How to Use a Trail Camera Timeline to Pattern Mature Bucks

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Have You Ever Tried This Scouting Tactic?

The author's 170-inch velvet Kentucky 8-pointer from the 2018 season. (Josh Honeycutt photo)

Trail cameras have revolutionized the way we scout for white-tailed deer. Being able to scout when you aren’t afield is invaluable. They’ve truly changed deer hunting and done so for the better. They’ve energized deer hunting and gave it a shot in the arm during a time when hunter numbers are declining.

As for tactics, there are many ways we can utilize cameras. But one of my favorite trail camera tactics is a long-term one. For those of you who have trail camera history with a deer that spans multiple seasons, or if you have a good number of trail camera images of a specific target buck in one season, using a trail camera timeline to pattern a mature buck is super effective. Using this method to profile specific deer is a solid way to learn their bedding and feeding preferences.

If you have a specific target buck and a pile of trail camera images, go through them one by one and plot them on an aerial map. Pull each daylight photo (and also those close to legal shooting light — they are still informative). Then plot the location that photo was taken on an aerial map (paper or digital). Include the date, time, wind direction and direction of travel for each photo. Plot this information for every image you have. Doing this will help paint a picture of where that deer is bedding, feeding, watering and traveling to get to each of those things.

Date and time are most important because they show when the deer is moving through there — morning vs. evening, or both. Direction of travel is crucial because the orientation of the deer’s body in the first and last picture in each daylight series will show you where it’s coming from and where it’s going to — hinting at its bedding location. Lastly, noting the wind direction is helpful, because over time, you’ll likely notice the deer feels most comfortable moving in given areas with certain wind directions. And those are the winds you need to hunt those spost on — even if it’s a just-off wind for you. That’s how you see mature bucks during daylight.

It really opens your eyes once you have all of this information mapped out in front of you. It shows you things you didn’t see before — especially if you run multiple trail cameras on a property and get the same deer on multiple cameras in a 24-hour period.

I used this method to help close the gap on the 170-inch velvet buck I recently harvested in my home state of Kentucky. I used a trail camera timeline both from last year's trail camera photos (when I first started capturing trail camera images of the deer) and this year's (both from the summer and first few days of the season). It proved to be the best decision I made when planning the hunt for this deer. And I’ll be forever grateful that I implemented the trail camera timeline tactic.

Use this method to dial in on that big buck you’ve been after. It might just be what it takes to take that deer you’ve been after.

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