Post-season deer surveys can bring a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. The unknowns surrounding which deer survived hunting season and which deer didn’t can create immeasurable curiosity. Especially when you have intimate knowledge surrounding a particular buck.
When a hit list buck disappears for a few months it can create a mental tug-of-war between hoping for the best-case scenario and sorting through the worst. Yet, most hunters would agree that little compares to seeing that buck you thought was gone, suddenly appear in a post season trail camera photo – it’s as if he has come back from the dead.
Now that bucks are in their home winter ranges and deer are concentrating on food sources, post season is the time to strategically place trail cameras before bucks drop their antlers. According to Lindsay Thomas Jr., editor of Quality Whitetails and Director of Communications for the QDMA, “A trail-camera survey – put simply – is the most powerful herd monitoring tool you can use that doesn’t require the assistance of a professional wildlife biologist. On your own, you can estimate deer density, sex ratio, buck age structure, fawn recruitment and more – tons of information that will guide you in achieving Quality Deer Management success where you hunt.”
Here are a few simple tips to help you conduct a post season deer survey.
1. Locate Prime Food Sources
Much like pre-season where food was the ‘go-to’ for locating mature bucks, similar tactics are used when conducting a post season survey. With colder temperatures, snow accumulation and depleted testosterone, mature bucks are in survival mode and are driven by appetite.
If baiting isn’t an option then choose a survey site based upon prime food sources. These can include food plots, bean stubble, cut corn, winter wheat, or mast crops in areas where row crops are not an option. If hunting near residential areas, locate places where the snow has less chance of accumulation and deer are feeding on remnants of green—you might be surprised what you’ll find there.
Residential lawns that were irrigated late into the fall often attract deer and can offer a unique late season food source. Deer are known to resort to unlikely places when trying to fulfill a winter appetite. So, depending on where you hunt, think outside the box when it comes to food sources.
2. Use Bait Or An Attractant
Depending on where you reside, baiting or supplementing a pre-existing food source may not be an option. If baiting is legal in your state, it is the recommended way to conduct a post season deer survey. Shelled corn can be used as the preferred bait or attractant, but there are other available options from manufacturers of specialized deer feed.
If you prefer not to bait, you can supplement a pre-existing food source with some form of attractant. Options could include attractants such as Big & J’s BB2 or other mineral supplements that are similar.
One of our favorite tactics for post season deer surveys is to incorporate some form of generic goat feed into the bait or around the bait site. This type of feed is usually laced with molasses and serves as an attractant due to its strong odor. Although it is used sparingly and not used as primary bait, it serves to draw deer from a considerable distance. Adding some form of attractant will quickly draw deer to the location you wish to photograph for your survey.
3. Strategically Place Cameras
According to the QDMA, one camera can sufficiently survey 100 acres if baited properly. If conducting a survey using a pre-existing food plot or other type of food source, placing additional cameras would be recommended.
When planning where to hang your trail camera and establish your survey site, strategically locate the best possible location by using terrain features, travel corridors and bedding areas. Take the time to study topographical maps so as to adequately execute a plan of action based upon known deer movements and habitat.
In a post season deer survey, you want to be able to adequately judge the age and maturity of the bucks in your photographs. Over the years we have found that when baiting, if a mature buck does not have adequate cover or feels vulnerable, you may only catch a slight glimpse of him. When conducting a post season survey, it is best to locate your camera, bait or attractant in an area that is thick enough to provide a sense of security for a mature buck.
4. Orient Camera And Remove Obstructions
Depending on the camera’s field of view, hang your trail camera approximately 12-15 feet from the food source. If hanging it over bait or an attractant, make sure the bait is centered in the camera frame. When locating your camera near a pre-existing food source, locate the camera where you are most likely to photograph deer entering or exiting the area. If you are hanging a camera near a heavy traffic area, such as a game trail, mount the trail camera at a 45-degree angle to the trail. This will provide a wider field of view and allow more opportunities to catch deer moving to and from the area.
Whether overexposed, not enough exposure, too much flash, not enough flash, or some obstruction in front of the camera, few things are more frustrating than a photo of a mature buck that didn’t turn out well. The first step in avoiding this kind of disappointment is to make sure your camera is oriented North when fastening it to the tree or camera mount.
After mounting your camera northward over the bait, use a pair of lopers, pruners or a saw to clear away limbs and undergrowth. Make sure to check for low hanging limbs or small stalks of grass that can trigger a trail camera on windy days. Taking the time to make sure your camera is set up correctly will pay big dividends.
5. Survey And Dream Of Next Season
Statistics show that monitoring an individual bait site for 15 days can provide adequate deer survey results for 100 acre plots. More time may be required if monitoring a food plot or traffic areas to and from a food source. After the necessary time has expired, collect your images and collate the data by reviewing your trail camera photos. This will allow you to take a count of what bucks, does, yearlings and fawns you have on your property.
Remember to use adequate scent control and if the weather is bitter cold, replace your batteries as needed. If you have large numbers of deer around your survey site, use suitable SD cards with adequate memory.
Once you have run the survey, here is a helpful article and computation form provided by the QDMA that can help you calculate your buck to doe ratios.
Our friend Cody Altizer has also shared some perspectives on conducting a post season survey. You can find that information by clicking here. Using Trail Cameras for Late Season Inventory
You may also want to consider organizing or sharing your trail camera photos by using the services provided by Deer Lab. Deer Lab is a trail camera photo management platform that allows you to store and filter photos based upon weather, moon phase, barometric pressure, wind direction and so forth. This platform also enables you to sort statistics by individual deer giving you an overview of what the wind, moon or temperature was like when a certain deer showed up.
Have fun conducting your survey and if you have any other deer survey tips, please feel free to share them with us.