One of the most important — and simple — things a deer steward can do before the hunting season begins is to conduct a trail camera survey on their property. The information gathered from these surveys is crucial to improving the health of the deer as well as the habitat that they live in.
Note: I am not a wildlife biologist. For specifics and questions for your particular property, contact your state’s wildlife biologist to get their opinion and expertise.
Why is a trail camera survey important?
One of the things that a properly performed trail camera survey will tell you is how many acres you have per deer (deer density). This is important because it will tell you if your habitat can sustain the current population of deer (carrying capacity). The ideal deer density is different for every location, but is generally 20-30 acres per deer. If you have high deer density, you may want to adjust your harvest accordingly. If you have low deer density, it is possible you may need to increase the amount of forage on your property.
Another important metric derived from a trail camera survey is the “buck-to-doe” ratio. Ideally, this ratio should be 1:1, does-to-bucks. On many properties in the US, it is 2:1 does-to-bucks, and sometimes 3:1. In some instances, you may want to perform an enhanced doe harvest to get the ratio closer to 1:1.
When should one perform a trail camera survey?
A summer trail camera survey should be conducted in late August, early September.
The reason you should not perform these at any other time is that you have a much better chance of capturing all the fawns in your area, giving you more accurate results. Any earlier and there is a chance that the fawns are still staying in once place, and are not travelling with their mother. Any later and it is hunting season or close to it.
What are the steps to conducting a trail camera survey?
There are few simple steps that must be taken to maximize success.
1. You need one game camera per 100 acres. If you have 500 acres and three trail cameras, then your survey should focus on 300 of those acres.
2. Choose a site for each camera that will give you the best results.
- Point your cameras North to eliminate sun interference.
- Face the cameras towards a darker background to maximize ability to see antler points.
- Remove obstructions, moving limbs, and other things that may get in the way.
- Make sure the camera is close enough to the bait to get good, clear shots to identify unique bucks.
3. After choosing a place to put your trail camera, pre-bait your site (if legal in your state) for one-to-two weeks prior to the survey.
- The bait you should use depends on what your deer love. Usually corn is the best choice. If using corn, spread it out as opposed to piling it up.
Note: We are not recommending hunting over a baited site. Please check your state and local game laws before baiting for this survey.
If you cannot bait in your state, you may need to run your survey for 4 weeks or more. Contact your state wildlife biologist for their recommendation.
4. Make sure you can identify each site.
- Put a post with a sign and a number in the back ground to identify it if needed.
5. Keep the sites baited.
6. Set the cameras up after one-to-two weeks of baiting and then let them run for two weeks.
7. After the final two weeks, pull out the memory cards, and move the “Survey Images” to your computer.
In part 2 of this series, I will discuss what to do with your “Survey Images” to complete the trail camera survey.