post-season Intel

Of all the trail camera photos I get each year, the ones that get me most excited are the ones I gather in the dead of winter after deer season has closed. Why? Because the bucks I get on camera now are the bucks I’ll be hunting next fall, and they’re utilizing the areas I hunt at a time of year when they are most wary.

The Inventory

Where legal, I love to place cameras over mineral sites in the summer. Mineral stations get plenty of attention from bucks, and they allow me to see what bucks are hanging around.

That said, my most accurate indication of where bucks will be roaming around during the best parts of deer season are photos captured after deer season closes. After weeks of intense hunting pressure, deer will settle into areas where they feel safe. Any deer that has survived more than a season or two in a heavily hunted state is alive because he’s found an area of safety. Once he’s identified a safe area, that buck will spend the majority of his life there.

Winter-time images tell me a buck has set up shop in an area that I hunt and gives me a jumpstart on figuring out his patterns.

The Bedding Factor

Once deer season ends, I conduct a thorough scouting foray in the areas I hunt, and I start with the primary bedding cover. I only enter those areas twice a year — once after the season closes to visually scout and to hang trail cameras and again during spring turkey season to retrieve the SD cards.

The vast majority of the mature bucks I’ve tagged in my home state of Michigan were captured on those over-winter cameras near bedding cover. And those bucks were subsequently killed while hunting patterns around that bedding cover.

Mess with that cover during the summer or fall and odds are good you’ll change that deer’s pattern of use. A quick scout and camera session in the winter and spring greatly reduces the impact.

The Sheds

There’s an ulterior motive for running winter-time cameras — shed hunting. Living in Michigan, where we tag a high percentage of all antlered bucks each season, I’m not exactly rolling in piles of shed antlers each spring. But my use of cameras has greatly increased my odds of finding a few castoffs.

I place my cameras over food plots and primary food sources to keep track of bucks. Once those deer start showing up without headgear, I know it’s time to start searching and I know the general areas where to look. —Tony Hansen

About the Author: Tony Hansen manages for and hunts mature whitetails in his home state of Michigan, where sweating the details is the only way to succeed. When not hunting his own properties, he can be found pursuing deer on public land throughout the whitetail’s range. Tony’s writings have appeared in Outdoor Life, Traditional Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, and Bowhunter.