February 12, 2024
It’s January and deer season is winding down (or is over in most US states) but DON’T put those trail cameras up yet! Many may have already packed up their cameras for the year or at least until turkey season. Before you put them away, did you know a whitetail trail camera survey can also be carried out in the winter, just before bucks drop antlers? January and early February are the prime months for this work.
If you do not run trail camera surveys to better understand your whitetail herd and catalog bucks, you should strongly consider it now that HuntPro is here. Winter surveys are carried out using the same methods as the more common, late summer surveys (https://www.huntpro.app/resources/). It is very important for any trail camera work that you create clean camera traps so deer will be clearly seen in each image and are drawn relatively close to the camera ( https://www.huntpro.app/setting-clean-camera-traps-and-working-smart-with-huntpro/ ). While a winter trail camera survey offers some advantages, there are also some draw backs.
First let’s talk about the advantages. Bucks are very hungry post rut– the hard winter months when most natural food sources are at their lowest annual levels of availability and quality. They suffer from post rut fatigue, stress, injury in some cases (or even all the above), and this follows that period during the rut when bucks are eating less. They can be more easily drawn to bait or attractants at camera traps during this time than during the late summer or early fall. You are more likely to miss capturing some individual bucks on camera during a late summer survey than with a winter survey. Therefore, it is important that you continue to run cameras throughout the fall– not just for scouting– but instead to find, identify and add any bucks you may have missed in a 3rd quarter survey to your HuntPro buck catalog.
Bucks that did not survive the fall hunting season will obviously not be around; therefore, they would not be a part of a winter population study or buck catalog. This is also the case with adult does and fawns that did not survive the hunting season. You should see a truer herd population with a winter survey showing only those animals that survived the fall on camera. This also applies to what the adult deer herd will look like the following season.
Another advantage is that fawns are more likely to show up on camera accompanying the maternal doe than in a 3rd quarter survey. In my opinion, this is because mid to late summer born fawns are still very young at that time and tend to remain in thicker cover nearby while the maternal doe visits a bait site. Many fawns may also still be nursing as much or more so than consuming hard foods. Being older and more independent in the winter while also consuming only hard foods at this time, fawns will more likely be captured on camera at a bait site. This can increase the accuracy of fawn count which determines the Recruitment Rate. Recruitment Rate is the number of individual fawns that survived the summer compared to the number of individual, adult does expressed as a percentage of fawns to adult does.
Now let’s talk about some problems you might encounter. Post rut bucks, particularly the mid-mature and mature bucks, are more likely to have broken antlers from fighting. Entering the early antler drop period, some bucks, particularly larger antlered bucks, may have prematurely dropped one side or both. This means those bucks will be more difficult to match up with photos of them from the early fall or the following season. Due to reasons stated earlier, bucks can lose 25% of their body weight during the fall rut. This can make it more difficult to accurately estimate age on the hoof in 1st annual quarter images.
A problem with fawn count is that in the winter months they have lost their spots and have increased in body size making it tougher for AI and users to correctly tag them. Fawns may be mistaken for yearling does or yearling does may be mistaken for fawns. This can lead to HuntPro users spending more time than normal changing or adding tags. It might also negatively impact the accuracy of fawn and adult doe tagging. This tag data determines the recruitment rate and sex ratio of adult does to adult bucks.
Right NOW, in most US states, it is time to run a winter whitetail trail camera survey! Download our trail camera survey guide and get started in the field. Even if you are not yet a HuntPro subscriber, go ahead and run those cameras capturing the images you need. Don’t forget that if you have past images stored you can load those into HuntPro along with harvest data from previous years. Visit our web site and contact us to learn more about HuntPro, the world’s only comprehensive wildlife management technology platform!