What Winter Trail Camera Strategies Do You Use?
If hunting private land, whether it’s leased or owned, you probably use trail cameras. If you’re not, you’re missing out. Using a trail camera can tell you so much about how deer, turkeys, and other wildlife use a property and this information can be used to help decide on how to manage and hunt it properly. But trail cameras often get put away once hunting season is over, and that’s a lost opportunity. Here are some winter trail camera strategies to help gain insight about a property and the animals that occupy it over the off-season months. So if you’re wondering when to start putting out trail cameras for the year, the time is now.
Why Use Trail Cameras in Winter?
Probably the biggest question most people have about this subject is why even worry about winter trail camera strategies. Deer hunting season is over in most places by the New Year, so why should you bother with the effort in January or February? As you’ll read below, there are many reasons to use trail cameras right now.
- First, it gives an idea of what bucks made it through the hunting season. Having some kind of inventory for the following year is always nice. The Quality Deer Management Association is a big proponent of running a trail camera survey on a property for herd monitoring purposes. This article discusses the use of trail cameras, but check out the QDMA website for more about running an official trail camera survey.
- Second, finding out when those bucks that use a property shed their antlers. If trail camera pictures are taken of a buck without its headgear, you can run back out to the woods and start walking along deer trails or in feeding areas until you (hopefully) find a matching set of sheds.
- Third, using these winter trail camera strategies will give an idea of how deer and turkeys use a property in the winter, which is likely very different from how they use it in the summer and fall.
- There are no annoying bugs, poisonous snakes, or itchy plants in the winter, and the weather is cold enough that you won’t sweat profusely from checking cameras.
- Finally, it’s a nice opportunity to get back out into the woods and get pictures of all the different wildlife on your property.
How to Use Winter Trail Cameras
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when discussing the logistics of winter trail camera strategies. The bad part about hanging trail cameras in the winter is that the cold weather cuts camera battery life down. So the question of how long to leave a trail camera out is answered easily: if it’s below zero degrees for an extended period, check cameras every two weeks to make sure they‘re still running. You don’t really have to worry as much about spooking deer in the winter, so checking that frequently won’t hurt. Additionally, heavy snow cover can make it hard to access a property without snowshoes or a snowmobile. If you have those, it’s no problem. If you don’t, it’s definitely a good workout to stay in shape during the off-season months!
As far as trail camera tactics go, the trail camera height will be an important factor if there’s lots of snow. Obviously, the camera shouldn’t be so low where snow accumulation could become a visibility issue. Make sure to adjust trail camera settings to take either video or pictures, depending on what is wanted. In areas where they will be feeding for a while, it’s fun to have videos to watch. But several fast pictures are usually better for trails where deer will be passing through. We will cover other trail camera placement tips below, but positioning it with a northern exposure will keep pictures from being completely washed out by the sun (either directly or glaring off the snow). Positioning it in a sheltered spot will help it from collecting too much snow over the lens as well.
Where to Hang Trail Cameras in Winter
When it comes to winter trail camera strategies, trail camera placement is going to be critical. Deer activity changes in the winter and they will not always be in the same locations as they were in the fall. There are several good spots that deserve a trail camera in the winter months, and you likely have them on your property already.
- Winter feeding areas should be the primary location for trail cameras. Deer are facing the hardest part of the year right now and are in survival mode. Rut-weary bucks need to build up their body fat reserves again to stay alive. If you have a standing food plot or crop field (even a harvested field with waste grain) it should be a no-brainer to hang a trail camera there.
- If the snow is too deep for food plots or crop fields and it is legal in your area, use a feeder to get winter trail camera pictures. Winter supplemental feeding stations can be filled with Westbrook Monster Mix, which is a highly nutritious feed that give wild deer the ultimate advantage in winter. Introduce the feeding very slowly over the course of a few weeks if deer in an area are not used to it, as it can be fatal for the deer if attempting to adjust their diets too quickly.
- If there is a lot of timber on a property, doing a few simple timber stand improvement (TSI) cuts can provide tender browse for deer at their level. Deer are designed by nature to eat browse in the winter, so it really is a preferred food for them. In addition, all the felled trees can provide some side cover for deer to feel comfortable during the day. These locations, especially if located with a southern exposure, can produce some great daytime deer pictures.
Use these winter trail camera strategies to keep an eye on your property the next couple of weeks. You’ll be surprised at all the great pictures you can still get. It’s a nice way to extend hunting season throughout the year too because you’re always excited to see what will show up on camera. Maybe you will find a big gobbler or a heavy mature deer to look forward to this next season.