Trail Cams: Watch & Wait

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Trail Cams: Watch & Wait
Click to view this article in the Winter 2016 issue of ADVENTURESS magazine.

Trail camera use to know when to start shed hunting your area and following one buck through shed season

Meet ‘Doughboy.’ With tall brows and a unique wave to his main beams, this buck is easy to identify thanks to his characteristics. Come along as we follow this buck through trail camera photos after hunting seasons and into shed season, sharing some tips for finding these precious Midwest whitetail gems.

The Right Time

It happens every year. Someone finds one shed, posts a photo on social media and everyone races out to the woods… hold your horses! Shed hunting is not something you necessarily want to be early for, unless you’re on public land. Hunting seasons have recently ended and deer are skittish, to say the least. Here in the Midwest, land is continuing to get broke up into smaller and smaller chunks. So, you if bust out into the fields and woods walking all over too early, it’s a high chance you are scaring all of your deer out of your land… to drop sheds at your neighbors. I’m sure they’ll be thankful though.

This is where trail cameras play a great role. You can watch your bucks from week to week, only moving in for a search after the majority of your bucks have dropped their antlers, or if you have a huge buck that is your main target for sheds, after he’s dropped. Bucks drop at a wide variety of times – some dropping while deer seasons are still going on in December and even some odd balls still holding on come spring. It can depend on many variables, but particularly the buck’s health and genetics. Once one side falls on a particular buck, the other side usually drops within a few days.

Trail Camera Choices

This time of year can be particularly harsh on trail cameras when you have extremely low temperatures. That’s hard for anything to function in, whether wildlife, people or technology. Sometimes it can take some time to test what cameras work best for you in the cold temps. Your results may also depend on what batteries the trail camera takes, whether large (D’s for example – a pain other times of the year, though can perform better in cold), small or a special battery (lithium, for example, is known to work great in winter).

Frequent Visitors

The more you can hold deer to your land or keep them coming back to your land, the better your chances of finding their sheds. Food is definitely going to be important at this time. Some deer are going to be run-down from the rut, injured from fighting or shot wounds, and struggling from winter’s cold wrath. On top of all this, food can be scarce. Crop fields and food plots are often picked over and bare by this time, and depending on the weather, one huge snow or ice storm that hangs on the ground for several days can be disastrous (especially for turkeys), not letting wildlife dig down to find what food may be left.

This is where I believe in providing food if you are in an area that it is not illegal and you’re not at a high risk for spreading diseases. Adding some piles of corn can help wildlife through the winter, and particularly through storms until they can dig to bare ground. This also allows you to keep a better eye on your deer herd, if they are healthy or struggling, and when they are starting to lose sheds.

Locations

If you are able to put some food out for wildlife, an existing field is ideal to set it up along with your trail camera. If you’re not able to provide food, a field is still a great place to put your trail camera to catch deer trying to find food or walking through. Other areas to focus your camera can be off bedding areas and main travel corridors. When it comes time for the search, south-facing hills, grasses and cedar trees tend to be good areas for finding sheds, so think about setting up your trail camera off areas like this, but not in them, as you want to disturb deer as little as possible when just switching trail camera cards.

Shed Time!

In these photos, this area had a harvested crop field and a winter-bare food plot. With a corn pile on each field, ‘Doughboy’ frequented both, allowing us to catch when he dropped one antler. While going to switch trail camera cards and refresh corn, we took note of the dates and shed bucks, so we did a small search for sheds around the fields and main deer trails around them. I soon found the left antler of Doughboy and another shed on the edge of the food plot not too far from the corn pile.

After coming back a later day for a more extensive search, we didn’t turn up Doughboy’s other shed, but with a fence line nearby, it was likely on another property. That’s just how shed hunting goes though. You are not going to find them all, but that’s what makes it so special when you do find one. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it! ~JP

Sidebar in magazine: Track Your Trail

I recommend tracking your shed hunts by using GPS. I don’t have a GPS device myself, but I just use a GPS smartphone app and it works great (I use GPS Kit for $9.99 – also mentioned in the fall issue of ADVENTURESS for hunting).

Though you do have to keep an eye on your phone battery while tracking for a long time, I love using this app. First of all, it’s important in our area that is works offline even.

Second, tracking your miles and search while shed hunting is very interesting. You can view your distance, speed, time, elevation and much more. It’s nice to know how far you walked each time and also use that ratio to see how well you faired in the end. I find you are doing really, really great if you are able to find an average of one shed per mile walked.

However, what I like the most about using GPS for shed hunting is you can see areas you might be missing, and you can keep this information to compare year after year. Mark where you pick up a shed and view this later. After doing this a couple years, I can look back at the maps and concentrate on areas I previously found sheds, with good odds to find more, and not waste my time on certain areas where I’ve never found a single shed.