Late summer is the time of year when some serious preseason scouting begins for most archery deer hunters. To be useful, that process can require many hours in the field, waiting and watching to locate a good buck and attempt to pattern its territory and habits. Over the past decade, however, more and more hunters are employing the high-tech advantage of remote trail cameras to aid with their scouting chores.
The greatest benefit of a remote camera is the device is on duty 24 hours a day, and in some situations, it can be more effective than actual on-the-ground scouting. Bigger, older bucks are already masters at avoiding detection. Human intrusion into their home range can make them even warier. Worst of all, too much human activity or scent could force that deer out of the area entirely.
The use of trail cameras to monitor wildlife movement is not a new phenomenon by any means. The first such units marketed for sportsmen included simple film cameras, which required not only the investment in the camera itself but also the expense of many rolls of film and processing whenever the camera was 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. 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 ten years or so, making them a popular piece of equipment for many sportsmen.
Most trail cameras, or "game" cameras as they are sometimes called, range in price from about $100 to $400. Last weekend, I even saw a unit on sale at Bass Pro Shops for just $69. Most folks with some experience using the remote cameras, however, suggest models in the $200 to $250 price range 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.
One of the greatest assets of remote cameras is their ability to capture the nocturnal comings and goings of wildlife by automatically firing a built-in flash during low-light periods 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 being photographed.
During the late summer, a well-placed trail camera can produce a lot of photos of not only deer but also a variety of wildlife. My friend Bill Carter of Altoona has used trail cameras around his hunting camp in Huntingdon County for many years, and I am always amazed at the variety of animals that parade past his cameras on a regular basis. In addition to deer, turkeys and an incredible number of black bears, virtually every other ground-dwelling critter has also been captured digitally during the past year or so, including raccoons, opossums, porcupines, gray squirrels, gray foxes, red foxes, groundhogs, skunks, a coyote and a bobcat.
Digital cameras have built-in clocks that automatically record the exact time and date a photo was taken, so trail cameras provide a perfect record of what is using and area and when. That feature helped Carter bag a gobbler this past spring when one of his trail cameras revealed a pair of longbeards were visiting a food plot between 2 and 4 most afternoons. This year, of course, all-day hunting for spring turkeys was permitted after the first two weeks of the season. Carter was in his blind and waiting during the first afternoon of the expanded hunting hours. The big birds arrived on schedule, and he bagged a 19-pounder with an 10-inch beard and 1 1/2-inch spurs.
Most trail cameras won't produce high-quality photos that you'll want to frame and hang on your wall. But if you want 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 well-placed trail camera could be just what you need.