In the last couple of installments of “Happy Trails” we have been peeling the onion back a few layers on the finer points of supplemental feeding. During the preseason period from late spring to early fall, consistent and properly done supplemental feeding accomplishes multiple things for your deer herd and potentially you as a deer hunter. First and foremost, the right type of supplemental feed during the right time period ensures that your resident bucks growing antlers have enough building blocks, and that does stay healthy as they provide milk for their summer offspring.

The real bonus for me, however, is the insight I gain by way of trail-camera photos while feeding deer. I would venture to guess that in this day and time, most hunters who go to the trouble to set up and maintain feed stations also place trail cameras to monitor feed-site activity. My only suggestion to anyone who chooses not to surveil their feed sites is to please reconsider that decision. If you are a hunter who prefers to hunt “blind,” you are missing out on a ton of additional knowledge and fun. 

A hunter’s perception of what is going on, deer-wise on his property without the help of trail-camera surveillance, is really just seeing the tip of the iceberg. I prefer to go into the woods during hunting season with as much knowledge as possible. During the course of my 47 or so years spent in the whitetail woods, most of my first-hand knowledge of deer habits and activity came strictly by way of my own eyes until the last 10 or 12 years.

I have to say that my overall success and enjoyment quotients, after jumping on the trail-camera train, are exponentially higher. My love affair with trail-camera surveillance only began though after trail cameras went digital. I never got into the old film versions that were the predecessors of our modern, digital models. 

One of the most fun and enjoyable aspects of trail camera use to me is that my “hunting season” has been expanded by several months. Going to a camera site before the season and changing out the digital SD memory card is a close race between actual stand hunting and Christmas morning. It is very much like running a trap line.

The excitement and anticipation of plugging a retrieved card into a computer, an iPad or a portable card reader to see what treasures it might hold does quicken the pulse. More than once, after coming in from the woods and suddenly disappearing upstairs with a handful of memory cards, my wife has had to call out to me to make sure that I had not fallen out on the floor after running across a photo of a never-before-seen huge buck.

Another recommendation I would make is to keep your feed sites active through the season. If you have been putting out pelletized feed during the summer and fall, continue to do so, or if the extra expense of a pelletized complete ration becomes an issue, switch to deer corn for a while. Your deer herd will already be trained and conditioned to your sites, and this will allow you to provide a supplemental form of nutrition during the period of maximum winter/rut stress. It will also give the does that use your property an additional reason to hang around. And you know what that means; during the rut cycle, where the females are the males won’t be far away.

The continued use of feeders throughout the season gives you additional tried-and-true spots to use for monitoring and surveying the dynamic population of bucks that circulate on or pass through your property. I use a personal triad of “during hunting season” trail-camera location types to monitor bucks during the rut. I divide up my cameras between feeder sites, active communal scrapes and certain pinch-point/funnel travel corridors. For instance, if I am employing a total of 12 cameras, they would be divided up somewhat equally between each of the three basic location types.

In my experience, which includes managing trail-camera webs of six or less up to 15 cameras, there is definitely a saturation point where having too many active cameras will drag the whole effort down. I am very diligent about running my trail-camera web regularly, and then downloading, cataloging and dealing with, at times, thousands of photos. If you want to be successful, as our mothers used to say, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”