At this year’s Archery Trade Association (ATA) show, I spent a fair amount of time marveling over new trail cameras. When I first started bowhunting nearly 40 years ago, had someone told me that this type of technology was going to become a big part of a bowhunter’s repertoire, I would have thought he was dropping acid.
And yet, there is no question that today new technology helps hunters chase those big bucks, bulls and bears in more ways than simply catching a candid shot of a big buck walking past a tree. Biologists use them, too, to help them learn more about deer behavior than they might ever discover without them.
For example, trail cameras have helped researchers learn that during the whitetail rut, yearling bucks — for years thought to have about as much chance as I had getting a date with the head cheerleader in high school, actually mate some does, and most bucks only mate, at best, only a couple of does per rut regardless of their size or stature.
Biologists also used to believe that dominant bucks controlled scrapes and smaller bucks would defer to them and not go close to such scrapes.
However, trail camera studies we now know that many different bucks of all ages go to scrapes, and many bucks may go to a single scrape. In one Texas study on a ranch with a good sex ratio and many older bucks, half of the mature bucks went to scrapes in the day time. This tells me as a hunt club member that we need to kill more does and let the little bucks grow; in so doing we will increase our success on mature bucks when hunting near scrapes.
Using both trail cameras and radio collars, biologists have confirmed several things about buck (and doe) movements that often mirror what many hunters have observed in the wild for years. Here’s a hypothetical example. You pass up a 2 ½ -year-old buck in the fall, and next summer watch him feed in an alfalfa field with several other bucks. In fact, you can spot this same buck several times during the summer, but right about the time bucks shed their velvet your big buck drops off the map. You do not see him during bow season one time, and nobody can find him during the gun season, either. The logical conclusion is that he was poached, hit by a car, killed by coyotes, or went nocturnal.
While any of these explanations may be true, what probably happened is something totally different. The research has that almost half of all mature bucks leave their home range in September and move from the area. In agricultural states, such bucks may go as far as 15 miles, and in forested areas they probably go less than five miles. However, they do move away. Some never return, some stay away a year before returning, and some only stay a month or so before coming home.
Such studies explain why big bucks disappear, and why big bucks suddenly pop up in your hunting area. How many times in recent years have you been working trail cameras on your hunting ground and think you have it dialed in when, suddenly, during hunting season, here comes a stud buck strolling past someone’s stand? Happens all the time.
Trail cameras have also added new knowledge to the way we hunt bucks near scrapes and rubs. For example, via trail cams we now know that some rubs are very important while others mean little. The rubs that mean something are those found on the same trees, year after year. These traditional rubs are often found on aromatic tree species such as red cedar, and mature bucks will go to that same rub year after year. Even more interesting is the fact that more than one mature buck will go to the same rub. Find a traditional rub and you’ve found a place where big bucks go to talk to each other. Find a place where one or more rub lines intersect, and you’ve found one heckuva place to hang a stand.
One major negative here is the fact that most bucks rub trees after dark. While that is true, when you find a traditional rub, especially one on an aromatic tree species, you know that several big bucks are living relatively close by. This means they walk through that area, and the closer you get to the rut, the better the chances that they can be spotted in the day time. Scout that area, find a nearby funnel and hunt within shouting distance of a traditional rub.
Trail cams also give clues that we might use to our advantage at scrapes. For years we’ve heard that bucks only go to scrapes at night, but as noted above that is not always true. Camera studies show that we can doctor scrapes to attract more bucks in the daytime. We now know that 57 percent of the time a buck rubs his antlers and head in the overhanging branch above the scrape, he is rubbing the scent from his preorbital gland.
When a buck comes to a scrape, he paws the scrape, then urinates over the tarsal glands on the inside of his back legs. Then he rubs his head in the overhanging limb(s) and then licks the limbs. The buck then repeats the rubbing and licking, and may repeat pawing and urinating. No one is really sure what communication signals are being released or gained at the scrape, but the fact that many different bucks may visit this scrape (and some does as well) tells us that bucks are talking to each other (and to does) at scrapes.
The list of the things we are learning about deer and other big game species via the use of high tech gadgetry like trail cameras is mind boggling, and growing. By nature I am the classic anti-gadget guy, but lately I’ve found using trail cameras can really help my bowhunting.
I have also found they are tons of fun to play with.
For more go to: SpyPoint Trail Cameras