Using a trail camera to gather pictures of your deer herd is just one of the tools available to you for patterning mature whitetails. In this article I will share my process for patterning deer using trail camera pictures, a few apps and a log. Hopefully these tips, and tools, will lead you to more mature buck sightings.
Trail Camera and Information Gathering
The first step is what most are doing already, I set up my trail cameras. However, getting the most out of my pictures is what I have focused on over the past three seasons. There is a lot more information to be gathered than time and date a picture was taken. For example, I get a picture of a big buck I want to hunt. It shows the date and time along the bottom of the picture. I then go through an information gathering process. The steps I take are below.
- After receiving that picture I want more information on I go online to “Historical Weather” on weatherunderground.com. I look up the weather for the date on the picture, in the area that I hunt, and check the wind direction. So now I have the time, date and wind direction the day the deer I want to harvest was caught on camera.
I also look at the barometric pressure for that day. Maybe a cool dry day got him on his feet, or a storm was coming in. The moon phase is on there as well. This helps if you want to test the theory, or belief, that different moon phases affect deer activity. I have seen little correlation, weather has been the biggest factor outside of a Full moon. A Full moon does affect activity during daylight hours. Most times it has been tough hunting for me.
- Study the picture and look for the direction he came from, think about the trail that he is traveling on and where he came from/where he is going. Was he coming from a bedding area? Transitioning to food? He was walking that trail for a reason, visualize your hunting land and his route. Need help? Try some of the Apps in the next section.
- If I do not know a property inside and out and want to envision where I think a buck is headed, or where he came from, I use the “Google Earth” App. Another popular App that I have tried is the “Backcountry Nav Topo Map”. You can download both for free and they have instructions on use. I mainly use “Google Earth” as the areas I am hunting are small and do not have huge changes in elevation. Below is some information to get your started on “Google Earth”.
Start by finding your hunting area. While touching the screen with two fingers, pull your fingers towards each other to zoom in, or start your fingers together and move them away to zoom out. There are options for 2D or 3D view. I use 2D to get to find my hunting area and then go to 3D. In 3D mode you can zoom in and see the terrain very well. Terrain can tell you a lot about how a buck travels. It will show drop offs, fingers, points, tree lines, saddles, etc. With the 3D mode you can swoop in to ground level and it gives the appearance that you are on the land itself. Picture where the buck was, the direction he came from and the direction headed. Some pieces of the puzzle may come together for you.
- I also use an app to mark my cameras and stands on a map. There are several out there for this, “ScoutLook Hunting” is free and has quite a few nice features. For example, after you mark your stand sites on the App and click on them, it will show the “scent cone” for the day you are hunting. Which means, it shows where the wind will blow your scent according to the wind direction at that given time.
I started a log about 10 years ago. I used it when hunting smaller properties to try to put together patterns. After a few years I started seeing a correlation between weather, temps, even day of the week with deer movement.
My log is pretty simple. I just use excel and a few column headings. I made one excel document for hunts and one for pictures. For me this really brings it all together.
The set up I use for the “Hunting Log” is just the excel sheet with headings across the columns. My column headings are: Date, Stand, Start Time, End Time, Wind, Temp, Pressure, Moon, Weather, Notes and Number of Deer Seen. That’s it. For the notes I write down what the deer I saw were doing, sometimes it’s a sentence and sometimes a paragraph. You start to see what the deer did at each stand during different wind directions. Maybe the direction you thought was best for a stand, is not. Maybe it’s right on, maybe you can hunt several wind directions you didn’t think would work from the stand. For me it’s easier when it’s written out in a log as I have a lot of stands to choose from.
I took this information and wrote down the best winds for each stand. At first I thought this would be obvious, and it may be for your area, but area is in “ridge” country and the wind does funny things. We adjusted when to sit at what stand after reviewing the information over the first year.
The “Picture Log” is a bit different. I only have my “shooters” on this log. I put their picture on the excel sheet, then under each buck I log the data. Date, Wind, Temp, Weather (I use the weather information from the date on the picture as earlier explained). I also put a note on what I think they are doing each time I get a picture.
Putting it All Together
When you have information on the date, wind direction, weather, camera area and stand for the pictures you get of your shooter bucks, you should start to see a pattern. This, along with your hunting log, will help you pinpoint the best stands with the best wind for getting a shot at him.
Using this system we found that we only had a few mature bucks on our cameras, and only when the wind had some “West” in it, meaning W, NW, SW, etc. These mature bucks really use the wind to their advantage, as we know. This information led us to pin pointing stand sites that are just out of their smell zone but actually up wind of them. For example, in order to hunt the bucks that traveled a certain trail near dark with a West wind, we would stagger the stands a bit further north or south to get away from their nose with that wind.
This set up helps you with local bucks, the bucks that use our property year round. For the bucks that pop up once or twice a year this obviously will not help to pattern them. However, you can better determine what they might do when they are on your property by what your pictures tell you. Or, maybe he shows up a few years in a row around a certain date and during a certain weather pattern. This could give you a bit better chance at those roaming type bucks.
There is a lot of information to be gathered from trail camera pictures. Using the system detailed in this article, along with the Apps of your choice, can help you pattern bucks. If you put the work in, this will lead to more sightings, and hopefully your dream buck on the ground.
Have fun and be safe!