Pre-season scouting plans

A nice pre-season buck that the author captured at one of his camera sites in mid-September.

Taking care of your trail cameras

If you are reading this, you obviously survived the long, hot summer — even though the heat and humidity will still linger into September.

The start of the 2016 archery season is just around the corner, and then less than two months later the gun season will open and we will be preparing to carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

My sincere hope is that you continued to visit your deer camp or hunting property over the summer, and will not be starting your preparation and scouting here in September totally cold.

Whether your hunting property is already a work in progress or you took the whole summer off from the woods, there are certain topics in the world of deer scouting that we need to go over and flesh out.

There are two basic forms of scouting: eye-ball and shoe leather, and by trail camera. Actually to be successful, the later requires a lot of the former.

Advance boots-on-the-ground time is absolutely necessary for the placement of trail cameras in the most-advantageous locations for best results.

Whether you have enough trail cameras to form a nice checkerboard web across your property or just two or three cameras, the very first thing that should be done is to pull the cameras out and check them out thoroughly.

The process begins with opening each camera and making sure old batteries were removed at the end of last season. If not, let’s hope that the idle batteries did not break down and start leaking corrosive fluids. If so, you could have a messy cleanup on your hands, as you hope the camera’s electrical system was not ruined in the process.

The next order of business will be to install fresh batteries and test the operation of each camera. You need to confirm that each camera’s IR detector, trigger speed, digital picture quality and flash range are still working as they should.

What we are about to go over regarding might seem like a lot of trouble to go to — but not so fast.

Why in the world would we just pull cameras right out of storage and assume they work properly, and then go and blindly put them back into service?

It wouldn’t be very much fun to stop by a week or two later to swap out camera memory cards and realize a camera malfunctioned and the whole exercise was a totally wasted effort.

Hey, look, at this early scouting point we aren’t even sure what we are going to see through the lenses of our trail cameras. It would be just my luck that the best buck on the property would have sauntered by while my errant camera was sitting there inoperable like a bump on a log.

Take each camera one by one out into your backyard and find a good mounting spot such as a tree trunk, a fence post, a tripod or something similar.

To effectively test a camera, mount it about 4 or 5 feet off the ground and, with a handful of stakes, pace off and place a stake every 10 feet out to at least 60 feet.

For best visibility, you might want to tie fluorescent tape around the top of each stake or spray the top of each stake with fluorescent or highly visible paint.

One thing to remember is that each of your cameras has two modes of operation that should be tested. One is daylight mode and the other is nighttime flash.

If you deem it to be too much trouble to test both, my recommendation would be to perform the tests at night, since it utilizes both the camera and the flash.

Program your camera to its most basic form of operation, and then power it up.

The first test is a “walk test” and involves walking directly past the 10-foot stake. After waiting a few moments for the camera to rearm, repeat the walk though at each successive stake.

The resulting photos will reveal to you a number of important parameters that you can record on a note pad for use in the field.

You will learn what the maximum detection range is for the camera by noting the farthest stake at which you were detected by the camera. You will also learn the effective width of detection by noting how far into the field of view you had to walk in order to be photographed.

The trigger speed is also involved, to a degree. The clearest photo of the ones that are triggered will show you what the most ideal focal range is for each particular camera.

Next month we will dissect early season scouting from the standpoint of buck rubs and how you might be able to use the ones you find to best advantage when it comes to trail camera surveillance.

Your cameras are on the job 24/7, rain or shine, so wring everything you can out of their use.

About Bill Garbo 89 Articles
Bill Garbo is a petroleum engineer and avid whitetail hunter from Madison. He has lived and hunted out west and taken numerous big game species, but hunting big old mature southern whitetail bucks is his favorite pursuit by a country mile.

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