As you sit in your stand on the final day of hunting season, the last little bit of sunlight disappears behind the ridge in front of you, and a sinking feeling sets in—hunting season is over.
Turkey season doesn’t start for a few months, shed hunting hasn’t started yet and next year’s archery opener seems like a lifetime away.
What can you do now?
If you’re anything like me, you think about being in the whitetail woods year-round. There is one tool that you can use throughout the year that can help you be more successful when hunting season rolls back around: That tool is the trail camera.
In Part 1 of this series, I will explain why trail cameras are a perfect tool to employ just as vigorously after the season ends as you did back in September.
Why Should You Use Trail Cameras After the Season Has Ended?
Identifying Deer that have made it Through the Hunting Season
The first and most obvious reason for postseason trail camera use is to determine which bucks have survived the archery and firearm seasons.
The feeling of seeing a buck that you have been watching all year show up on camera in the middle of February is second only to harvesting him.
When he shows up alive and well after the season has closed, you know that you will most likely have a chance to hunt him again next fall.
Trail Camera Surveys for Deer Census Data
After watching what can seem like an endless amount of antlerless deer coming to a food source in late winter, the first and perhaps most important question you may ask yourself is: How many deer are really on my property?
This question can easily and efficiently be answered by a winter trail camera survey.
Trail camera surveys are typically done in either the early fall or late winter and can provide valuable information such as buck to doe ratio, buck age structure and fawn recruitment.
While trail camera surveys may not answer every question you may have about your deer herd, they will definitely give you valuable insight into future management decisions.
Trail camera software like W.I.S.E. can make performing trail camera censuses very easy on you.
Identifying the Second Rut
When yearling does come into estrous for the first time in the second rut, buck movement is very visible. This is because the number of does coming into estrous a month after the peak of the first rut is far less.
Trail cameras can help you pinpoint the peak of the second rut not only by increased buck movement, but also by capturing sparring and bucks harassing small does on film.
Determining when the second rut occurs can be very beneficial if hunting season is still in.
Even if your hunting season is over by then, this information can still be very helpful. By looking back 28 days, you are able to have a very good idea as to when the peak of the first rut occurred.
You can then use this information for next year.
Where to Place Postseason Cameras?
In the fall, primary food sources were home to many does and young bucks almost every evening, with the mature bucks possibly hanging out in thick cover, keeping their distance.
The cold weather of winter and the lack of humans in the woods postseason changes this. Mature bucks let their guard down because of a decreased pressure in the woods by hunters.
And with the testosterone dropping, survival becomes priority number one in the dead of winter.
This makes primary food sources the best place to set up trail cameras in the winter. These can include cut corn, bean fields, brassicas and winter wheat, as well as mast crops such as oak acorns in areas where agriculture is not as prominent.
To identify the best places for a trail camera, look for well-worn trails leading into these fields. If you have snow, this is extremely easy.
After the second rut bucks will no longer be solitary, and will most likely either re-form the bachelor groups of summer or travel with large doe family groups.
This makes locating these trails even more important, because the mature bucks will surely be a part of these groups.
Zach Liotus is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University where he majored in Wildlife and Fisheries Science.
He is currently on staff with Pennsylvania Forestry and Wildlife Consultants and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.