Understanding Trail Cameras

trail camera
This in an actual trail camera photo of a buck that was later killed by a hunter. The ability to determine which trails a buck is using, and where his core area is located pays big dividends come hunting season.

The excitement that comes with checking a trail camera after a long absence is nearly as acute as a child waiting for Santa Claus. You never know what you will find. You may find photos of a rare animal such as bobcat, see strange behavior among more common animals or even catch a trespasser. I know many deer hunters, for example, that have photographed deer that they didn’t even know lived in their hunting area – big deer. It is like spying on wildlife – seeing them in their environment under relaxed conditions.

Trail cameras also allow you to get to know the animals (especially deer) that live in your hunting area more intimately than you could by any other means. You will not only learn where the biggest deer live, but you can enjoy the opportunity to document the growth of particular deer from year to year. It is great fun to compare pictures of the same deer from one year to the next as they grow larger antlers.

Basic film scouting cameras are very affordable. However, you will have to pay for film and processing so the total cost increases over time. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Deer cameras are one of the best ways to scout for deer. Some deer hunters have turned the use of deer cameras into both a science and an art. As a result, they are patterning bucks faster and shooting more trophy bucks than ever before.

There are many things you can learn from the photos you get from your deer cams, but rather than going into a long, boring dissertation on the subject, here are two high profile success stories to reveal all the whys and hows of trail camera scouting. 

A lot of hunters said that when they could check their deer cameras using a small PDA device from an open window of their truck, they would have them all over the place. That day is very close to reality. There are all kinds of deer cams on the market from the simplest film camera devices to the most sophisticated digital cameras with wireless transmitters to upload the images through computers and ultimately to a website so you can view them from anywhere on earth. The technology in this marketplace is changing and evolving so fast that it is very hard to keep up with it. If you can dream it, you can probably buy it – if you can afford it.

Trail Camera Categories

The use of digital trail cameras lets you gain the most up to date information on the deer you’re hunting while in the field. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

You can break trail cameras down into three categories: film (with flash), digital with non-game spooking infrared or invisible LED flash and standard digital with flash.

Infared Trail Camera

Some heavy camera users don’t like to use a flash trail camera because they believe the flash will spook the deer from using a certain area so they use an infared trail camera. Mark and Terry Drury is in that camp. Also, the flash can reveal the location of the camera to other hunters (if you hunt in fairly open areas), giving away your best locations. Most hunters are less worried about that than they are about the flash spooking the deer.

The Quality Deer Management Association magazine (called Quality Whitetails) recently had a piece that documented several cases of flash fright. However, there have also been photos of the same bucks on feed stations night after night without showing any sign of fright. Some believe it depends on the personality of the individual deer.

Standard Flash Digital Trail Cameras

Digital trail cameras work off a flash memory card that is stored in the camera. In most cases, you have to walk to the trail camera to retrieve the memory card for viewing. Most trail camera users will carry a blank card and swap them out, taking the card from the camera home so they can download the images onto their computer. 

trail camera
Using individual posts is a great way to monitor feeding areas such as food plots.

Film Trail Cameras

Obviously, film trail cameras require you to remove the roll of film, replace it with a fresh roll and then have the roll processed to see what kind of animals were in front of the trail camera. You give up convenience and you pay more (in the long run, when you factor in the cost of film and developing) but you get a quality hard copy of the image that is nice and portable to carry around and show your friends. However, if you hunt in an area with lots of does, you are going to spend a fortune in processing roll after roll of doe photos just to get a few buck photos. It is better, in most cases, to opt for digital right away. You can always print out the few “keeper” shots that you want to show your buddies.

Trail cameras are a great way to extend your hunting in a direction that not only is very fun, but also will make you a better informed, more effective hunter. Patterning game with deer cameras is the wave of the future. It is just getting started. Ever-evolving trail camera technology will someday completely revolutionize the way you think of deer scouting. 

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