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Trail Cameras, The Modern Way To Scout

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Trail Cams – See Who’s Coming to Dinner

 

You’ve been waiting and planning the better part of a year.  The boss approved your vacation request eight long months ago.  Your wife told you that if you don’t stop talking about it, you would be living in your tent until hunting season opens.  This year, with two full weekends and five-workdays you have a total of nine-days with no job related responsibilities.  But, with drive time and camp set-up, you will have only six days in the field.  There isn’t a moment to waste. 

Who wouldn’t want to know the size of an animal and when it actually utilizes a specific trail or feeding area?  How much money and effort would you expend for that information?  With the advent of digital photography, manufacturers are making the solution more affordable and reliable every year.  Trail cameras can save your vacation and your hunt.

These devices are called by a profusion of names, such as trail cameras, stealth cameras, scouting cameras, trail sentries and recon cameras.  You can still purchase trail cameras that use 35mm film.  But, manufacturers are focusing on digital cameras.  You don’t even need a computer with many of the latest models. 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife uses trail cameras to help them determine the number of animals in a particular area, thereby aiding them in animal population estimates.  Dave Immell is a biologist assigned to ODF&W’s Roseburg office.  He showed me several photographs of bears taken in the Cascades, by means of trail cameras.  Their  cameras are placed along trails utilized by bears and other wildlife. 

Some newer trail cameras have a built in photograph-viewing screen, allowing you to see and delete photographs without removing the camera or digital memory card.  Most modern cameras are designed to allow the owner to view photographs on a television screen.  I especially like the idea of this feature.  I nearly always have a television in camp so my friends and I can view daily film footage, watch films from previous hunting trips, or be entertained by professionally made hunting tapes.  This trail camera feature would allow everyone to view hunt related photographs in camp.  And finally, some systems utilize a removable digital camera.  This means the camera can be placed inside the trail cam case, or used at home as a family camera. 

Trail cameras are not complicated.  They utilize a PIR sensor, a type of motion detector that uses invisible infrared light to detect movement.  If you’ve ever observed the cloudy white or gray plastic cover at the base of a motion detection light, that is the housing for the PIR sensor, which operates the motion sensitive outdoor light.  Be sure the trail camera you purchase uses a PIR sensor that requires both movement and body heat to activate.  Otherwise, every falling leaf or limb bobbing in the wind will activate the camera’s shutter. 

Josh Johnson, one of the owners of Spot-Hogg Archery equipment, lives north of Eugene.  He has been operating trail cameras for several years in western and eastern Oregon.  He and a friend built nearly thirty trail cam units at home.  Josh said they use about ten cameras at a time and each of them has hundreds or thousands of wildlife photographs.  They acquired many of their trail camera parts from Pix Controller (http://www.pixcontroller.com/). 

Josh was a wealth of information.  He told me he has owned several name brand trail cams and each of them have positive features and particular problems.  One of the biggest concerns is battery life and the battery system utilized by a manufacturer.  With some models the batteries will last only about one week, even if no photos are taken.  Some will only work at very close ranges, reaching the limit of their capabilities at around 20 to 25 yards. 

Also, you want the quickest camera shutter speed you can find.  If you are constantly getting flank shots or nothing but close-ups, that may be related to a slow shutter speed.  Buyers must ask questions and look for retailers who have answers to specific equipment questions.  Go online and read everything you can find.  Visit “Trail Cam Pros” on line (http://www.trailcampro.com/) to read reviews of most retail trail cameras .  Lets face it, trail cameras can be expensive, some cost more than $600.00.   Do your homework.

Be careful how you affix your camera to a tree.  In addition to being concerned about theft, you have to consider that a curious bear may try to rip it off the tree.  While cable locks such as used on bicycles, will work really well in the woods, one of the biggest problems are curious bears moving them around on the tree.  If that happens directly after you placed the camera, you could lose many days of valuable preseason scouting.  Josh suggests you place long wood screws above and below the cable on either side of the box.  This will prevent the camera from sliding from side to side or up and down.  Be sure to remove the screws from the tree when you relocate your camera. 

Do not place your camera at a 90-degree angle to a trail.  Once the animal activates your camera’s shutter, he could be out of the lens view if you place the camera in such a manner.  Place your camera looking down a trail at a slight angle – facing the direction from which you believe your game will come.  In that way, unless the animal is running, you will get a photograph of its approach.

Ensure your camera isn’t facing directly into the sun for part of the day.  Have you ever tried to take family photos with the sun in your face?  It doesn’t work.  Place the camera facing north or south, or under a canopy of heavy tree limbs or tall brush. 

It is imperative that objects are removed from your cameras shooting lane or line of sight.  Leaves or fern branches warmed in the sun and then moved about by wind will activate your PIR sensor.  Also, hanging brush or branches may partially hide the body of the animal walking toward your camera.  Take a pair of brush clippers or a machete with you when scouting the location for your camera.

You will reduce the problem of bringing attention to your camera if you buy one with an infrared flash, rather than a standard white light.  Josh said bears and elk are more likely to damage the camera if it has a standard flash.  A bright flash of light suddenly blinding them on the trail could be enough to prevent animals from using that trail for some time.  In my limited experience this has not been a problem, the bears, deer and turkeys I have photographed paid little attention to the flash.  But, animals survive by avoiding things that scare them or which they cannot understand.  Keep in mind that high quality color photographs are more difficult to capture with infrared. 

Consider placing the camera at or near a favorite source of food.  When spring bear hunting, consider placing your camera in areas with tall grasses and perhaps skunk cabbage.  In the fall, put the camera near berry patches or on trails leading to those delicacies.  Where I hunt, bears use creek beds as travel routes in the fall.  Blackberries often grow along creek beds and they can be busy animals highways when the berries are ripe.

Josh Johnson lives and hunts in Oregon.  He said he has photographs of coyotes, cougars, playing bear cubs, big bears, and great bucks and bulls, all because he uses his cameras several weeks or months per year.  He told me the quality of his photographs has dramatically improved with experience. 

My grandfather wouldn’t believe the hunting devices we take for granted in the 21st Century.  I’m certain he would be astonished to learn that while we are sitting at home watching a ball game or sleeping soundly in our beds, miles away our digital trail camera is making a permanent record of bear, deer or elk going about their business at our favorite hunting locations.  I urge you to take advantage of every means possible.  Make the most of your vacation before it arrives.  Get a trail cam and see who’s coming to dinner.

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March 29, 2008 - Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws, Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such, Hunting Stuff, Smile - You're on My Trail Camera

5 Comments »

  1. I really liked your thread about this, and I’ve seen a few more like it recently – the best part about yours is, it’s very informative and useful and full of good information without a bunch of usless rants and BS!
    I’ll be sure to give this URL to some friends
    Thanks Again

    Comment by Shutters Dallas | March 18, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks Shutters. I have a lot more personal experience with cameras now. I utilize them nearly year round. They have become like a cell phone now, ie; “What did we do before trail cameras?”

      Comment by jimgaskins | March 22, 2010 | Reply

  2. I totally agree with the advantages of having a game camera with you, especially before your next hunting season begins. I myself as a hunter have been using a game camera ever since I started hunting. An idea I got from my dad really!

    As the phrase goes “Know Thy Enemy”, it’s always beneficial to know what you’re up against. In the case of a game hunter, a keen observation of the behavioral pattern of the target be it a buck, turkey or birds will always give you an edge.

    With the help of this game cameras you may be able to do this without scaring those bucks away unintentionally, as those targets are pretty keen on their senses too, they can smell and feel a hunter even from a far distance.

    Yeah and I do agree setting up a camera can be a tricky part but not hard, you just need to find a perfect place for it to avoid a bunch of curious animals in the woods.

    Thanks for elaborating the advantages of using a game camera, finally I can send some articles (including yours) to Greg and convince him to have one.

    Thanks,
    Mike

    Comment by Game Camera | May 20, 2010 | Reply

  3. A bit embarassing, but what say you forgot which tree you mounted your camera on? How can you find it now? – not me of course. Thanks mike

    Comment by Michael | February 25, 2014 | Reply

    • Oops! Hey, that has happened to a lot of folks. I often tie a piece of flaggers ribbon to a tree branch along the trail, near my camera … so I won’t be in your situation. The obvious things are; try to think of a fallen tree, an unusal tree, or even a plant, rock, patch of mushrooms or anything memorable from the day you left your camera in the woods. Find your starting point. Where’d you park? Try to find the exact spot you entered the woods so you can attempt to retrace your steps. How far did you walk? Did you stop and look at anything along the way? Maybe you noticed something you just aren’t thinking of right now. A large squirrels nest, a patch of blackberries or some other barrier you had to walk around. Where was the sun at the time you placed your camera – when you looked up did the sun shine in your eyes? What direction was that?

      What a pain that is. I certainly wish you luck.

      Jim G

      Comment by jimgaskins | February 26, 2014 | Reply


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