No one is denying that a bit part of whitetail hunting (as well as other species) involves the trophy—the bigger the better. However, that is a very misunderstood statement. Bigger deer equates to an overall healthy herd with good genetics and nutrition. Far from simply leaving it up to nature, hunter are the ultimate conservationists and game managers. A critical part of that strategy for many is scouting cameras. Scouting cameras do not do the work for you. They are not an early warning system or offer some critical advantage. For the most part, they are a preview to the caliber of animals that roamed a particular area in the past and little more.
In this article, Lee Lakosky details his tips and strategy for scouting cameras.
Hunters have scouted game since the dawn of man. Watching, learning and ultimately understanding when and where game is likely to appear in relation to food and water sources, divergent habitats and amidst specific weather patterns and seasonal changes gives hunters a strategic advantage. The more we scout, the more we learn, and this knowledge makes us more efficient and effective. It impacts our decision-making and shapes the way we pursue game.
By Josh Lantz
Today’s scouting cameras have changed the landscape of hunting. These affordable, high-tech marvels have helped turn hunters into game managers by giving us continual information about the specific wildlife on the properties we hunt. Even a modest network of just a few, well placed scouting cameras can provide far more information on animal behavior than a single hunter could otherwise garner from hours of traditional scouting.
But despite their capabilities, scouting cameras are often used in ways that unnecessarily limit their advantages. True enough, sometimes they can even become a disadvantage – especially when we allow our use of scouting cameras to pressure deer or otherwise impact their behavior.
Few whitetail hunters invest more time afield in a year-‘round capacity than Lee Lakosky. Lee and his wife, Tiffany, star on the hit TV show CRUSH with Lee & Tiffanyon Outdoor Channel. The couple has been in the public eye since they married in 2003 and began making outdoor television – much of it on the land they own and meticulously manage for trophy whitetails in Iowa. In a world of fake news, unchecked social media and an abundance of TV shows that make the harvest of trophy whitetail bucks seem routine, viewers can believe what they see on The CRUSH TV. For Lee and Tiffany, their vocation is both a passion and a privilege, so they never stop working and never take the hunting public’s trust for granted.
Thanks to a sponsorship arrangement with Wildgame Innovations, a company owned by Plano Synergy, Lee and Tiffany have the benefit of running literally hundreds of scouting cameras on their 15 different Iowa farms. I recently spoke with Lee and asked him a series of questions about his scouting camera strategies.
Lantz: Tell me a bit about your home farm and how, when and why you use scouting cameras there.
Lakosky: We typically use 300-400 during the hunting season in Iowa, and at least half of them seem to stay up all year long because there’s always something going on. Tiffany and I really enjoy shed hunting and it’s an important part of our scouting. Our cameras tell us when and where certain bucks are dropping their antlers, so they give us good intel about where to start looking. Then it’s turkey season and then after that you’re into the antler-growing season. That’s a really great time to use cameras because it’s neat to see how individual bucks develop their racks throughout the whole growing season. I have a big 190ish deer behind the house I’m watching right now. Cameras are definitely a year-‘round scouting tool, because they can provide so much helpful information.
Lantz: How do you decide how many cameras to use on a given property?
Lakosky: Every place is different. I’ll have cams mostly on food sources… we can feed in Iowa during the off-season, so every farm has a couple feeders. You could use a dozen cameras on a single 15-acre food plot, so a feeder really helps concentrate deer in summer so we can keep a much better inventory.
During the hunting season we look for the key food plots deer are using, which can change quickly. I may have five cameras on a two-acre field—especially if I know I have a big buck using it. I keep moving them around if I need to home in, but you’ve really got to be careful with that, especially during the hunting season. If I need to check or move a couple, I’ll do it when I get down from the stand after the morning’s hunt.
On average, I’ll have two or three cameras on every food plot, along with cameras on scrapes in the timber. Again, more is better. You’re going to miss a lot of big deer with only a couple cameras. People who know they have a big buck but don’t get daytime images always assume he’s nocturnal, but he isn’t; they just don’t have enough cameras out.
Does are fairly predictable, so that really helps once the rut starts. A buck will usually only be with a doe for two or three days before she shoves him out, so you’ve got to stay on top of that. I may use four Cell Cams within a relatively small area during those brief, key periods, because they’ll send the images right to my phone, and I don’t have to go in and muck anything up. Hunters should put out everything they have once they start honing in on the key areas where they’re chasing, then be prepared to move things around a few days later.
Lantz: Tell me about the different types of cameras you use and why.
Lakosky: We have a live camera behind the house, so we can watch and see how deer respond to different scouting cameras. Some deer definitely avoid them and some don’t care at all—even with a white flash. I really like the 360 Cam because it can be put on a field edge away from or even between scrapes. Some deer really have it out for cameras… especially when they’re right in their faces on scrapes. Those deer will skirt them. Because the 360 Cam detects motion in 360 degrees and can capture images in any direction, I’ll put them 10-15 yards away from a scrape on a field edge—even between scrapes on the same field edge—and it will capture every deer that hits them.
I’ll get three to five times as many pictures using the 360 Cam that way versus a regular camera placed right on or right by the scrape. I also really like the Cell Cam in places where you don’t want to pressure deer by having to visit the camera. Overall, the Wildgame Innovations Cloak is our go-to camera. They do everything we need a camera to do. The price is right and the battery life is really good so they don’t need any undue babysitting.
Both the standard IR and black LightsOut flashes work great. Our live cam has shown us that there isn’t a big problem spooking deer with either type, but the LightsOut black flash model does a better job at catching trespassers and is less likely to be located and stolen. We just received one of the brand new Silent Crush 20 LightsOut cameras and it’s absolutely incredible. The shutters are completely silent and because it uses separate daytime and nighttime cameras, there’s also no IR filter to make any noise either. That one is going to be a definite game-changer.
Lantz: Once you determine where you want a camera located, what considerations do you make when actually placing it?
Lakosky: Limbs, grass, and weeds can trigger a lot of bad pictures, which decreases battery life and increases the amount of time it takes to review pictures. Summer foliage is at its peak by July, so now is the time to prune branches and kill weeds at all likely camera locations. I’m actually doing that now… got the sprayer on the ATV and I’m killing grass and weeds everywhere I’ve got a camera and everywhere I think we might need to put a camera.
You know where the scrapes are going to show up, so kill the grass and weeds at all those locations. I’ve learned that bucks won’t start scraping a lot of times until the weeds die, so if you kill the weeds under the licking branches, they’ll actually start sooner. When placing a camera on a scrape, I try to avoid putting them right on the scrape tree. I’ll put them high and 10-15 feet away facing down. I get more pictures this way because that camera isn’t right in the deer’s face.
Lantz: Camera settings confuse a lot of folks. What settings do you typically use on your cameras and why?
Lakosky: First, make sure any camera is set on 24 hours so you’ll get both night and daytime pictures. For a camera on a feeder or mineral site, set it to trigger with a minute delay between images, not five seconds or 15 seconds or you’ll have way too many images. Again, all that does it waste your time and battery life. I know my farms and, generally, where deer bed, feed and cruise, so most of my cameras are set up on field edges and key routes in and out of the timber. These locations are easy for us to get to and not disruptive.
A lot of our bigger bucks… they all come out of the timber and into the big fields… and then they go back. For those cameras on scrapes and routes in and out of the timber, I’ll put them on five seconds to make sure I get good shots. If they are there for three minutes, I want 50 different pictures of them. We do use video mode in the summer. The Flextime+ time lapse feature on the Wildgame Innovations cameras is nice if you don’t have a lot of cameras. It takes video clips at pre-defined time intervals to save batteries. The video stuff is neat in the timber on the scrapes, but with so many cameras, it’s too much for me to manage.
Lantz: What are some of the common mistakes that folks make when using scouting cameras?
Lakosky: I primarily use cameras for inventory, and only rarely for trying to kill a specific buck, so that mentality affects where I put my cameras and how often I check them. I keep them in accessible, non-disruptive locations and check them as little as possible. When there’s a big buck around, people get obsessed with visiting their cameras too often and blowing out their deer – especially when they aren’t even hunting them. Be careful trying to kill a big deer with your game cameras. You can do it, but it becomes really easy to push him out.
My suggestion is to stick to the food plots and field edges. Also, a lot of hunters don’t pay enough attention to their doe pictures. I look closely at when and under what conditions I’m getting a lot of doe pictures… day vs. night, the calendar, weather conditions, etc. It pays to look at and study whatever metadata your camera can provide. If does are moving during the day, bucks usually are too. Bucks are just deer. Try to figure out and understand when and why they are moving.
Lantz: The new season of CRUSH with Lee and Tiffany began on June 26. What can viewers expect to see?
Lakosky: This new season has a good mix of fun and interesting hunts. I shot a Muskox in Greenland, and we filmed plenty of local hunts as well. Tiffany took one of her biggest whitetails ever with her bow – a 181” buck that we’ve been watching here at the farm for the past three years or so. That deer has a really interesting history that we were able to document with our game cameras. Your readers can get a sneak peak here.