Trail cameras, or cams, can be a great tool for any hunter anywhere in the country. This is a story of how trail cameras, over the course of 4 years, led me to harvest a big Missouri Ozark buck, and what I learned from the whole experience. My hope is that in reading this you can pick up something quickly that took me a long time to learn!
I first noticed the buck, I later named Bloomer, in early November of 2009. He came running in hard to a rattling sequence. He was a nice 2.5-year-old 10-point with tall main beams. At that time he was not a deer I wanted to wrap my tag around. His potential though caught my eye. I started picking up trail cam pictures of him that winter. Now I knew he had made it through the hunting season. I was getting pictures of him in a cut bean field not too far from where I had seen him in November. What was unusual about this deer was he held his antlers into April.
When I started running trail cameras again in July of 2010, I was getting pictures of several nice bucks, but one stood out as a really nice young looking deer. When I began focusing on him I really started putting the pieces of the puzzle together in mid-September. This deer still had his velvet after all the other bucks had shed theirs. Then I noticed his similarities to the buck I had passed the previous fall. Most noticeably how high his main beams came up before his brow tines and G2’s, and his 10-point frame.
Since he was late to shed his antlers in the spring and late to shed his velvet in the fall, he was given the name Bloomer, as in late bloomer. After he finally shed his velvet he disappeared. With no pictures or sightings of him through the rut and rifle season, I figured someone had shot him. I was surprised to see him show up on camera in December.
Knowing Bloomer had made it through the 2010 season, I was excited to start running cameras in 2011. The field was now planted in corn, but everything else was the same on the farm. However, Bloomer was nowhere to be found. I never once got a picture of him as a 4.5-year-old! I have no idea where he went, what he did, or how he managed to avoid my cameras for a year. Thus I had given up on the thought of harvesting him.
During the summer of 2012, I was unable to run any cameras due to being out west for work. When I returned home in late September I got my cameras out ASAP. One of the first card pulls was a great surprise. Bloomer was working a scrape in the same area he inhabited in 2009 and 2010! He was now 5.5 years old and a definite shooter. As the rut approached he disappeared again, but this time I did not lose hope knowing he could reappear anytime. He was gone from mid-October through the gun season and into December.
I was muzzleloader hunting on December 23. After having a slow morning I went to do a card swap on the field edge camera that Bloomer showed up on most. There he was, that same morning, right at first light. I figured that since he was there that morning, and these deer are typically on a very short bed to feed pattern that time of year, he was bedded close by. That quickly changed my evening hunt plans. I decided to hit a stand on the edge of the bean field. Just as if I had written the script Bloomer made his appearance at last light. After hundreds of pictures and 3 years since I last laid eyes on him, there Bloomer stood broadside at 15 yards! The rest is history.
Chances are slim I would have ever harvested this deer if it wasn’t for the knowledge I gained from my trail cam pictures. I probably wouldn’t have even known this buck existed after that first encounter with him as a 2.5-year-old. The added bonus of patterning an individual deer is a great sense of accomplishment that comes from learning a buck’s life history then making it all come together for a successful ending.
Tips and Techniques I used and learned:
- My main strategy for inventorying bucks in an area is to use trail cameras on salt licks from mid-summer through early fall, then I transition all the cameras over to scrapes as they start showing up. Lastly, I put the cameras over corn piles after the season has ended to see who survived.
- I learned this buck’s core area when he was on our farm. He would only show up on cameras on the west side of a large bean/corn field. I had cameras all over the field. Knowing he only utilized one end of it helped me narrow down his core. I have no idea where this buck would disappear to at times, but when he was there, he was very regular.
- Don’t give up because you think the neighbor might have shot him.
- Pay attention to an individual deer’s habits. I knew the day he showed up again in December there was a very good chance he would come out into the field that night. This was based on what I had seen of his patterns in previous years.
- As a buck gets older, he doesn’t necessarily get more nocturnal or harder to hunt. I had several daylight pics of him as a 5.5-year-old, yet none when he was a younger buck.
- When you know he is there, make your move and hunt him.
- Check cameras frequently, IF you can do so without disturbing any deer. The field edge camera that I caught him the day I harvested him could be easily accessed by truck without disturbing any bedded deer. If I hadn’t seen him on camera that morning, I would have never hunted that stand that afternoon.
- Know the buck’s exact age. Having the history I did with Bloomer, I knew when I pulled the hammer back on the muzzleloader that he was 100% a 5.5-year-old deer. Sometimes it can be a challenge to correctly age a deer on the hoof. If you know a specific deer’s age going into a hunt, there is a significantly reduced chance of taking a deer that doesn’t fit into your management plan.