I rarely step anywhere outside without having a camera with me. Whether I'm on a hunting or fishing trip or simply taking a walk with my camera, recording images of the places and things I see while afield brings an extra measure of enjoyment and preserves those memories for years to come. Recently, however, several friends of mine have shared a special type of outdoor photography with me, images of wildlife captured on trail cameras.
The use of trail cameras to monitor wildlife movement is not a new phenomenon by any means. But like so much of the electronic gadgetry we consider commonplace nowadays, remote trail cameras have become better, cheaper, smaller and easier to use in the past 10 years or so, making them a popular piece of equipment for many sportsmen.
One friend has used a trail camera around his hunting camp for quite a few years now. In fact, his first such camera used film instead of the digital technology that is the standard nowadays. Not only did he have the investment in the camera itself but also the expense of many rolls of film and processing each month that he had the camera in use. The transition to digital trail cameras did away with that. Digital cameras store photographs on inexpensive, reusable memory cards, which also allow the user to view the pictures immediately on a computer.
Trail cameras, or "game" cameras as they are sometimes called, range in price from about $100 to $400. Most of the folks with some experience using the remote cameras suggest models in the $200 to $250 for best results, including better quality photos overall. The better models also tend to have a bigger range of features to adapt to conditions encountered in the field. Some are also capable of taking video clips as well.
A built-in motion detector triggers the camera when an animal passes. The sensitivity of that detector can be adjusted on some models to prevent squirrels and other small animals and birds from triggering the device. The frequency that photos are shot can be adjusted as well. Intervals from one to five minutes seem to work well. This prevents an animal that lingers in front of the camera from filling the memory card with dozens of pictures of itself.
One of the greatest assets of remote cameras are their ability to capture the nocturnal comings and goings of wildlife. The camera's light meter automatically fires a built-in flash during lowlight or darkness. As might be expected, however, most animals aren't fond of a bright flash going off near them and rarely hang around for another photo when that happens. Many models now use infrared technology for nighttime photos, which has little or no affect on the animals it photographs. Regardless of day or night, trail cameras record the exact time and date the photo was taken, which provides a perfect record of what is using the area and when.
During the late summer, a well-placed trail camera, especially near a food source or even a feeder of some sort, can produce a lot of photos of a variety of wildlife. That is what my friends have been entertaining with for the past several weeks. We've watched several bucks grow some impressive sets of antlers.
One friend also informed me that all his photos from the past week revealed spikes and fork horns with antlers completely free of velvet. He also noted that most bucks with medium-sized antlers had some velvet, and those with the largest antlers still had the most velvet.
So apparently, the smaller bucks lose their velvet before the ones sporting bigger racks. While deer, bears and turkeys have been the stars of the trail camera shows this summer, a bunch of other species have been showing up as well.
I've seen shots of raccoons, opossums, porcupines, groundhogs and a gray fox in the past couple of weeks. But my choice for the strangest trail-cam photo was a black rat snake that dangle from the tree in front of one friend's camera to have its portrait made.
As we transition into fall, however, trail cameras also transition into more serious scouting tools as deer and other game begin to change their feeding and movement patterns.
Putting out food to entice game also must be curtailed in any area at least 30 days before any hunting can take place there.
Bigger, older bucks are already masters at avoiding detection. Human intrusion into their home range can make them even warier.
And worst of all, too much human activity or scent could force that deer out of the area for somewhere more secluded. In that case, a trail camera can be more effective than actual on-the-ground scouting.
So whether you're trying to figure out where and when that trophy buck comes and goes or just want to see what kind of critters are running around your property when you're not there, a trail camera could be the thing to tell you.