Trail Camera Surveys: Collecting Intel on Whitetails
February 18, 2022
How do you run a trail camera survey? Learn what information is important to collect and track on whitetail deer with trail cam surveys and card pulls.
Trail cam surveys are a must for deer managers and serious hunters. They help you track specific animals using photos and provide golden information about deer using your property. It can also play a key role in helping you pick your target buck for fall.
When it comes to trail cam surveys, one rule applies: collect as much intel as you can. The data will help you become familiar with the characteristics of your deer, track bucks, and note any changes happening in your herd. We’ll dig into the data you should gather in a survey. But first, let’s review how to guarantee you’ve got a hard-working trail cam site that's bringing in deer.
How to Draw Deer to Trail Cameras
If you’re not getting good intel from your camera site, it may be in the wrong location or you’re using the wrong (or no) attractant. Check out this blog for tips: How to Create a Successful Mineral Site. If you’ve already got a great setup, using your trail cam with super effective Redmond products to draw deer in is as easy as one, two, three.
- Set out a Trophy Rock. Deer love the Rock! It gives them 60+ electrolytes and trace minerals they need. Just place it on a stump, stand, or raised surface. Here’s what to expect when using Trophy Rock.
- Scatter Cherry Bomb. This is an amazing smelling long-range attractant and supplement. Spread the Bomb evenly on the ground around Trophy Rock. Here’s how to best use Cherry Bomb.
- Enjoy the show. Now turn on your camera and watch the deer and awesome photos roll in!
Collecting Data from Trail Camera Surveys
Capturing cool pics of wildlife is great for entertainment value, but it won’t help you optimize your hunt or manage your herd if that’s all you’re doing. You’ve got to put your data to work. Here’s how.
Run trail cam surveys for 10-14 days before pulling your camera card. If you’re using the survey to scout, run it right before or during hunting season. The data you gather can help you determine this kind of important info on your herd:
- Number of unique and harvest-eligible bucks.
- Total number of bucks, does, and fawns.
- Deer herd density.
- Doe-to-buck ratio.
- Fawn recruitment rate.
You can compute the above info for your herd using this printable Trail Camera Data Computation Form from the National Deer Association. If you want a more interactive program, check out DeerLab digital trail camera photo management software.
Keeping Files on Unique Bucks
Tracking individual bucks is a big part of surveys and hunting—and can be a lot of fun! To begin, create a file on each unique buck you’re spotting in photos. Here are four categories to gather intel on.
What’s in a name? Well, that’s up to you and the animal you’re sighting! A fun part of categorizing deer is coming up with a nickname. A handle. A moniker. A John Doe—er, Buck. It’s up to you what you choose, but think of an alias that hints at personality, history, or unique traits.
Here are some bucks our Redmond followers are following and what comes to mind when we hear these sweet sobriquets.
- Ol’ Slackin’: Old been-there-done-that stag.
- Phantom: Elusive male that makes the does swoon.
- The Horned King: Wise monarch of the forest.
- Crab Claw: Fighter sporting a mean left hook.
- Baby Face: Young buck from the homie herd.
- Dagger: Shooter with a wicked drop tine.
- Shrubby: Hmm… your guess is as good as ours.
It’s important to establish age classes on your property, especially when making your hit list of shooter bucks. The link just referenced and this University of Missouri article on aging live deer gives helpful info on judging a buck’s age by body characteristics and size.
- Antlers. Like a human’s thumbprint, no two deer’s antlers are the same. That’s why they make a great identification tool! Look for uniqueness in main beam curve and length, number of tines, and odd points on the rack.
- Markings. Search for identifiable scars, injuries, ear tears, or other markings that set deer apart.
- Coloration. Whitetail coat color—which can have shades of red, brown, orange, yellow, silver, gray, or white—varies with season and genetics. It’s best to track coat color during fall, as there’s a slight change from summer to fall.
- Personality. Each deer has unique behaviors and habits. These make them more trackable and interesting. Use the video settings on your trail cam to capture individual personality traits.
Studying photos and video can help you understand buck's movement patterns by date range, time of day, and frequency of visits.
Thinking about buying a cellular trail cam? Wondering how to use all the settings on your current camera? Check out these blogs: Cellular Trail Cameras and Understanding Trail Cam Settings. They’ll help you gather valuable survey intel and put your trail camera’s abilities to better use! Need more info on how and when to do your first trail cam card pull? Watch the Beyond the Rock episode above.
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