Author: Emily Courtney
“When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside me…” -Kristin Armstrong
The shifting of seasons can be quite an unpredictable thing. We can pick a date and print “First Day of Fall” and “First Day of Spring” on our calendars, but rarely does Mother Nature oblige to check our schedule. But nonetheless, in her own time, she moves from one to the other, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes with a startling contrast. Different seasons bring different activities and responsibilities into our lives. Hunting seasons follow their own pattern, and with that a time to hunt and a time to plan, a time to manage and a time to observe. As any dedicated habitat manager knows, providing resources for wildlife is a year-round job. A manager’s job may revolve around hunting season, but it doesn’t begin and end with it. Many management activities we all do seem to be forgotten at the end of hunting season, when they should be continued throughout the year. Trail camera surveys are one of the most common victims of this lapse.
We conduct our camera surveys in late summer/early fall, and this is when most hunters and managers pay the most attention to running cameras. This is the most effective time to survey white-tailed deer for the purpose of assessing population dynamics and compiling a hit list for hunting season. However, there is some incredibly valuable information to be gained by keeping cameras running after hunting season and into early spring. The most immediate benefit is being able to assess survival in the deer herd. You can see which bucks made it through the season and how the overall numbers are looking. You also may be able to tell when bucks begin reforming bachelor groups, and when you should start looking for sheds.
Deer are typically most reactive to supplemental food sources during late winter. In some places food plots may be the only available source of nutrition this time of year, so leaving cameras on plots can result in an abundance of photos. We often get photos of deer we’ve never seen before during this period, as they expand their range looking for food. Seeing new deer is great affirmation for us that we’re doing something right to draw them in, as well as a source of motivation to step up our game and implement practices that will keep them on our property. This also reiterates the importance of maintaining plots past hunting season, and providing year round food sources.
In addition, this time of year is arguably the best time to assess predator populations. You can certainly get an idea from fall surveys, but predators tend to be much more active as spring green-up nears. It’s important to keep tabs on them leading up to turkey nesting season, and if necessary, plan a trapping strategy accordingly.
If none of the above reasons were enough to convince you, we would argue that it’s never too early to start gaining motivation for next fall. Continuing to run cameras can help soothe the sting that comes with the end of hunting season. Staying focused on the management to be done will ease your transition into the off-season and give you a jump on the year ahead.
Maintaining food plots and continuing camera surveys post-season are just two activities that will help you become a better habitat manager. Make a commitment to actively manage, monitor, and improve habitat year-round, not just during hunting season. As the seasons change throughout the year, so do the needs of wildlife. The seasons don’t always run on schedule, but they each occur in turn every year, without fail. Be mindful of the transitions, and adjust your management strategy accordingly. These are the kinds of things that separate hunters from stewards.