Proven Trail Camera Strategies for Locating Bucks


Hunters who use planning and strategy to fill their tags each year know how effective trail cameras can be in maximizing success on their hunting land come fall.

A well-placed trail camera strategy can allow hunters to gather valuable information about deer movement, feeding patterns, and bedding locations.

Whitetail Properties Land Specialists Dillon Pierson and Jeremy Allen have spent countless hours studying deer on the properties they hunt. They share their considerations for where and how to position your trail cameras and how to make the most of the insights you gain when it comes time to place your treestand.


Where to Position Your Trail Camera: Considering Terrain

Before placing your trail cameras throughout your hunting property, it’s important to consider the terrain, food sources, historical deer movement, and trails. Virginia Land Specialist Dillon Pierson shares the benefits of using a topographical map to help you plan your camera placement.

“Sometimes, due to the terrain, putting your camera in a trail intersection is a great way to see how the deer of this area travel on a regular basis. There are generally a few go-to locations you can view from aerial topographical maps to determine these locations. One of my favorite trail camera placement locations is on a ridgeline in a low gap or saddle.
These areas typically have a main trail running along the ridge and trails coming up and down both sides of the saddle, providing an easier travel route for whitetails. Field/food plot edges are also a great location. It is easy to spot trails coming in and out of these areas, which allows you to physically see which entry and exit routes are traveled the most. The deer may only use these areas late in the night, but determining the time they enter and exit and the direction they are heading may provide enough detail on where to hang a stand to intercept your hit list buck after he is leaving the food source and heading back to his bedding area.”

For Land Specialist Jeremy Allen, mountainous West Virginia supports a holistic approach to trail camera placement. By studying his trail camera intel over the years, Jeremy has noted the patterns and paths his deer take during different seasons, informing his hunting strategy and treestand placement.

“In West Virginia, we have various terrain features, which in most cases, include very steep mountains with minimal flat ground. Personally, I have a few go-to locations to try to locate the changing patterns as the summer months dwindle.
Long-running ridge tops, where the mature animals can see and smell all around them, are a great place to hang trail cameras during the fall. You will typically find multiple bedding sites, as well as main trails becoming more used in these areas during this time of year. Pinch points, flats providing various oaks and other food sources, and secluded trails and roads are other great areas to determine where most of your deer have migrated.
During this time of year, I also like to hang trail cameras along a logging road that can be easily accessed and traveled along my entry and exit points, allowing a scent-free and fast approach to check cameras without disturbing the deer in the area.

Should you place your trail camera near food or bedding?

The short answer: Both! Completing a trail camera survey and discovering the general location of where your deer feed and bed before placing your cameras is a crucial component of a trail camera strategy that will pay off quickly.

Dillon shares that typically, you’ll find doe bedding areas situated closest to food sources, with mature bucks strategically staged beyond them. “South-facing slopes, in particular, often provide excellent bedding opportunities because they receive more sunlight throughout the day, resulting in a greater variety of browse and cover.”

Prior hunting knowledge and studying your hunting land is always a plus when locating your most active bedding areas, Jeremy says, but “placing multiple trail cameras in and around these locations are the ticket. Using the photo’s time stamp will generally give you an idea of how far the bedding area is away and help narrow your search. If you are getting photos of various female deer in the late afternoon/evening on a regular basis, your bedding area is more than likely nearby.


Be Stealthy: The importance of placing your cameras and stands inconspicuously

Whether you choose to place your trail camera or stand near a trail, ridge, bedding location, or food source, first determine the risk of alerting deer to your presence.

Dillon and Jeremy agree: The best-placed trail cameras do not disrupt the movement or behavior of your deer. Always look for scent-and-travel-free options, like using a cell camera, to allow you to capture valuable information without getting too close or letting the deer know you’re there.

“Especially here in Virginia where hunting pressure escalates the deeper you get into the month of October,” shares Dillon, “Strategically positioning yourself between food and bedding offers a more favorable success rate while minimizing the chance of spooking deer given that you have secure access to and from your stand. Every stand I put up must meet the fundamental criteria of ensuring I won't be seen, heard, or smelled while accessing it.”

How to Capture the Best Images and Information with Your Trail Camera

Once you have chosen the areas to place your trail cameras, it’s time to experiment with the direction and placement of each one.

Dillon suggests placing cameras alongside travel routes, avoiding disruption and allowing you to capture broadside images of the deer rather than facing them head-on. “Additionally, I often mount my cameras at a relatively high level, typically at head height or even higher if necessary, using a short ladder or climbing stick when needed, depending on the specific terrain and circumstances of the area.”

On this episode of Landbeat, Illinois Land Specialist Adam Crumrin suggests making a mock scrape or rub post in the middle of a food plot to draw curious bucks into new areas. Water sources, creek crossings, and edges are other key spots for trail camera placement.

Once you have captured a good amount of intel, Jeremy’s tips for analyzing your trail camera data include mapping each photo’s specific location, the direction the animals are traveling, and the time most of the photos were taken. “This will help determine not only where the deer travel the most and what time but also the potential bedding areas they are using on a regular basis.”


Trail Camera Timing: When to move your trail cameras

While reducing the time you travel to trail camera locations to keep from disturbing the deer, you will need to consider seasonality when placing and moving your cameras for maximum benefit.

In the late fall, Jeremy looks for heightened buck activity in and around food sources to signal a shift in trail camera position. “This is the time for me to adopt a more assertive approach by positioning myself closer to those doe bedding areas.”

Jeremy advises hunters not to be discouraged by seeing reduced movement on cameras placed near food sources during spring and summer.

“When the summer months start to wind down, and the velvet begins to be shed, the normal patterns we are used to seeing around general food sources will begin to change. Your typical camera locations that have provided pictures from the late spring through summer are now providing less movement, which many of us take as “the deer have left my area.” This is true, but they may have not moved far. Food sources begin to change, and the temperature drops, which both play a significant role in this pattern change. The growth of forage begins to slow with the colder nights and provides fewer food sources for your deer herd. As the food sources change, it is important to be familiar with all other food sources that appear naturally on your hunting property.”

For more information on the myth of the “October Lull,” visit our recent blog post where National Deer Association’s Kip Adams shares the science behind changing deer movement patterns each fall. Strategic food plot planning can also help to fill this nutrition gap, making your herd’s movements more predictable each year.


While the temptation to stake out those inviting fall and winter food plots right from the beginning might be strong, “it carries the risk of prematurely alerting deer to your presence,” says Dillon. “This can potentially lead to a gradual shift towards nocturnal activity by educating not only your mature bucks but does as well. While there's undoubtedly a time and place for hunting near or over food sources, October beckons you to explore the timber. Here, you can intercept deer during their to-and-from movements between bedding and food, especially when acorns start cascading down. This approach significantly improves your odds of encountering your target buck during daylight hours.”


What to expect in the early-to-mid hunting season

Look for October to be a time of transition for you and your deer, both in terms of trail camera placement and hunting strategy.

Dillon tends to shy away from morning hunts during October to avoid unsettling deer on their way back to bedding. “In Virginia, October can be uncomfortably warm for a good portion of the month, pushing deer movement more so before daybreak and in the waning moments of daylight. However, every year, a magical moment arrives when a dramatic weather shift occurs, reversing the situation and rendering morning hunts just as appealing, if not more so, than evening sits.”

For Jeremy in West Virginia, this shift occurs during early to mid-September. “By the first of October, most of the bucks you are used to seeing on a regular basis are already starting to adjust their patterns. I notice a significant difference in my hunting areas once the temperature drops into the 50s and below at night. This is the time that I personally begin to adjust my spring/summer set-up towards a more detailed and travel-oriented approach.”

In the South, this season can also lead to a series of stressors, including reduced water and food sources, affecting the areas where deer gather. In this LandBeat video, Matt Dye of Land & Legacy outlines a few ways to help mitigate these stress periods to help improve the overall health of your property and the wildlife using it, leading to healthier herds during hunting season.


With your strategically placed trail cameras put to good use, it’s easier to shift your hunting locations without playing a guessing game. Dillon shares: “I will typically hunt in close proximity to bedding areas or in those to-and-from stand locations until I begin to observe significant pre-rut activity. Essentially, from the start of the season until approximately the second to last week of October, I prioritize these areas over hunting on top of a food source. In scenarios where you're hunting public land or leasing a property without the ability to engage in Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) or controlled burns, a reliable strategy involves concentrating on well-defined edges. These edges can manifest along clear cuts, field boundaries, fence rows, or in the transition zones of timber growth and differential in age.”


Trail cameras provide a valuable way to measure and track deer movement and behavior, and when their placement is part of a greater hunting strategy that includes well-fertilized food plots, TSI (Timber Stand Improvement), and other habitat improvement methods, you’re far more likely to maximize your treestand spot and fill your tags each season.

“In the realm of Whitetail hunting,” Dillon concludes, “success often hinges on the careful balance of preparation and patience. With the arrival of every October, I am reminded that it signifies more than just a month; it establishes the foundation for the entire season, a crucial period not to be underestimated."

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