What's on the Neighbor's Trail Camera?

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Last fall, Michelle killed her biggest buck ever on our own 33 acre farm. It’s a spot we bought a couple springs ago after shopping and saving for some time. In the grand American tradition, it’ll keep us in debt for years to come. But in the meantime, we’ve cleared brush for food plots, hung stands in the right places, established mineral and bait sites and, most importantly, hunted it very carefully.

I wrote a blog about Michelle’s buck, and when her photo was shared on the Realtree Facebook page, the predictable herd of rednecks chimed in. I told Michelle, “Baby, you’ve made the big-time. You shot a 125-inch deer on 30 acres, and people are accusing you of hunting high fences.”

Not that anyone could’ve spoiled her good mood anyhow.

I told Michelle, “Baby, you’ve made the big-time. You shot a 125-inch deer on 30 acres, and people are accusing you of hunting high fences.”

Fast-forward to the other day. I was out at the farm, enjoying another day in the Polar Vortex, and patterning my turkey gun. A guy pulled up in a pickup truck and introduced himself. I’d heard his name before, but had never met him. All this time, he’d been our neighbor. And he’s a serious bowhunter.

He said, “I’ve got a cold beer in my cooler.”

I cast him a shrewd glance. “I have two lawn chairs.”

And so the table was set for an hour and a half’s worth of deer talk.

I told him about Michelle’s buck, and how he’d appeared on our trail cameras at Halloween, and how I’d gotten some great photos of him, but lost them when I accidentally formatted the wrong SD card. When I told my neighbor about the buck’s double G2, I saw him cringe just a bit, and then smile. He pulled up a trail camera picture on his phone of Michelle’s buck eating in a pile of pears, one eye swollen shut from where he got nailed by a hornet. “We watched him all summer long. Must have a thousand pictures of him. Say he showed up at Halloween? That’s when I lost him.”

We talked about other deer, too. I was shocked he’d never seen “Captain Hook,” a 2 1/2-year-old buck with a long hook protruding from one of his bases. We must’ve gotten 500 pictures of that deer over the summer, and seen him in person, in bow range, half a dozen times. Often, he seemed to be coming from my neighbor – and yet, he’d never seen the deer.

He’d also never seen the young but heavy 8-pointer we found dead on our place the first week of October. That buck was another regular on our cameras – often running with Captain Hook in his late summer bachelor days. Back in the fall, if you’d asked me, I would’ve told you he was bedding over on the neighbor's place.

The takeaways here are fascinating to me. You’ve got two groups of serious, trail-camera-addicted deer hunters monitoring food sources that are within a few hundred yards of one another. Michelle’s buck was a “regular” on their place all year. We never saw him until the rut. At the same time, we had some unmistakable, brazen young bucks that showed up in all corners of our place, regular as the sunrise, for weeks. And yet, my neighbor had never seen them. You might think that you know a buck’s habits, day and night. Chances are, for at least some parts of the puzzle, you’re wrong.

I’ve dealt with bad neighbors before. And I’ve known hunters who literally planned their season’s strategy around what the neighbors might be doing. But in this case, it seems Michelle and I have lucked out with some good guys next door. He e-mailed me a pile of trail camera photos that night so Michelle could have them, along with a note congratulating her for getting that buck.

Seems our favorite hunting spot is getting better all the time.  

For more on neighbors, read, Deer Hunters: We're Killing Ourselves.