Daylight was just breaking on a late-December morning. I had been in the barn stand overlooking a small area that I had cut free of trees and was littered with old rotting logs. I was freezing and could not wait for the warming rays of the sun to get above the horizon and begin to thaw my body.
As time passed, I sat quietly and watched the squirrels go to and fro looking for food to stuff in their thin winter cheeks. Then, around mid-morning as I was about to climb down out of my stand, I spotted him. I looked through my binoculars and discovered what I had been waiting for: a beautiful ten point, the one I had named “Rusty” because of his reddish brown tone.
How did I know it was Rusty? Just by looking at his antlers. I had seen him numerous times on the trail cameras that I had set up around my property. Today’s trail cameras are awesome, with fast shutter speeds, infrared flashes, and animal centering technology. You never know what you might see when you download your pictures. Those ghostly deer images, which we used to only be able to see through a thick fog, have now given way to full-color photographs and the ability to name and monitor deer.
I only recently began using trail cameras, and now I wonder how I ever hunted without them. They definitely make hunting more fun. Every time I go into an area where I have cameras set up, I can target a specific deer. It can also give me specific information about what times certain deer visit certain areas. Am I always successful at targeting the bucks that I see on the pictures? No, but it does give me one more tool in my arsenal to make me a more successful hunter and put the odds in my favor.
How do you choose the right camera for you? The age old adage of “You get what you pay for” has never been truer than when it comes to buying a trail camera. You should buy the best camera that you can afford to buy. If you have to choose between buying one $200.00 camera or two $100.00 cameras, buy the one that costs more and move it around your property. You will be much happier with the results in the end. Build your trail camera arsenal slowly over time, and you will be thankful that you did.
One of the main features that you will have to decide between, at any price range, is whether to purchase a flash camera or a no-flash, infrared camera. The infrared cameras are becoming more popular with hunters these days; however, I prefer the flash style because of their ability to take color photos at night. Some hunters want to argue that the flash scares the deer, but I have plenty of photos that show otherwise. Others features on digital cameras include being able to erase unwanted pictures, downloading the photos onto your computer, and putting the photos in different files for viewing and management purposes.
Common sense in using trail cameras is useful and smart. I know it sounds stupid to say, but if you photograph a big buck in a certain area, odds are he will be harvested within a half mile of that area. I have learned that if you stick to an area where a certain buck was photographed, your chances of harvesting him will go up.
If I know about a certain buck from earlier photos, I’ll try to locate him in the fall by placing cameras in areas where I think he will be. I begin the process of trying to locate a summer monster in late September, and use cameras throughout the hunting season. If you set up a camera on a scrape area, the number of pictures you get will often be low, but most of them will be bucks.
I’ve gotten pictures of as many as eight bucks on one scrape in one night. A key behavior pattern I’ve learned through the use of trail cameras is that older bucks don’t always visit the same scrapes every night. Instead, most mature bucks I’ve photographed seem to be on a three- to six-day rotation. That means if a buck was in an area, he will be back. This knowledge keeps me in the woods longer, and ultimately increases my hunting success.
After the season is over, it’s time to find a mature buck for next season. Using trail cameras for this endeavor is much more than a hobby for me. I enjoy it as much as I do actually hunting, if not more. The first thing you want to do is make sure you know how your camera operates before placing it in the woods. Most cameras will trigger themselves when facing direct sunlight, and you don’t want moving limbs, sticks or weeds in front of your camera lens.
Where is the best place to put a post-season camera? Food sources or feeders (if you use feeders) are always excellent locations in which to get multiple pictures of different animals. If you do set up over a feeder, be sure to set your camera’s timer to take pictures at 15- to 20-minute intervals because the animals are usually there for a while and you don’t want to end up with 10 pictures of the same deer.
Older aged bucks usually won’t come to new feeders. However, if you put some feed on the edge of a food plot or trail, they’ll often come to this feed without hesitation. Doing this may get you a picture of an old buck that no one has ever seen before.
As mentioned, I like to use my cameras year-round. This enables me to monitor such important things as when bucks are shedding their antlers, when fawns are being dropped, when new antler growth starts (allowing me to watch the progress of that growth), when the bucks start getting back into their bachelor groups, and when they start shedding their velvet. Perhaps, most importantly, my cameras help me pinpoint areas where the bigger bucks are hanging out before anyone else knows this information. This is also a great way to get younger kids involved in hunting. My two year old daughter loves to fill feeders and check the cameras. It is one of the things that we can do together before she learns to hunt.
Trails are good bets for locations likely to provide a variety of deer photos, but unless you have a quick-reaction camera, you will miss a lot of pictures. For a trail setup, place the camera facing up or down the trail so the deer will be in the trigger area longer. With the aid of my trail cameras photos, I try to keep an annual log of how many different deer I know about in certain areas and what their ages are. It is important to keep track of your does as well as your bucks. If you do not have a good number of does, bucks will not frequent your area as often. Also, if you have too many does, you will need to do some population control hunting.
The cameras also allow you to determine which bucks made it through the season, so that in January or February I can start planning to fatten them up for the next season.