Trail Cams Increase Bow Hunting Success

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My, how times have changed. In an eternal quest to increase efficiency afield, bow hunters have adopted trail cam technology in a big way.

I remember the first motion camera I picked up 13 years ago. It used print film and image clarity left a bit to be desired.

Since those early iterations, innovation has spawned an entire industry fraught with every make and manner of trail camera imaginable. Priced for consumers of every variety, they just keep getting better. From low to high resolution stills to video capability, or, if you’re willing to shell out the cash, you can even get units that instantly send images to your computer or cell phone.

Certainly there are all kinds of hunters who use motion cameras, but take a look at sales and you may, or may not, be surprised that bow hunters are the heaviest users of these technological marvels. Walk the aisles of your nearby hunting store and where do you find the trail cam displays? You guessed it, alongside the archery department. Why? Indeed, trail cams are most heavily used by archers who enjoy extended seasons and here is why.

 

Year round scouting

Bow hunting is a time consuming endeavor. To enjoy consistent success, an archery hunter must do his or her homework: scouting the area they want to hunt, learning what the animals do and when they do it – it’s all part of the recon equation.

Bow hunters are notoriously detail-oriented. They invest time in their pre-hunt preparation and money in their equipment, taking extra measures to gather information and ensure they have as much information as possible in order to maximize their chances for success in the field.

Enter the trail cam. By strategically placing these little beauties along heavily used trails, on mineral licks, at bait sites, where legal, and on food or water sources, we strive to capture images of the game we plan to hunt. Employed both during hunting seasons and throughout different stages of the off-season, trail cams feed us vital information; intel that invariably helps us close the gap for a shot opportunity.

In short, where our scouting was once limited to the time we could spend hiking around in the woods, today, with the help of infrared motion sensor-armed cameras, we can monitor game movement at strategic locations, 24/7, year round.

As this issue hits the stands, bear seasons are under way. Where baiting is allowed, these sites offer an exceptional opportunity to mount trail cameras. If you’re a bow hunter and you’ve never used them to streamline your hunting efforts, it’s time you did. I can’t even count the hundreds, and probably thousands, of hours I’ve spent on bear stands over the last 24 years. Most days I saw smaller bruins visit the sites. Some days nothing would show at all – that’s bear hunting over bait.

On the other hand, those who use cams religiously will attest to their value. Most bear hunters run multiple baits at a time. Motion cameras provide the ability to monitor them all simultaneously, thereby gathering an image or video library of the quality, gender, size and number of bears visiting each site. For trophy hunters looking for a particular trophy-sized bear or a specific color phase, this intelligence is invaluable. As soon as a desirable bear starts to show up consistently, it can be patterned. With routine comes predictability – just what the bow hunter wants.

On many occasions I’ve seen nice bears fall into a predictable pattern and then present the hunting archer with a shot opportunity during the very first sit. No doubt, trails cams serve as an around-the-clock surveillance tool, and this invariably translates to increased bow hunting success.

 

Ability to focus on trophy quality

Most of us pick up a bow because of the added challenge. I’ll step out on a limb and suggest that it’s not because we want our hunting to be that much more difficult, but rather we desire the added challenge of getting up close and personal with our quarry. The natural evolution as a hunter involves the transition to using a bow. After we’ve taken a few animals with archery tackle, we tend to raise our standards. The meat is always a bonus, but our focus evolves to bigger, more mature animals. With deer, it becomes a standard that recognizes only four and five year old bucks as target animals. Antler size is often a focus. Likewise with other species, like bears for instance, overall body size and gender is a priority. Bigger, more mature, trophy-class animals become the object of our attention and yes, trail cams help facilitate our ongoing search for the ever-elusive biggest of the big. Those target animals captured on our cameras are quickly added to our hit list.

Over the years, I have run cameras at different times of the year but in all honesty, images without bone don’t do much for me.

In recent times, my own trail camera work is limited to just prior to, during and the weeks immediately following any given season. With white tails for instance, I rarely place cameras earlier than mid-August, but when I do, I know that the images I get hold little relevance in terms of where those animals may or may not be once their velvet sheds. Photos and video of big whitetails are great eye candy, but as a bow hunter I know that my best chance to encounter any big buck I have on camera will invariably be before he transitions from velvet to hard antler, and it will almost always be on or near a prime food source. As soon as that transition occurs, marking the very earliest of the pre-rut activity, that trophy buck will begin to change his daily routine. While I may secure consistent images during the late summer and on into the very early part of September, as a rule big bucks show up less frequently once that shift takes place.

Every property and every group of deer is different, but locating a consistent trophy-class buck is the challenge. I’ve had 180-class deer that would work early scrapes and rub lines from late September through to the end of October with unbelievable consistency, showing up every four or five days during daylight hours. On the other hand, once those bruiser bucks hit the peak estrus and begin to roam their territory, inconsistency is more the norm than the exception.

The late pre-rut, in October and early November, on into the first estrus period when the peak rut occurs, can be a bow hunter’s best time to pattern and hunt a trophy-class white tail. Why? Simply because white tails travel their scrape lines religiously to monitor does. By locating heavily-used scrape lines and carefully placing trail cams to capture anything that visits them, we can determine not only the relative population of does, but also the number of bucks and their age along with their trophy quality. My wife Heather and I have taken many bucks that we patterned in the pre- and peak rut with the aid of trail cams.

The same strategies can be used over mineral licks during the warm, early season days. Moose, elk and even predators all visit mineral licks. Trace an animal that visits with regularity, and you’re off to the races. As long as the temperatures remain in the double digits in late August and early September, activity at mineral licks continues and these are great places to monitor with trail cams.

 

Minimizing time on the stand

In the end, using trail cameras to increase our efficiency as bow hunters is about gathering information to help minimize our time in the field. To some extent, this is an oxymoron. We all want more time afield, but our first priority is that ever-elusive shot opportunity. Where we once relied solely on what we saw with our own eyes – the presence of tracks, trails, droppings and other marking on the ground and on trees – now we have the ability to capture images and video of the animals themselves, along with the ability to document the time that they were at any given location. This is invaluable information that ultimately serves to increase our bow hunting success.

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