The Deer Camera, Introducing the 2 of 7 Rule

I have a confession for y’all. After several years of refusing to do so, I broke down and bought a new trail camera. It was a Bushnell Trophy Cam Essential.

It was on deep discount at Amazon– under $80. It does everything I could think of, stills, video, it even has a “trail watcher” mode that lets you take pics every few minutes round the clock. It works in total darkness. It runs on 8 AA batteries and one load of rechargeables lasts over a month. What’s not to like?

I do not want to bash this camera. It is great. At $80 I should buy a dozen.

The thing of it is this: I went through this back in 2006 with a Moultrie camera. Back then, I had it up over a salt lick, and sure enough I got lots of pics of deer. I even published the pics. This was cool stuff.

The highlight of all the pictures were a couple of shots of twin bucks. They were both nice racks. They traveled together. They looked like matching bookends. They even visited us one afternoon while we were putting up a buddy treestand– just came up and watched like two kids watching workmen at a construction site.

Then they were gone. Some time in September they disappeared and they were gone for good. Poof.

I am seeing the same things again. The Bushnell Trophy Cam Essential provides great eye candy, but as a real tool it leaves a lot to be desired. I cannot think of anything important I would add to this device. It is the whole idea of a trail camera.

Ethics? Schmethics. I’m being practical here. I saw some great deer porn over the past few months. However, there is nothing in the thousands of stills and hundreds of videos that tell me what is going to be happening on The Opener. It tells me nothing of what I should be planning to do.

How can I say that? Look back in 2007, I had the older Moultrie camera up over the same salt lick. There were lots of pictures of doe, but not one shot of the The Big One, the monster I shot that year. Why? It was not the camera’s fault. Part of it is the deer and and part of it is our own nature.

Those Uncooperative Deer

I am not going to tell you guys anything you do not already know. Whitetail deer are remarkably contrary animals. Sure, you can put out a feeder, and get them to show up on a regular basis, but under normal conditions deer are just not dependable. My buddy O.D. claims they follow the 2 out of 7 rule. That is, you can depend on deer to do the same thing, be at the same spot at the same time about 2 times out of 7. That is just enough to frustrate a weekend deer hunter who is hoping the deer he saw on the trail camera last weekend to show up while he is sitting on his stand. I have to say 2 days out of 7 is about right for these deer I’m watching. There is a small herd of deer hitting my salt lick pretty hard, but it is not every night and it is not every day and it is not at the same time, and they may go several days without visiting and then be there four days in a row. O.D. has it about right– 2 of 7.

Bucks? Yes, I’m seeing bucks. However, I do not see the same bucks twice, and if I do, it is weeks apart. I will also tell you that I know for a fact that there are bigger deer in my neighborhood than those I am seeing on the trail camera. Where they go and what they do are a perennial mystery. I was reading an article the other day, written by a guy down in Texas. He was discussing studies that had shown that bucks roam and that 2.5 year old deer seem to roam the most. When they get to be more mature, they settle into a home range and a lot of them live on a fairly small plot.

I say hogwash. For one thing, I did not have time to bookmark the article, and when I went back to look for it today, I found an article purporting just the opposite on the QDMA website. For another thing, you have to just be around one of these guys and realize you are looking at an animal that is 1.5-3 times the size of your average doe. That is a bunch more mass to feed, and their caloric needs must be astronomical. Just look at NFL Football players compared to your average NFL cheerleaders, the mass difference is tremendous. How does your average NFL player maintain all that muscle? They eat. They eat maybe 5 times what I do every day, and I weigh over 300 lbs– and these guys don’t have to grow a hat rack on their heads every year. This isn’t steaks, eggs, and protein shakes either. Deer do this by essentially putting their head in the salad bar and staying there. If you tried to keep a large buck in a pen the size of their purported refuges, you would have a starved deer and a denuded landscape.

So how do deer cope? I cannot say all bucks everywhere roam, but the ones around me sure do. You may see one hanging out in the same spot for a few weeks, but after that ‘Poof!’ gone, and usually for good. They may come back, but how often? 2 of 7 days? during 2 of 7 months? In 2 of 7 years?

The doe will stick around. One thing I’ve noticed with this trail camera is that, this year at least, the deer are not taking their usual September hiatus. Usually I see nearly zero deer activity in September– no deer, no deer sign. This year, they are sticking around and visiting the salt lick where I have the camera mounted. Whether this bodes well or not remains to be seen. I think it has a lot to do with rainfall. When we have dry summers, they leave the ridgetops and take off for the river bottoms and then come back when the acorns start to drop.

Our own foolish nature

The thing about us is I think we are a bunch of magical thinkers. O.D.’s probably about right; 2 of 7 is just about how often you can expect deer to be doing the same thing at the same time of day. They also move around more than we like, and that is no different than humans. One day you go out for pizza, one day you get a burger, sometime before the end of the week you start thinking about pizza again. The problem with hunters is we think there is something magical we can do to change that. The 2 of 7 rule leaves a lot of room for developing a lot of superstition. Scents. Decoys. Anti-UV clothing–we’ll try anything. When it works we think we’ve found the trick. When it doesn’t work, we think it’s bad luck, or that we need to spray more UV suppressant or we need to change stands or . . .

That’s the other thing about human hunters. We think we can control all this. To make matters worse, we have marketing and merchandising people telling us we can, and we lap it up and fall for it. We go looking for the magical, mystical winning edge. I am always getting email from people who want to know what lure or bait or scent or call will make deer come to their stand. The plain simple truth is that nothing will do that surefire all the time. The whole idea of controlling deer behavior, short of putting up 10 foot fences is flawed. If you want to be successful at hunting these critters, you must learn to take things as they are and find where the deer sleep, where they eat and then put yourself somewhere between the two.

Looking on the Bright Side

So what besides DIY deer porn did I get for my $80? There is some important info in those many megabytes of pics and vids. What it is telling me is that normality has returned to my deer woods. I have a happy healthy doe group with 2-3 adults and two fawns that are frequenting the area around that lick. Along with them are several single doe that also show up on a regular basis. Whatever it was, drought, poaching or disease that caused them to skedaddle a couple of years ago, the doe group down in Soggy Bottom has reestablished itself. The only dark cloud is that I am seeing a lot of ribs. This has not been a good year for the hay, yields are half of what they should have been despite good rainfall. I am hoping the acorns come in thick.

The thing of it is, I already knew that. We did not need a camera. Deer numbers have been depressed in my part of the world for a few years. I just started seeing more deer in the fields this past year. Starting back during Turkey Season, we began seeing doe groups out in the fields as we were driving to camp.

Strategy wise, I will probably not alter what I’m doing based on the deer porn. My food plot failed over the summer. I’m going to try and replant for fall, and I’m betting on a warm and wet October.


Now THAT was 8lbs of Powder!

H4895I just purchased an 8 lb container of H4895. When I went looking, Brownells had the best price I could find: $210.44 delivered. Brownell’s cancelled the order right after I placed it. I guess somebody finally got around to looking on the shelf and realized they were out. Graf’s was only $10 more.

It replaces an 8lb jug I purchased from Powder Valley in 2006, about this time of year. I probably won’t have to do much more in the way of loading before deer season, but I was down below a pound, and with all the shortages, I decided it was time. I got to thinking how much I’d accomplished with that 8 lb jug

* North of 36 deer in the freezer
* Supported myself and two sons through their formative years as deer hunters, plus KYHillChick’s plinking.
* Loads for more than a dozen rifles in 8 chamberings from .223 REM up to 35 Whelen.
* I can’t tell you how many different loads.

I just can’t think of any more fun I’ve ever had out anything I’ve ever bought.

In 2006, my company had been bought out, and I knew that eventually I’d be laid off. I started economizing in 2005. That was what led to the decision to go down to 1 rifle powder. When I ran low in 2006, I bought my jug of H4895 and hunkered down and waited.

In 2008, I finally got laid off.I finally got back to work over 2 years later, and it took a couple more for things to get back to normal. The powder shortages hit somewhere in there too, and I’ve been nursing that 8 lbs as best I could.

H4895, if you had to pick a powder, was not all that bad for the purpose. Here is a sample.

.223 REM –> nothing spectacular, but it made good, fairly accurate Mini 14 fodder.

25-06 –> H4895 worked, but it was not efficient. I tried H4350 and then H4831

30-30 –> When the kids were small, I loaded them light, and then switched to a near-MAX load before switching them off to a 30-06. Even near-MAX, H4895 was easy on a kid’s shoulder.

308 WIN –> Varget worked better, but I ran out after a couple years. H4895 did okay with 165 grainers, shooting at hot 300 Savage velocities. I shoot these out of my Savage 99.

30-06 –> It was great for 30-06 Yute loads. I just loaded about 5% off MAX for myself and got easy and accurate deer loads.

7.62 X 54R –> With 180 grain Speers over H4895, #2 son, Angus has been cleaning up the farm with his M44.

35 Whelen –> I use 200 grain Remmie CL’s over a slightly reduced load. Velocities are like a 358 WIN out of my Rem 7600. This combination in the Whelenizer has accounted for more dead deer than any other at camp over the past 10 years. I’m now using H4895 with my 200 grain cast bullets. It turns the 35 Whelen into a hot 35 REM, but it still promises to be a decent deer whacker


Cabelas Comes to Town

Someone on recently said he was “happier than a retard in a room full of bouncy balls.” That was rolling around in my mind when I pulled into the lot at the new Cabelas up north of Cincinnati. We’d gotten a BassPro years ago. They are promising a second one soon. Field and Stream came in south of town back a year ago. We started getting Dunham’s too. However, I figured Cabelas was going to set them all on their ears.

I do not know what I was expecting.  Maybe it would be women in fur bikinis handing out bricks of .22 for $10 each, or an acre of Hunter Orange clothing, or a ball bath of assorted 1 lb rifle powders.  The build-up was tremendous, and I’ve known people who have traveled 250 miles out of their way to go to a  Cabelas store.  I just figured the place would blow me away.

I came a way feeling like Cabelas had done a competitive job of building a store. Nothing more or less.  It seems bigger than Field and Stream, but not as audacious as BassPro. It’s prices were better than a lot of places, but not as good as Walmart.  The had lots of stuff, but there were a few things missing.  They had a big fish tank, but it was not as big as the one at  BassPro.

The Gun Libary was neat.  There were some decent bargains in there.  I handled a couple of Savage 99’s and a Winchester Model 70.  Nobody was going to lose money on them, but they seemed in decent shape.  I have seen private gun shops price a lot more for a lot less. This was by no means a museum. The fellow running it was a nice guy, and seemed knowledgeable. He was not your average counter monkey.

It was good to see someone have a real full-hearted reloading department again with some reasonable prices.  I bought 1,000 rifle primers.  In fact, that was all I ended up buying.

The .22 ammo was reasonably priced given the current market.  There were competitive prices on rifle and handgun ammo. However, I looked for a few oddballs that I can usually find at BassPro, Dunham’s or even my local gun store, and they were not there.  In shotgun ammo, they were overwrought with 7.5’s, but no #6. I would have bought a few boxes for squirrel hunting if they had.

I could have stood a pair of waterproof boots for turkey hunting if the price was right.  There was nothing for my size-14 feet.

The Bargain Cave was a nice idea, but everything I might have been interested in was marked “Soiled As-is No Return”  When you are thinking about possibly buying a set of waders, you some recourse if they leak.  Know what I mean?

The staff were there. They were nice.  They did not outnumber the customers like at Field and Stream. They knew were stuff was. They knew what it was.  I had few interactions with them, but I did overhear several conversations with other customers. Overall, I was impressed.

Look, I do not need a world on a platter.  I can remember $3.99 boxes of 12 GA ammo, but that does not mean I expect to see them anymore.  However, something compelling needs to make me come out of my reloading cave  when half a dozen dotcoms  can deliver whatever I need to my door with lower prices, no shipping and no sales tax.  Cabelas took the middle road, and I had hoped for better. It will be worth another visit, but not soon. In comparison,  I’ve been to Dunham’s three times now, and bought something every time.  I went to Field and Stream 3 times in a year  and walked out empty handed  and peeved that I wasted my time. I have given up on Dicks.   I go to BassPro about every three months and usually find what I need.

Postscript:  They one big item I needed was an 8 lb container of Hodgdon H4895.  I’ll probably order it from here in a week or so.  I would have been very impressed if it had been in the store. It was not. I heard that you can order from the Cabelas website and get free delivery to the store.  I called to confirm.  Everything Cabelas sells can be shipped for free to a store EXCEPT things like rifle powder.  DRAT.


The Zen Garden

It has been quite a while since I wrote anything about the spiritual aspects of deer hunting. Frankly, I have been bogged down so much in the nuts and bolts of things like lead casting and such I have not had a chance to spend the time to really formulate what I needed to say. That does not mean I do not give it a lot of thought.

Thirty-some years ago I used to travel around the I-275 loop on the west side of Cincinnati and wonder what it would be like to hunt the vast stretches of bottom land forming the mouth of the Great Miami River. I knew there were deer there; frequently there would be a roadkill carcass in the berm. I always looked for deer in the fields. Back in the early 80’s I was out driving a lot, trying to get permission to hunt. I drive that stretch quite a bit now. There is no guessing about the deer anymore. I can regularly see a dozen or more between Petersburg, KY and Miamitown. Last March, I counted 30 carcasses in a mile of road as the snow melted. I have seen plenty of turkeys there too; the first time I have seen turkey in Hamilton County. I knew they would get there eventually.

It gets me to thinking about why I go all the way to Bracken County, Kentucky to hunt. It’s 63 miles from the house. The bottoms are less than 20 miles. Part of it is simply it is darn hard to get access to hunt anywhere in Hamilton County. Yes, it can be done, but Hamilton County is a very built up. Most of it is subsumed by Cincinnati and satellite municipalities where any sort of hunting is banned. What is available to hunt is getting more and more urbanized. The unincorporated areas west of Cleves is about all that is left, and the big corn fields are slowly being turned into softball fields and junk yards.

I remember years ago driving all the way up to Wilmington, Ohio to do a morning’s squirrel hunt on a friend’s family farm. It all seemed so pristine and bucolic, but I came to a peninsula in the back woodlot and found myself neatly squeezed between the back end of a Kroger parking lot on one side and the FedEx runway on the other with large cargo jets landing over my head. The wide open spaces of the Great Miami River bottoms are no longer fields and woods, but are rapidly becoming residential and light industrial. I was offered a shotgun hunt there twenty years ago. The only problem was  it was  in the back end of a steel yard. The fence around it was 8 feet high with barbed wire at the top, but the deer were getting in and becoming a nuisance. I looked the place over and thanked the fellow for his kindness and never went.

This brings me to a point. Hunting for me is not about meat. It feeds something else in me. It has more to do with where I hunt and how I hunt than what I hunt. I have tried hunting deer with a Walmart at my back. It ain’t the same. Even on public land, I kind of feel weird. If you are reading this somewhere out west or up in the great trackless north, you may be scratching your head. Around me, public land is not hundreds of thousands of acres or even thousands or that many hundreds of acres. Unless you drive a ways, you are talking about a WMA of maybe 2000 huntable acres with every turnout and parking lot filled on the Shotgun Opener.

I am happy on my own 200 acres, shared with just my family. I can really look forward to each visit. I can go sit in my stand on the Rifle Opener and feel safe. I can hear trucks on the county road a mile or so away and dogs barking at the neighbors over on the next ridge, but I don’t have a housing project or a Kmart at my back. It makes me wonder: why is this acceptable to me?  Why don’t I need snow-capped mountains and unnamed lakes to feel at peace?

This is not wilderness. There is very little wilderness left in the Greater Ohio Valley Most of the larger parcels of huntable  land is land are second growth forest on reclaimed land. Even my place has the remains of three different settlements dating back before Kentucky as a state. No, what I have is an echo of wilderness, just enough to satisfy.
Zen Garden
Have you ever seen a Zen garden? A Zen garden is kind of neat idea. The idea is to artificially create a landscape that can cause the viewer to contemplate things larger than what is ostensibly there. Buddhist monks in Japan got into this idea. A bunch of rocks, neatly raked can represent an ocean. A big rock in the middle can stand in for an island. It ends up kind of coming off like a overly-manicured golf course, but instead of whacking balls around the monks contemplate the Universe.

I pass a little Zen garden nearly every day. There is a Catholic convent on the way home, and some of the nuns must be broadening their horizons. It is right out by the road. I cannot fathom how you could seriously groove on the thing without having the traffic interfere. The other day, however, I saw a couple of doe munching on the lawn next to it, and it got me to thinking.

That is kind of what we’ve got here at deer camp, a Zen garden. Only I like game roaming around on mine, and I like to do my contemplations with a 30-06.

Zen Monks waiting for season to start

This  pic could have been taken at any Kentucky Waffle House in mid November. Look at these guys. They all seem to be wearing Hunter Orange.  What’s the difference between that and this?


I’ll tell you what: the hat. It ain’t legal in Kentucky if you don’t wear the hat, but then I guess they come from a place with a warmer climate. The Conservation Officers must be giving them a little slack.



Pre-Season Scouting with Google Earth

It is not every day I get to break serious new ground in deer hunting, but I have found something with Google Earth that I simply must tell. I have been able to find actual deer trails and deer bedding areas on Google Earth. It is not easy, but it can be done.

We were long overdue for an update on Google Earth. The last image I had was from 2010. Over the winter, we finally got an updated image, and it was extremely high resolution. I can easily pick out the lawn furniture at the Thoughtful Spot. It was shot mid-September of last year, before haying. It just so happens I had been over the ground with Angus looking for new blind sites for his first year going solo, so I know what was there. We had seen trails going through the pastures as well as a few bedding sites we had previously missed.

I was on Google Earth looking things over, and it suddenly hit me: those trails were there! Those bedding sites were there too! I had to know what I was looking at, but they were there– subtle, but there. It took a special set of circumstances.

1) The grass had started to go dormant. It was tall in these bedding areas, and the tops were still green while the base of the plants were losing color. That meant the bowl-shaped beds showed up as bright circles.

2) The trails took more doing. Google Earth has a compass control in the upper right corner. If you grab the N(North) icon with your mouse, you can rotate the view around 360 degrees. I have the Terrain Exaggeration set to 1. You might have to play with this setting to get the effect. However, if you grab the compass control and rotate the view at a moderate rate back and forth, your eyes get a better illusion that you are looking at something other than a flat image. With a little work, I could see distinct striations in the tall grass as deer trails. Here is an example. Go to West Fork Dam, Cincinnati, Ohio, and then navigate over to here:

39°14’52.51″ N 84°30’06.11″ W


This is part of the Hamilton County Park District now, but it used to be a place I roamed as a kid. There are a lot of deer there, and I tested the technique on several known spots. The white spots in the grass are beds. The striations in the grass are trails leading to the beds.

There net result of this discovery is that I have found a couple new bedding areas on the farm as well as a few well-traveled trails through the tall grass. I am going to exploit them this season, and have gone and ordered a couple of new ladder stands. More on that later.


The Bug is Starting to Hit

It is still only the first week in August, but I am already getting ready for deer season. Two new treestands arrived from These buddy stands cost less than $90 each and by rejoining the Buyers’ Club, I got the shipping for free. I’ll be scouting for new stand sites when I get back down to Camp, hopefully this weekend.Buddy Stand

I have also been hard at work in the Reloading Cave. I’ve got several new cast lead deer loads worked up.

  • The finished Whelenizer load: 43 grains over H4895 over a lead bullet cast from a RCBS 35-200-FN with gas checks.
  •  A 357 Mag load for the Marlin 1894. I used a Lee 2-Cavity Bullet Mold C358-158-SWC, again a gas-checked bullet. With 16 grains of H110, it should take a deer at 50 yards. I do not expect to hunt with it as a primary weapon this year, but it will be nice to have handy during season if I’m out roaming about.

I’ve also been loading for my 357 Mag and 45 ACP pistols. The big innovation I’ve been trying out is Powder Coating. I found a good thread on

The closer I followed the instructions, the better my loads got. Powder Coated paint on lead bullets is a fairly new innovation in and of itself. The idea of doing without the paint sprayer and just tumbling the bullets in a sealed tub is fairly radical twist, but if you get the right paint it will stick to the bullets really well.

A handy addition to my casting this summer was this find at for under $18:
Etekcity Lasergrip 1080 Non-contact Digital Laser IR Infrared Thermometer Temperature Gun, Yellow/Black

I think they have it at Walmart too.

I can aim this at the top of the alloy in the casting pot and get an accurate reading, so I know how to adjust the rheostat on my Lee Production Pot. I also use it to read the temperature of the powder coated bullets in the oven so I can keep them close to 400F. As they are cooling, I can read when the bullets are safe to touch.




The Whelenizer Makeover

The Whelenizer is back on the rack, I had a blast trying out my new cast loads down at camp over the weekend. I went with the idea of loading as I went, 5 rounds at a time, and I got a chance to survey all the territory between 42 grains and 50 grains of H4895. Accuracy was best between 42 and 44. I was able to break 2500 with 50 grains, however both the accuracy was poor and the velocities were all over the place.

My conclusions are as follows:

1) 43 grains of H4895 gave consistent velocity and decent accuracy. It was getting late in the day when I tried it, but I had a couple of 2-shot groups that would fit inside a 50 cent piece.
2) The velocity variations increased with the charge weight.
3) When it came down to it, I had to look back at the overall goals. I had a hand-cast lead bullet– check. It could bag a deer at 150 yards or better– check. 42-44 grains produced a pleasant amount of recoil and 46-50 grains did not buy me anything except more wear and tear on the shoulder.

4) The Whelenizer kept its distinctive and authoritative report with the new load. When it barks everyone on the neighboring ridges will know I’ve shot.

So what I am taking home is more like a hot 35 Remington than anything else. I call that a win. It fits a nice niche in my rifle rotation. The Whelenizer with 200 grain jacketed round-nose was always my designated “rain gun.” I took it out when I expected lousy weather, because it had a less-than-perfect stock. I acquired a stainless Hawkeye in 30-06 last year, and so I’m well covered if I want to sit in a toad-strangler and watch one of the pastures. The Whelenizer will be good for treestands as well stalking the cedar thickets.

This was my first attempt at loading at the shooting bench. The hardest part was getting a dead-level surface to mount the scale. I used a bubble-level app on my tablet and a couple copies of the local phone book (up two pages to the right, down three on the back, etc.) The other problem I had was trying to use a scale in something other than dead air. For the first part of the day, I had nearly no wind. However, even the slightest breeze would skew the scale. If I did this regularly, I’d build a box with a plexiglass door, and screw feet on the bottom for leveling, or just spring for a small electronic scale. Transporting the stuff was easy. I fit everything in a 20mm ammo can.