Trail Camera Placement Strategies Using Topographic Maps

Video how to read a topo map for hunting

Immediately I saw the connection between hanging stands and hanging scouting cameras. After all, what good is it to hang a stand without first knowing exactly what type of deer are roaming the area? So, as much as this blog is about hanging treestands, it’s even more about finding great locations to hang your trail camera.

The author used topo maps to locate does, which eventually lead to capturing images of this buck. He arrowed the buck a few days later during the rut.

Read Between The Lines

When looking at a topo map, the most overwhelming characteristic you will notice is the number of lines and the different shapes that they take. And while they may look weird or insignificant, the lines are actually the key to everything, specifically the spaces between them.

If you need a refresher on reading topos, wide spaces between the lines on a topo map indicate a gentle slope in the terrain. Conversely, lines that are close together signify steep terrain. The closer the lines, the more vertical the slope, and the farther apart, the more level the slope. Think of it in terms of “positive” and “negative” terrain features.

Look for pinch points and funnels on topographic maps

To locate funnels on a topo map, look for the area where the tightly knit lines bump up against the widely spaced lines. In other words, where the positive and negative terrain features collide. See circled areas on the map above.

Now, think about a buck walking along a gentle slope to get from point A to point B. There are probably a lot of places you could hang a trail camera. However, there is one spot that will almost guarantee that if a buck does move through the area, he will walk past your camera and/or stand. This is the spot where the steep and gentle terrain meets.

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Most often, a buck will detour around the steep terrain to traverse the easier slope. This is known as a “pinch point” or “funnel.” Knowing this and setting up a treestand or trail camera nearby will pay big dividends, either in the way of a shot opportunity or visual evidence that deer are using the funnel.

Looking Beyond Topos

Sometimes topo maps don’t show the subtle funnels that can attract deer. Sometimes the only way to find them is to put your boots on the ground and find them yourself.

Old logging roads, bench flats, and small ridgetop saddles can attract deer. And while saddles can be dynamite locations to hunt and hang trail cameras, they are also attractive to hunters because of their easy access. This can turn them into dead zones, at least under the light of day. Mature bucks typically stay clear of high traffic areas during shooting hours, but you probably already knew that. However, if you are hunting in an area where hunting pressure is light, then ridge-top saddles can be great locations to hang a camera and/or hunt.

This buck used the smallest bench flats to traverse the steep terrain and cruise a nearby bedding area. Notice the rugged terrain in the background.

This buck used the smallest bench flats to traverse the steep terrain and cruise a nearby bedding area. Notice the rugged terrain in the background.

Logging roads and bench flats must often be found on foot because they don’t always readily reveal themselves on a topo map. For the most part, Deer are lazy animals and will often take the path of least resistance when given a choice. Abandoned logging roads or small flats both make for easy travel in rather uneasy landscapes. Therefore, don’t dismiss their potential. Again, if you find an area along a logging road or flat where the terrain abruptly changes, then you’ve found another potential pinch point. Sometimes there can be pinch points within pinch points.

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Whether you’re hanging a stand or a trail camera, most often, you’re told to find those high-traffic areas that deer love. That’s sound advice. However, big, mature bucks typically don’t follow the same script as younger deer. In fact, they most often move with a mind of their own in defiance of what other deer may be doing. Small funnels and pinch points can be the missing piece of the puzzle that oftentimes puts that elusive buck in your lap.

Start the process by studying your topo map. Then study it again. Then, grab a dependable scouting camera and head to the timber to confirm your hunch. Upon your return, I think you will be pleasantly surprised, whether you’re hanging a stand, hunting, or checking your SD card—best of luck.

On a side note, if you use DeerLab’s trail camera software, be sure to take a peek at their topo views when looking at a property. Initially, when viewing your property, you will see a satellite view, but there’s a toggle in the top right corner of each map that will allow you to change over to a topo view. This can really help if looking for new trail camera locations or to check if your current trail cameras are in an ideal location.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>