Whitetail Deer: 7 Steps for Taking Better Summer Trail Camera Photos

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Memorial Day isn’t just the unofficial start of summer; it also kicks off the summer trail camera season.

As whitetail bucks across the country start packing on antler inches, millions of whitetail addicts will be sneaking into the woods with trail cameras in tow, hoping to catch a photo or two of the local giant. And if you follow these seven steps, you can be the guy or gal that actually gets those photos—and maybe an opportunity to tag a great buck when the season opens.

1. Location
The first step to trail camera success in the summer is setting your trail cam in the right location. At this time of year, food is the top priority for deer, so place your cameras close to prime summer food sources like soybean, alfalfa, clover, and other green fields.

2. Access
When considering the location for your cameras, you must also keep in mind how you can access them in the future. Keep your cameras in easy-to-access locations, where you can walk up along a field edge or drive directly to the camera, as this will limit the pressure you put on the deer. A common mistake is to set summer cameras too deep into the timber or close to bedding areas, which leads to educating deer and pushing them away from your cameras.

3. Positioning
Once a location is set, you have to properly position the camera. Ideally you'll want your camera facing north or south to avoid getting washed out photos during sunrise or set. You'll also want to consider the height at which you set the camera. On properties where you're dealing with other hunters, you might want to place your camera high in a tree and angled down, to avoid being seen by any passer-byers. This is also a good idea in areas of high hunting pressure, where mature bucks are more easily spooked by obviously placed cameras. On the other hand, if you're not worried about theft or spooking deer, place your camera as level as possible and at about deer-eye level.

4. Set-up
There's nothing worse than arriving to check a camera weeks after setting it up and finding that it took no photos. That said, take time to understand how to properly adjust the settings on your camera, use fresh batteries and format your SD card in the camera before leaving it. And if you plan on leaving your camera for an extended period of time, be sure to properly set your capture mode and interval. These settings determine how many photos at a time your camera will take and how long an interval there will be between photo sequences. I like to set my camera to take two photos per trigger and then wait one minute before triggering again. This keeps me from filling up an entire card from a doe and fawn sitting in front of my camera for 10 minutes.

5. Attractant
To ensure maximum trail cam photos, I recommend a two-punch approach to attracting deer in front of your camera. Where legal, I like to use some kind of attractant with a strong odor, which will draw deer in to the camera site quickly. This might be something like corn, apples, or a manufactured attractant like Big & J's BB2. I then like to place a longer-lasting mineral alongside that attractant, which is what will keep deer returning to the camera site well after that corn or other material is gone. Mineral products like Trophy Rocks, Whitetail Institute's 30-06, and many others can fit this bill.

6. Return Trips
A properly located and set-up camera can get you on the right track for quality trail camera pictures, but if you check your camera too often, it's all for naught. This is probably the biggest mistake hunters make when it comes to trail cams: We often give in to the temptation to check our cameras too frequently, and end up educating deer to our presence. Practice self-restraint and give your cameras about two weeks between return trips—and even longer if you can handle it.

7. Scent Control
And when you do check those cameras, practice all the same scent control that you do during hunting season. Spooked deer during the summer, especially mature bucks, will avoid the area and your cameras. So wear scent-free clothes and boots, and spray down with a scent eliminator before entering the field. I also wear gloves when handling my trail camera and spray that down after I finish swapping out SD cards.