Thanks to HuntersClub.com member Chad Brady for this trail camera pic
Trail cameras are easily one of the greatest technological innovations in the last couple of decades within the hunting industry. Unfortunately very few hunters realize how much information these tools gather, especially when it comes to patterning deer activity.
Most hunters who use game cameras only use them for one thing—seeing how big the bucks are on their property. They will set a game camera over bait, check the camera every week or so, and if a big buck shows up on the camera, they will probably end up putting a stand nearby.
If the hunter lives in a state where baiting is allowed, this may work, but it isn't really patterning deer activity, and it leaves a lot to be desired. For instance it doesn't show where the deer came from or what route he was travelling.
If the hunter doesn't live in a state where baiting during hunting season is allowed, this is crucial information.
The hunter may spend all season moving stands all over trying to figure out where the deer are travelling. This wastes the hunter's time, and also disturbs the habitat as human scent will no doubt be spread all over, possibly causing the more mature bucks to change their patterns, go nocturnal or leave the area entirely.
Position the trail cameras correctly to maximize success
Whether you are using them to pattern deer or baiting them (for a trail camera survey or just to get a better look at your deer), all game cameras should be positioned with the following basic techniques.
For patterning deer activity, game cameras should ideally be positioned on trails leading to and out of food sources, or entrance/exit points on a property (this is in addition to the above techniques).
Putting trail cameras on trails instead of directly on bait limits the amount of images you get, but it creates a more reliable data source for patterning deer.
The reason is that any one deer could stay at a bait spot for one minute, 10 minutes, one hour, three hours etc. Since this is unpredictable, and varies from day to day, your results will be extremely skewed when analyzing the data, whether it be manually or with a program like W.I.S.E. Trail Camera Software.
For instance, one deer could stay at a baited camera for one hour, and there could be 100-plus pictures of that same deer. If five deer come through (at different times) on an un-baited camera, you will most likely have significantly less images.
When analyzed in a program like W.I.S.E., the weather reports will show a huge percentage difference for all categories for the initial deer on the baited camera. This skewing of the data affects the pattern of the data. This hurts your chances of success.
You may need to move your cameras often to find a good trail that gathers the most images without spooking the deer. This should be done in the spring so not disturb the deer right before the hunting season begins. Once you find a good spot, leave the cameras there for the rest of the year.
Use similar image-burst/time delay for all cameras for a given property.
Not all cameras have exactly the same specs as far as image-burst (how many images are taken each time the camera senses movement) or delay (the time between each set of bursts), but they need to be fairly close if you plan on patterning deer activity. Having lots of different setups will affect patterning negatively.
For example if you set a 10-image burst/1-minute delay for one camera, and a 3-image burst/10-minute delay for another camera at the same property, the patterning data for that property will end up being skewed.
In the example above, the first camera could have 30 images taken in 10 minutes for three deer walking past at different times. The second camera would only have three images taken within those same 10 minutes. You can see how the data would be skewed towards the first camera.
The amount of burst and delay is up to you. It really depends on the amount of deer on your property and what works best for what you are trying to accomplish. There will be a lot of trial and error. There is no way this could ever be perfect, but being consistent is the best way to improve the accuracy of the results.
NOTE: W.I.S.E. now supports removing this "data slack"
Be consistent all-year around when patterning deer
Make sure game cameras were out there at the same time, with good SD cards and there batteries were charged the entire time.
We have two SD cards per camera, so the cameras are never without one.
We also make sure that we change the batteries once they get down to the last bar. Rechargeable batteries/solar panels help this issue.
Leave your cameras up year-around, even post-season.
Analyzing trail camera images to pattern deer activity
Once you have followed the above techniques, you are now ready to analyze the data. You could do this manually with a spreadsheet, while also looking up the weather data and/or lunar phase for each photo. This can be very tedious.
Using a game management program like W.I.S.E. automates all of this. Within W.I.S.E, you can:
W.I.S.E. reports let you sort, filter and group on fields like wind direction, barometer, temperature and many others. This is where you will begin to see patterns.
In example, the deer on your property may only use certain trails when the wind direction is out of the north. In addition, they may use one of those trails only in the morning.
The tagging feature will allow you to tag individual deer, which you can then filter on in the reports. You can then see when individual bucks are moving, whether it be during a certain wind direction, moon phase etc.
Once you can see these patterns within W.I.S.E., you can use the forecast for your location to know when and where to hunt. This data will stack the odds in your favor, making you more successful.
If you aren't using the cameras to pattern deer, go ahead and bait the sites
Although using trail cameras to pattern deer is more useful in our opinion, we still put cameras over bait sites for the same reason everyone else does—we love to see lots and lots of pictures of deer! Just don't use these images for developing patterns.