail cameras are an important part of unraveling the big picture. Few hunters these days operate without a series of trail cameras. 

For many hunters and outdoorsman, the summer season is beach, lake or river time. Nothing is more refreshing than taking a dip into the local watering hole after a long day at work. But the middle of summer is also prime time to prepare for deer season. It may seem like an eternity away around July 4, but mid-August will arrive quickly for South Carolina hunters. And in North Carolina, archery season begins not too long after Labor Day. 

Hunters should take advantage of any available time and collect as much pre-season camera footage as possible to improve their fall experience. Trail cameras can provide endless data on food plots, trails, agriculture fields, mineral licks, main trail crossings, water holes and more. 

Collecting info

Trail cameras can provide valuable data year-round. The approach of the season draws most users. But the preseason will provide excellent herd and dietary data. Seasonal food preferences and travel patterns will help hunters understand deer habits in the offseason. And that tells them where to be when harvest time arrives. 

Deer rely on a variety of natural foods. And they will migrate seasonally to take advantage of them, as well as water sources. Camera surveillance will show usage of natural feeding areas, warm-season food plots and seasonal agriculture crops. By July in the agriculture belt, fields of peanuts and soybeans are primary feeding zones for deer. Both does and bucks congregate within these grocery stores in summer prior to the breeding season.

Summer water holes are often omitted as a place of interest for deer. But they are critical for deer and other wildlife. Deer must thermoregulate, and water consumption is one of the only methods they can regulate their body temperature — other than panting.

Spy on the water

Heat can take its toll on furbearing animals, and water sources remain a critical component to their survival, especially in the summer. In places with limited water supplies, deer and other wildlife will take refuge near these water holes on a daily basis, and that makes them a perfect place for a trail camera. 

Whitetails are social animals, with a social hierarchy that takes year-round for individual deer to understand their place in the herd. Subordinate bucks, 1½- and 2½-year-olds, often traveling with a group of older, more-mature bucks. Camera surveillance can target bachelor groups as early as June, but data is usually better received toward the end of summer, and July is a prime time to gather information. Photo documentation of these bucks allows hunters and wildlife managers to identify individual deer for developing harvest goals.  

An aggressive summer surveillance program can allow managers to catalog more than 80% of the resident bucks on their property. Without the super-charged hormones that flow in male and female deer during the mating season, deer are more likely to maintain a daily routine during the summer, and deer/camera interception is more likely. Rich food sources bring even the biggest of bucks out of hiding, especially when hunting pressure is absent. 

A preliminary soil test will let you know which prespective food plots are better suited to which plantings, and what fertilizers will be needed for excellent growth. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Burleson)

Camera rotation

It’s important to get the most out of your trail cameras. Cameras should also be moved around every week or two to capture and inventory as many deer as possible. Alternatively, purchasing additional cameras is also a valid option due to the increasing value and low cost of cameras in today’s marketplace. 

If new cameras aren’t in the budget or if your camera inventory is sufficient, they will need to be dusted off and checked to make sure they work before setting them up for a long season of use. All cameras should be tested to make sure they are triggering and taking clear photos. There is nothing worse than setting out cameras, coming back to check them and realizing a camera wasn’t functioning. Every photo taken can be a critical component to any surveillance system. 

Securing cameras can also be a problem, especially on older models. Straps and bungees often dry rot or become stretched over time and will require replacement. But the real killer can be battery power. Old batteries most likely need to be replaced with fresh ones. For the best results, lithium batteries should be used in order to gain full, season-long usage.  

The Carolinas’ sweltering summers keep the deer woods vacant of travelers and wanderers. Cameras can be a great way to determine the who, why, and when just before the season begins. Deer will be more habitual in their daily routines than at any other time of the year. Eating, sleeping and drinking are a deer’s concern in late summer. Monitoring deer patterns with cameras can be easy before the breeding season begins.

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Jeff Burleson
About Jeff Burleson 1410 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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