The mad dash for velvet pictures has begun. Hunters are hanging cameras all over the place, excited to catch a glimpse of some epic bucks before they vanish. Summer scouting and camera work have two main reasons for the frenzy. Check out this podcast for some trail camera strategies!
One is to collect a census of bucks in the area. The number of bucks isn’t that important now, but what matters is knowing if bucks use a particular spot. When hanging from a saddle, prior knowledge of deer activity is the best confidence booster anyone can find.
The second reason for the velvet dash is that the burnout felt from last year’s season has faded, and there’s a drive to restart the cycle. The hunting crowd is chomping to get back at it, and some are counting the days until next season. Even as I write this post, a friend reminded me there are less than 100 days until the early Pennsylvania opener.
The beauty of summer velvet is that it scratches the cabin fever itch. But some hunters argue that little can be learned and applied from a group of velvet bucks. Those same bucks will break up and soon spread across a landscape. So how can summer scouting and velvet pictures benefit a hunter in October or November?
Most bucks, even mature ones, often follow a daily summer pattern. Many of those patterns dissolve as summer comes to an end. Linking known fall to summer traits is useful for patterning home body bucks. You’ll decode those patterns by taking notice of a few small clues from summer and painting them into a fall scene.
One of the top warm-weather food sources is soybeans. Glassing fields or checking cameras around their edges is probably unmatched. But deer tend to disperse when soybeans begin to yellow. Around that time, beans mature, and white oak acorns start falling. The falling acorns create a change in deer patterns and habits.
The best way to use summer food sources is to hunt them while they remain pleasing to a deer’s taste. The first two weeks of a season are probably the best for killing a buck on an early-season food patterns.
If your scouting and hunting time is limited, don’t hang your hat on a single spot. Maybe you once saw a buck using an early-season food source. But that doesn’t doesn’t mean he will be there again next year. Give your effort the chance your time can afford but, don’t be afraid to keep moving when the action dries up! If you swore that buck would stay close by, but you were dead wrong, admit it. Then work hard to find that son of a gun!
Here we’ll use the term “full-range location” to describe a better option for hunting food sources. Compare it to people that like to shop at strip malls. They enjoy a variety of choices from grocery shops to sporting goods and even hardware stores.
Whitetails enjoy the same habits. The more options and habitat edges they can find in one spot, the more likely they will use the area into the fall months. If those soybeans have a crisscrossed pattern of fence rows, creek crossings close by, and adjacent woody browse, you might have a spot you could hunt through an entire season.
Think scrapes only heat up during the middle to end of October? Put a camera on one and find out! Most scrape action will occur during the last weeks of October and into the rut. But the science of whitetails is that buck movement continues to increase through the summer months. As fall closes in on the rut movement gets even more intense.
A random scrape in the middle of the woods probably won’t help you catch movement all-year long. Make thoughtful efforts to find what I refer to as “pot sweeteners.”
Pot sweeteners are the same idea as a free dessert paired with a restaurant’s special of the day. Some of the best are isolated water sources like a mountain spring water hole. Another is a scrape tucked into the thickest cover. Hang a camera in one of those places, or better yet, a blend of both. You’ll be surprised that they get action through all phases of the year and at all times of the day.
Bedding is tricky because the areas that bucks use during daylight differ from summer to fall. If your cameras are near perennial foliage that provides good bedding cover, you may see an influx of pictures. As that cover begins to die off, so will a buck’s desire to bed in those places.
Hanging cameras in summer cover is good for fun velvet season and can help build an inventory of bucks. But with limited time, it’s better to stick to distinct bedding sites. That way, you can create a hunting plan to carry you through a whole fall.
The bed hunting style is no easy task. It’s better to view bedding areas through a long-term lens. Hang cameras in spots you believe to be used during both summer and fall. Learn from the patterns you’ll find over 2-3 years. While collecting intel, throwing a hunt or two at those sites won’t hurt. You might even hit it right and get lucky!
Tying it Together
The best way to understand a fall to summer pattern is to understand a fish using cover in a lake. As shallow-water plants grow in the spring, bass use those spots more often. But even when there is less aquatic plant life, a fallen tree will hold fish at all times of year.
Let’s say a fish uses a grassy weed edge in July. Poking into the weeds is a branchy tree that leads to the shoreline. You will likely find bass staged on that tree in the cold early spring months. As the grass grows and attracts baitfish, bass will head for the fresh cover. Still, they will sometimes use that tree as their home base. Fall begins, and that bass will be pushed back to the tree as cover as the grass dies off.
The idea is to follow the cover and find the bedding. Bucks will take advantage of new cover. They will stick close to secure locations they know best. Much like the bass that stays close to its home base tree.
The way bass use a lake can be far more detailed than I’ve described. Other factors include where the forage is staging and what depth the fish will prefer to be. Fish go where the bait is, so bass will follow bluegills to a cool creek mouth in late summer. More oxygen is there, and it’s kind of like a conveyor belt of food.
The forage seeking is the same as the soybean topic. Once the white oaks are falling, bucks will change course. But did you find a soybean field next to a great patch of white oaks on that new farm? That info could tell you how far you’ll need to go to find that buck again.
I think you get the gist of my bass analogies. Don’t solely respond to the velvet pictures you get this summer. Determine the intel that leads you to an overlapping pattern. But ultimately, you might not need to venture far from what you’ve found during velvet to be in the money!