A Case for Trail Cameras
Dr. John Woods 10.09.13
Why do we use trail cameras? To scout, spot, identify, catalog, and pattern deer, and to feed a curiosity of what else is out there that happens to walk in front of the camera. Last year I got two good photos on one trail cam. One was a huge 8-point buck that we never saw during the hunting season. The other was a real close up shot of a cow’s rump. I got a good laugh anyway. My other camera caught a doe urinating on a scrape. That was interesting.
Serious deer hunters, wildlife professionals, and game managers use trail cameras to make deer population estimates, check on the health status of wild game, and record data on bucks photographed. The information can be extremely useful in making deer management decisions for property habitat manipulations, enhancements, and maintenance.
I know it has happened to others for certain, but personally I have yet to record a buck on a trail camera that I later had an opportunity to harvest. In the back of my mind I do wonder if a trail camera really helps scout all that much. Sure, it’s nice to know that a certain buck walked in front of the flash, but that is no guarantee that deer will be around tomorrow or even next week.
Maybe deer hunters’ expectations for trail cameras far exceed their true value. Maybe we rely on them too much. All during the deer season friends, contacts, and other hunters email me trail photos of bucks. However, to date none of those bucks are hanging on a trophy wall somewhere. So then, what’s the point?
The point of all this application of technology, expense of the cameras, time to hang them, time to check them, replace or recharge the batteries, review and study the results on the data discs, and either send out the bragging shots, or wait for the next round of photos can be summarized by one term: anticipation!
It is the hope that the next photo frame will hold the biggest buck ever seen on the property. It may never be seen by the naked eye of a hunter, but the element of excitement is there. The sheer anticipation that the buck might be collected will be enough to get some hunters out of the camp house earlier and bring them back way after dark.
Figuring out where to put a trail camera isn’t rocket science. How to position them is more critical. Put them on deer movement and sign hotspots. These include travel routes, worn funnels across water, woodland gaps, ditches, active rubs and scrapes, near food sources showing evidence of browsing, or anywhere deer have been spotted yarding up or hanging out. Sometimes if no tree is nearby just hammer a steel post into the ground.
Position trail cameras so the lens is not catching the sunlight directly. Make sure it is lashed to a tree at the appropriate height to catch an average deer walking by. Too high and you get a back or nothing, and too low all you get is legs. The first round of shots will tell you if you have it positioned correctly.
Before you leave the camera, double check the settings, turn it on and then lock it up. Give it at least 24 hours to work, though 48 would be better. When you go to check it, do it quickly with minimal noise and scent deposit. Slip out one SD disc and pop in another. Be gone. Enjoy the results.
Are trail cameras a necessary piece of deer hunting equipment? Nope. Can they reveal information about deer on your property that you may not be able to acquire by any other means? Yep. Will it enhance your likelihood of taking a trophy buck this season? Maybe. If you decide to use trail cams on your hunting property, will it heighten your hunting anticipation? Most certainly! That alone may be reason enough to hang as many trail cameras as you can afford.