TRAIL CAMERAS: Where are the best setups in the summer months & why?

Updated: Apr 2

Southern Iowa is composed of agricultural land (tillable dirt), pasture, river/creek bottoms, swamps, CRP/brush, and hardwoods. Every farm that we have has as least two of these, if not three of these characteristics. It is diverse. It has taken me a long time to understand land and how whitetails use it for their benefit: feeding, bedding, sanctuary, and travel to/from. The only way that I can find mature bucks in the summer months is to get my trail cameras out, usually accompanied by mineral (Rackology LLC - check them out!) through the month of July (coming out or being removed in August).


For this post, I wanted to try and explain (if even possible) how to pick the right setup for your farm to set out and monitor deer movement with your trail cameras. I am using aerial maps from farms that I have personally hunted for this post. Take a look at my preferred methods and ideology. Let me know your thoughts afterwards. Thanks guys!


FARM SETUP #1 - "PIT STOP OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD"

(North is the top of the photo)

This farm is between 160 acres in southern Iowa. The woods are composed of hardwoods like walnut & various types of oak along with the occasional cedar patch (less than 1 acre in size), hedge apple tree and locust tree. It is relatively flat except for the NE quarter which starts to slope down to the north and northeast. There are numerous drain creeks that start on the south in the southernmost tips of the fingers and they all run north eventually coming together as one creek near the property line (flowing North as it is going downhill that direction). The surround tillable dirt on this farm is either 100% corn or 100% beans. For reference, we will say soybeans. Neighbors have tillable as well, same year rotation so beans, and the farm to the ENE has overgrown pasture but not tall enough for year-round bedding (just green summer months).


What is the most logical fact that you can come up with regarding this farm and where you think deer can travel to/from?...


... I would say the farm is like a "pit stop" in the neighborhood as deer come down from the north which is a big river bottom running primarily east & west, or from the east and west occasionally in a circular rotation through the neighborhood (either clockwise or counterclockwise), and usually go back up to the north/northeast across the fence while still in the timber or close to it. So, they come in and head out in almost the same general direction. The aerial photo above doesn't show this, but there is ZERO habitat to the south of our farm... straight tillable acres, probably 1000 acres or so at a minimum.


If you had three trail cameras to use on this farm, where would you put them and why?

1) I know that the deer are heading to the north/northeast, so I want to see what deer are leaving my property on a specific side of the creek that is running from my farm to the neighbors. This also means they could browse and feed in/along the crop fields on the east half of the farm (especially there northern/lower edge). This will also allow me to compare and contrast with the bucks I get down at #3 that reached the far southern end of our woods.


2) Like #1, except we are on the other side of the creek that houses more timber area. This will allow us to compare with #3 bucks captured as well. With #2 and #1, we are splitting the creek to figure out pinpointed travel patterns & trails.


3) Without repeating myself on the "pit stop" ideology, this is the back corner booth. Bucks can bed here while still having a North wind blow their scent into the fields to the S, while smelling other bucks coming into the farm from the north. I want to know what bucks I capture here are also heading north to my other two camera traps. Will they scoot out to the neighbors to the west or the east, a method without cover and rather danger with open tillable ground?


What actually happened on this farm pertaining to this camera setup, and how did you do hunting the farm during the bow season?


We had stands setup on this farm to accommodate the movement, but it actually shifted by the end of the pre-rut and the start of the rut. The trails and deer movement showed a laid-back pattern (not straight), but as the bucks started pushing does hard & chasing, the trails got a lot straighter. We had a shot a buck and wounded him (unfortunately) by the #3 camera spot. We found out deer were actually bedding down here more frequently during the rut than in the summer months. We also killed a great buck between the #1 and #2 camera on the west side of the creek as he was heading north. So, our theory worked out and proved to us that we needed to get aggressive with the stands in consideration of the increased frequency and speed of the deer movement into and out of the farm. We also saw a few different 160"+ bucks meandering throughout the hardwoods in the pre-rut, which was all throughout the timber and spontaneously on the field edges... which reminded me of a bird dog zigzagging through the grasses and the fields. Overall, it was successful, and our theory panned out just as we had hoped. Anything better would have been a blessing.


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FARM SETUP #2 - "HUNT AT THE DINNER TABLE"

(North is the top of the photo)

The yellow areas on the maps are standing corn plots. Every timbered area on the farm is buffered with CRP that was standing through early/mid September until it was mowed. This farm is 240 acres or so, and has some unique topography. The timbered areas are all much lower than the tillable areas, which are basically flat except for the edges against the CRP where the drop starts heading toward the timber. Hope that makes some sense... Anyways, when we placed cameras out, I already knew where I wanted my food plots... which seems sort of backwards doesn't it? Well... not really. Let me explain...


I wanted to hunt two guys at one time on this farm regardless of the wind. That's how confident I am with these blinds and standing corn in conjunction with the southern Iowa pre-rut and rut. The stand on the north side of the farm never came to be. No safe way to enter the stand. As you can assume, with the corn standing, we had a fun time getting into these spots. We did have cornstalks down in front of the blinds for shooting lanes and behind the blinds were completely standing corn. The blind on the south was actually about 60yds from the E/SE tip (the visual right side tip of food plot), which left about 60-80 yards of standing corn left. Mind you, this was like 5-10 acres in size (maybe even 15 acres on the south side). The farmer agreed to harvest the standing corn behind us after November 12th... which was perfect for us! Yet, rewind to the summer months, all standing corn, planned plot areas, thick timbered & brushy lines on the ditches that ran with the trees, CRP standing, and no idea what deer are on the farm nor where.


What is the most logical fact that you can come up with regarding this farm and where you think deer can travel to/from?...


Deer will travel through this farm quite spontaneously due to the food being all over, but all deer travel the tree lines. This farm needs precise mineral sites to try and establish an idea of deer movement through the early summer months. That's about it.


If you had three trail cameras to use on this farm, where would you put them and why?

1) I love visual "Y"s on the farm with timber... this is a natural pinch & funnel that I love to exploit in the summer months. This is the spot that I expect to have the best results, but I won't know until I let the cameras soak over some mineral in June & July.


2) This spot is unique because the neighboring ground to the north is overgrown cedar thicket which is major hot spot for bedding. I knew some deer would be bedding there and feeding and traveling into and along our fields.


3) Like #1, there are multiple "Y"s at this spot, but one side of it is more secluded than the others, the backside (N/NW). This camera ended up getting cut down by the brush hog doing the mowing because I couldn't get down there fast enough and couldn't get ahold of the guy on the tractor. Yet, I expected to see what bucks were visiting the most secluded spot on the farm.


What actually happened on this farm pertaining to this camera setup, and how did you do hunting the farm during the bow season?


With only two working cameras by the time September came around, it was time to remove the mineral dirt leftover from the prior months, and adjust camera positions. I didn't move the cameras too far except onto nearby trails within 40-50 yards of their summer spots. This proved valuable for us as we identified the trails the deer were using, which were different than the summer months (duh! of course). We ended up losing sight of our top 2 deer, but we gained a new face in October of which we killed. The other two deer were seen into late muzz, but we never sealed the deal. I don't think that I would have done anything different with the setup of the farm, but I would have hunted it a bit differently with my entrance/exit routes to the blinds, and I would have used a decoy to help draw deer into the plots during the rut when they started bypassing the plots to get to the next timbered area (perpendicular to their normal routes with the tree lines).


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Trail camera positions in the summer months in Iowa are going to be unique to the rest of the year because of the mineral & summer food plots. The above two referenced farms didn't have any summer food plots. Since the time of which when I hunted on these farms, I have started using summer food plots for summer trail camera usage as much if not more than mineral sites. They're dynamite and last longer than mineral. However, the focus here is scouting with trail cameras. Knowing where to place these cameras in the summer, with mineral, food plots, or nothing at all, comes down to identifying these areas on the farm if they are there:


1) Community Bedding (Large)

2) Isolated Small-Group Bedding (Medium)

3) Isolated Individual Bedding (Small)

4) Water Sources

5) Food Sources

6) Travel routes between the above #1-#5 items

7) Natural Funnels & Pinch Points


After identifying these on the aerial and in-person, I will look for the most frequently traveled routes between the items #1 - #6 and #7 will help me favor one over the other(s). It's kind of just a gut instinct thing that I have acquired over time. The spots either make sense to me or they don't. Running cameras can be extremely "trail & error"-based, and I can only recommend a few things:


1) Do not be afraid to move a camera to a new spot unknown to you

- this is the importance of checking the camera before leaving the farm area

2) Do not be afraid to take a gamble and let the camera soak another week or two

- we have found numerous new faces this way (you just never know what you'll find)

3) Plan ahead; let the hunting season and your approach there dictate your cam strategy


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Thanks for reading this post. I apologize for it's length, but I hope that you have benefited from this, learned something, and are able to use this knowledge in your future hunting seasons. Blessings from Iowa!


-Matt

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