Trail Camera Hot zones | Bedding and Feeding Areas
As I have learned more and more about deer hunting – and more specifically, buck behavior – it has become clear that it’s imperative to determine where bucks are bedding and feeding.
Once you have an idea of where they are bedding and feeding, set up your trail cameras on routes that deer take to and from these areas until you begin to get daylight pictures of bucks.
Getting these pictures may be easier if you hunt near agriculture such as corn, soybeans, sorghum, etc. than if you are hunting large stands of timber or hardwoods.
If you only hunt large forested areas, then you might want to focus on open areas in the timber that have a lot of previous deer sign.
Another thing to focus on in these types of forested areas is browse pressure on native vegetation. For example, if you look closely, you may be able to see the tops of some of the plants and vegetation that have been nipped off. If there is too much browse pressure, then you might need to use a supplemental food source or deer mineral until deer season (if it is legal in your area).
Set up cameras near scrapes
Another way to get great early season bucks on camera is to get trailcam pictures near mock scrapes or active scrapes from last season. I look for open areas or trails that might have a brushy limb or vine hanging over bare ground or low vegetation.
I’ve got some great video of a target buck tending a scrape and chasing another 3-year-old buck away from it. These are the types of areas I will key in on and look for locations to put deer stands in hopes of taking a successful shot on a mature whitetail.
Then, I might set up a scrape dripper in hopes of increasing the buck activity in that location. If the bucks and does are already using a scrape now they will more than likely continue to use it during the season.
I have seen as many as 20 open scrapes on a 300 yd trail that led from bedding to food. Some bucks will travel up to three square miles for a safe food source. The bucks on that particular scrape line were bedding 1,000 yards away and traveling almost every night to and from that food source to bed.
If you want to your trailcam strategy to yield the best intel possible, you need to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and do some scouting off the road. Some of the best sign and bedding areas are off the road a good bit, but may be closer than you think.
I have cut through 10 yards of thick brush and vegetation off a main trail and all of the sudden, boom… a big buck travel corridor! If you find water or a swamp, even better. Now you have a funnel, bedding, and a water source.
Deer are edge creatures, so if you find where the terrain transitions from hard woods or pines to swamp or thickets, then you should find good sign, or at least some type of deer trail.
When I’m scouting, I look for droppings, tracks and old rubs. Once you practice looking for these long enough, you will begin to get an eye for a good place to hunt or hang a trail camera.
If you hunt swamps like I do in the South, then you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of water. But, deer like to bed in swampy areas because it is cooler, and they can detect predators farther away.
A lot of times, aerial pictures taken when there is still foliage on the trees makes it impossible to see these deer trails coming in and out of a swampy area. So, because pines and hardwoods hold their foliage longer, pictures taken during Winter or before Spring green-up will show transition areas better.
If you can only find does, keep looking, because the bucks will be nearby within a couple hundred yards.
Water, funnels and fences
Another way to use aerial maps to hang trail cameras is to look for tree lines and natural funnels.
Agriculture, fence lines, and water all make great natural funnels for deer to travel. Deer do not feel as comfortable going across an open field, through water, or over a tall fence.
While deer can jump over or go under just about anything, they will default to openings in fence lines.
When it comes to water, I have seen deer chase through two feet of swamp water, but they would much rather go around it if they can.
Field Edges and corners
Field edges and corners are also great places to hang trail cameras.
Deer will come out of just about anywhere if you have a good stand of bedding area along a field, but for some reason, they seem to prefer coming out of the corners.
On one of my hunting properties, there is a corner of a field that also has a water source that deer will skirt around. This area makes for an awesome trail camera spot. In one pre-season, I have gotten pictures of 10 different bucks coming back to bed.
If you are having trouble getting daylight pictures of bucks, try glassing the field and see where they are coming out at in the afternoon.
I have also seen bucks come out of the middle of a strip of trees off a field. It all just depends on where they are bedding, and you will not know that unless you watch where they come out at in the afternoon or go back to in the morning.
If baiting is not legal in your area, cellular cameras are a great option if you do not want to intrude on the area once it is set up. There are certainly huge advantages to not disturbing or leaving unnecessary scent in the area you are hoping to hunt.
Cell cameras allow you to wait until you see the buck you want using the area before going in for the kill.
If you are like most people, you probably do not have booners running around and may not necessarily care about making the record books.
I typically run three cell cameras and eight regular cameras. I use my cell cameras mainly to tell me when it is time to go refill the feed. In my opinion, you can pattern deer just as well with standard trail cameras.
You should, however, be more careful when you check the regular trails cameras. Typically, I like to wait until around noon to check my trail cams, or I check them late at night after I know deer are already in the field feeding.
I shot my biggest buck in 2019 after using a regular trail camera. I noticed he was coming in the second day after I put out corn and deer lure, and I was able to take him just as planned.
How to set up the trail camera | Best practices
When I set up a new trail camera, I mount it to a sturdy tree, at a height of about 3 feet off the ground. Or, I will set it up at a height where it can cover the most field of view.
I make sure to clear vegetation and try and get a northern camera direction unless it has a lot of overhanging foliage or forest canopy to shield the sun. Facing the trailcam East or West can cause the sunlight to interfere with the pictures as well as producing false triggers that result in unwanted pictures.
Mounting Tip: you can use is using your smart phone camera and flipping it to selfie mode. Put the back of your phone on the trail camera, and you can get a good idea of what your camera will be seeing.
I also hang cameras parallel to the trail to catch the movement as well.
You do not want to face the camera directly across the trail or you will end up getting pictures of just tails or brow tines.
As deer season gets closer, you can also use video determine the direction the bucks are traveling to the bait sites or how they are using travel corridors. (when using still shots only, it can be hard to tell which directing deer are moving).
If you are trying to save your trail camera’s battery, I would set it to a three-picture burst and then switch to video when the season starts.
The Valkyrie heads are machined out of a single chunk of S7 tool steel. that is brought to a Rockwell hardness of 58 to 60 which is really hard.
Now, it’s important that you don’t compare that to 58 to 60 in a stainless steel, because with an S7 tool steel like this, the impact resistance is many times greater than that of stainless steel.
So, you are getting the benefit of a really hard edge and really hard blade combined with really tough impact resistance as well.
The Valkyrie is a 3-blade design. The cutting diameter is relatively low at 1 inch. But, with 3 blades, you are getting an inch-and-a-half of total cut which is a lot more than most 2-blade heads.
The overall purpose of the Valkyrie design is to maximize penetration. And that’s why this “swept” design in the short Jag head, and in the regular-sized Jagger.
The blades of the Valkyrie heads are also completely coated with a Cerakote ceramic finish. This aids in resistance to the elements, which a tool steel typically does not have. It also provides a less of a glare and it aids in penetration, to give it a bit more smoothness through bone, tissue and hide.
For this test, I’m used my Bowtech SR6 set at 72 pounds and I’m using the whole Valkyrie system pictured below. It comes with VAP arrows 0.166 diameter and with their titanium centerpin and the broadhead. The arrows even have their own fletching.
I was very eager to test these heads. They looked like they would penetrate well. They also spun very true and looked and felt very sharp. I also wanted to test for long-range flight, edge retention, penetration and durability. So let’s get to the results…
To test the sharpness of the Valkyrie Jagger, I examined its ability to cut paper not only out of the box, but also after up to five strokes of the arrow shaft against the blade edge.
And, I will note too that it’s fairly easy to sharpen. When I’m sharpening it, I use a paper wheel. You can use whatever you want or you can just mail it back in. They actually sharpen them or will even repair them if they need repair… all for free. ($10 shipping and handling to send the head in).
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) are the two biggest diseases that can impact your deer herd, but more specifically, your mature bucks.
If you have never heard of either one, let me give you a quick summary.
EHD | The Specifics
EHD is in the same group of viruses as Bluetongue (BT) Virus and because clinical symptoms are similar between the two, they are generally clumped together and called Hemorrhagic Disease.
These types of viruses are transmitted by a biting midge, usually in late Summer or early Fall but can also occur in the Springtime.
Clinical symptoms are highly variable. Initial symptoms include a feverish state where some animals can lose their fear of humans. There was a video of a buck that went viral because it stumbled through a burning campfire on its way to drowning itself in a river, all while people stood around wondering what the heck was going on.
Deer with EHD may die within 1-3 days after getting bitten if they have no immunity to the strain of virus that has infected them.
As deer attempt to relieve their fever, they often become dehydrated and will be found near water.
Once a hard frost hits the landscape, the threat of further EHD outbreaks is complete for that growing season, but as soon as midges come back in the spring there is a chance for further outbreaks.
CWD | The Specifics
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), on the other hand, is caused by a protein that changes its shape to a non-functional version. This prion protein normally resides all over the body, but is concentrated in the lymphatic system, brain and spinal tissues.
Infected deer show no clinical symptoms for up to 18 months but are capable of spreading prions even before they show any outward sign of illness.
In the later stages of the disease, animals lose coordination and become lame. They also lose their appetite and fear of humans. They are typically found with dropping ears and head in a lower position.
CWD has gotten a lot of press lately because of the concern to potentially impact humans, whereas EHD poses no direct threat to humans.
Notice how I said ‘potentially’ impact? That’s because there’s currently no evidence that it will impact humans, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
CWD is in a group of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies and in that same group of diseases is one that infects humans, called Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD).
A variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) can be acquired by eating meat from cattle infected with a similar disease called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease.
The fear is that one day humans will someday be susceptible to CWD, even though that day has yet to come. That’s because all animals carry some type of prion protein, but a major difference is that the human prion protein has slightly different amino acid structure than deer.
There has also been recent concern that CWD can be transmitted to macaque monkeys, which are genetically much more similar to humans, but that information has yet to be published in scientific literature.
What causes the normal prion protein to change into the mis-shaped disease state remains uncertain, although there are many theories about how this could happen.
EHD Compared to CWD
The take home point is that both EHD and CWD can impact deer, but EHD is less of a long-term concern with your deer herd, because the more a deer herd is exposed, the more immunity it can build up.
CWD, on the other hand, progressively gets worse until mature bucks are almost impossible to grow on the landscape because they become infected and die before they can reach the older age classes.
This phenomenon is rare because CWD prevalence is low across most of the range of white-tailed deer, but can occur in certain areas where the prevalence is above 50%. That means the chance of a buck having CWD would be the same as flipping a coin to heads, and if you see a buck older than 3 years old in that area, they are more and more likely to contract it and die before reaching 6 years old.
This is because mature bucks move about the landscape more often than females, especially during the breeding season.
Bucks also mutually groom each other in bachelor groups during the summer months, so they have more opportunity to spread the disease than female groups, which tend to keep a more consistent home range throughout their lifetime.
Here is a table to explain the differences between EHD and CWD:
Mis-shaped prion protein
Mortality when contracted:
Duration of clinical illness:
24 hrs to several weeks
18-24 months, followed by death
Long-term herd effect:
Build up Immunity, herd rebounds
Unknown, but might lower herd productivity if prevalence gets too high. Mature males harder to grow.
If you have a pond edge, plant vegetation that can withstand moist soil right up the edge of the water.
Spread quick growing seeds like rye grain on areas of a creek bottom that have been exposed to flooding and try to reduce the amount of mud exposed.
Fogging for insects around ponds on a still morning may also reduce adult populations thus limiting the spread of disease.
You can also keep your herd healthy by supplemental feeding and using minerals. Ani-Logics Outdoors has produced a health additive for their feed and minerals that can increase immune system function. When the immune system is firing on all cylinders, the deer that gets bitten by an infected midge has an increased chance of survival. Those that are in poor bodily condition when bitten by the midge have a much higher chance of dying.
How To Limit CWD
As for CWD, the best thing you can do to prevent the spread is not to move the carcass of deer harvested in a CWD area. Also, dispose of the remains in a state approved landfill or incinerator.
If you harvest a trophy buck in a CWD area, make sure the taxidermist you use is local, and make sure they properly dispose of the brain and spinal cord tissue without putting it back on the landscape.
If everyone hunting in a CWD area removed all the CWD positive carcasses off the landscape, prevalence would remain low enough that no population level concerns would ever occur. There would be no way to eliminate the amount of prion proteins already deposited on the landscape, but at least we wouldn’t be adding more fuel to the CWD fire by always putting more diseased prions in the woods.
If you hunt in an area that is not known to have CWD, you should still get your deer tested because deer have been known to make very long excursions outside of their normal range.
Here in Minnesota, the DNR recently tracked a collared deer that made a 75-mile one-way trek. Thankfully it was not CWD positive at the time, but if one deer did it, that means other can as well.
Best of luck in having a healthy deer herd!
*deer skull article photo used by permission from Brad Alan