- Chris Campanelli
No Big Bucks on Camera? Don't Fret
Whitetail deer hunters across the United States are pulling SD cards from their trail cameras. Many of those hunters anticipate checking their SD cards and scrolling through trail camera pictures like a kid on Christmas morning. Coming across a big velvet buck in the summer is a joyous occasion. It's what fuels a lot of trail cam fanatics.
Unfortunately for many hunters out there, anticipation quickly fades into disgust as they fail to photograph a single "shooter" buck. Maybe you failed to capture a single buck whatsoever for the entire summer. It can be easy to lose your cool and call the season a failure before it ever starts, but we're here to tell you to hold those horses. All is definitely not lost.
To understand why you shouldn't fret over a dry summer of buck activity, we have to discuss summer and fall ranges. We have to realize that whitetail deer often have summer and fall ranges. Places where they spend their time in the summer and places where they spend more time in the fall. These summer and fall ranges often differ incredibly in location.
Meaning that your buddy a couple of miles away who is bragging about capturing giants on camera all summer long could be eating his words in October or November.
Now, we should start by saying that a lot of big deer and average whitetails in between will see very little discrepancy between their summer and fall range. A lot of big bucks will call one farm home and become hermits. At the same time, a lot of big bucks like to venture out. We're talking about significant distances.
It's all about finding the best available food sources and habitat per a given period in the year. Food and habitat will dictate where the deer are going to be. Plain and simple. As you can probably imagine, food and habitat hot-spots will vary greatly from summer to fall. Explaining why we see hunters who never obtain a photo of a big buck in the summer harvest that same deer in the fall.
Deer are simply following the food and habitat. Sometimes they have to travel miles, other times they don't have to travel at all.
Think about it. What would a mature whitetail deer be looking for in the fall? I'm thinking along the lines of food and habitat. In the fall, big deer are looking for grain sources like soybeans and corn. Maybe some food plot varieties like clover in the early-season or brassicas or tubers in the later portions of the hunting season. They are packing on weight, beginning to look for does, and seeking thick cover as the cool winds begin to prevail.
Property-A may have a gigantic soybean field and plenty of food plots to go along with solid thermal cover. The hunter on Property-A may be sitting pretty once he takes the stand in the fall. However, he may not have been sitting so pretty back in the summertime.
His neighbor on Property-B about 5 miles down the road happens to have old-growth timber with a canopy that can shade deer from the hot summer sun. He also has a ton of native browse and adequate water sources. It makes sense that deer would prefer that shady, breezy, and green property over the thick and tight cover of Property-A.
I hope that little hypothetical scenario did something to illustrate the point of this article for you. I'm basically saying that different properties can offer different things to deer depending on the season. Some places offer the perfect mix of summer perks, while others offer a perfect mix of perks for the fall.
There are certainly other factors in play when it comes to a lack of summer buck pictures, but summer and fall ranges are a key player. It's naive to think that a whitetail deer will sit in the same bed for 365 days. Deer are instinctive geniuses that will seek out the best food and habitat. Food and habitat obviously change seasonally.
In the world of deer hunting and deer management, I think that we can get a little carried away with what we believe is ideal whitetail habitat. We preach the importance of low-to-the-ground thermal cover, plentiful native browse and allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor. That is all good and grand, but the preferences of a whitetail change per the season.
Thick cover may only hold deer during the cool-season, while shady and open areas may hold deer when the temperatures soar.
In an ideal world, we would all have do-it-all hunting spots. Places that hold deer whether it's sunny and hot or cloudy and cold. We just don't live in an ideal world, so it's important to keep your cool and avoid panicking too early.
I love snapping epic trail camera pictures as much as anyone, but hunting and the harvest are the ultimate goals in our sport. It's beyond frustrating to get blanked in the moment when it comes to big bucks on camera, but I would trade it for a crack at the same buck a few months later. When I am actually on stand with my bow in hand.
That's just me.
Remember, every deer is different. Every region of our great nation is different. There is no blanket rule involved. Two 4.5 year-old bucks in the exact same square mile can have vastly different tendencies. One buck's summer and fall range may fit in a phone booth, while the other buck is a true nomad.
The only telltale for a given property is experience. Cameras on the ground for several years and eyes on deer from the treestand or blind. We can infer as to whether a property will be best for summer or fall based on the habitat, but nothing tells the story like actual deer movement.
I have personally experienced awful summer trail camera seasons only to be covered up with several shooter bucks during the actual hunting season. Mature bucks that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Why? Well, the property that I hunt houses a ton of does and sports solid fall and winter food sources.
If I wouldn't have learned from experience or connected the dots on summer and fall ranges, I may have thrown in the towel on chasing big bucks on that property.
The moral of the story is to stick after it, connect those dots on your given piece of ground, and strategize accordingly. Summer and fall ranges are a very real and important thing, and I believe that those ranges can explain why some of us get blanked in the summertime.
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