Trail Cams and Boxes of Chocolates

Sponsored by:  Dead Down Wind & The Archery Hall of Fame


By: M.R. James

AS FORREST GUMP WOULD SAY, “You just never know what you’re going to get.” And that’s what makes trail cameras so doggone neat. Throw in the bonus of helping hunters know what bucks are prowling their hunting area, determining travel patterns, and even noting times of day and night when animals are most active, and it’s easy to understand why cams are popular tools that more and more bowhunters are using.

Personally, I view the trail cams on my southern Indiana farm as Christmas presents that I get to open year-round. Although many times I’ll check them and find only the usual stuff waiting under my tree, hardly a week goes by that I don’t find some unexpected gift that I really enjoy. Better yet, every now and then there’s a photo that makes my heart leap like that of a youngster finding a shiny new bike, .22 rifle, or beginner’s bow that Santa left. Certain trail cam
photos are downright exciting.

MY 1995-ERA CAM TRAKKER was an early day trail camera that got me hooked on using photos to help scout for game. Today's digital cameras offer technology that is light years away from what once was available. And they're priced more reasonably, too.

Really, I started dabbling with “game scouting cameras” back in the mid-1990s while living in Montana. My first was a Cam Trakker, the trailblazing game surveillance system that included a fully automatic 35mm Olympus camera with a passive infrared motion detector housed inside a hard plastic, weather resistant casing. When some animal passed in front of the camera’s window, an electronic switch tripped the shutter and a took a photo. Incidentally, the Cam Trakker was pretty pricey, costing $399 plus $15 for shipping/handling.

Despite the cost, lots of units were sold and an industry was born. The idea was you could “scout” and “pattern” deer and other big game species without spreading human scent and boot tracks around the woods. I still remember the excitement of checking my Cam Trakker weekly, developing the film, and seeing images of whitetails and their Big Sky wildlife.

DATE, TIME & EVEN THE TEMPERATURE are routinely available on current trail cams. They'll photograph deer in your hunting area and offer info about when they're moving ... including the wee hours of the morning.

Now, a full decade and a half later, I get the exact same thrill out of venturing into the woods on our farm, pulling my digital memory cards, and viewing the images captured since my last visit. Additionally, I even have a couple of wireless cams that download images directly to my computer back at the house. Frankly, today’s cameras themselves have much more to offer than my old Cam Trakker. Modern technology offers scouting cameras and accessories that
provide high-resolution images in vivid colors at reasonable prices. And the quality keeps improving year after year.

As is true with bows, arrows, and broadheads, there’s no shortage of companies offering quality camera units and a variety of price tags from under $100 to several times that amount. All will do the job, although in my opinion top end cameras perform better than the cheapies. I prefer those with faster shutter triggers, because there’s nothing more disappointing than blurred pictures or photos showing only the south end of a northbound deer.

THIS TRAIL CAM IMAGE shows a rutting buck checking a scrape near one of my favorite tree stands. I commonly place cameras at strategic places around the farm to let me know what bucks are hanging around.

My personal collection of trail cameras includes several familiar names like Cuddeback, Bushnell, BuckEye, Moultrie, Wildgame, and Primos. But there others for you to check out.

Rather than endorse a single manufacturer or model, I urge interested bowhunters to do some homework before buying any camera. Compare features and prices. Speak to friends who have experience with scouting cams. Finally, keep in mind that quite often you do get what you pay for. Beware of “bargains” that seem too good to be true. As already mentioned, I’ve tried cheaper models that simply didn’t perform well and had a relatively short lifespan. Honestly, there’s a make and model to fit anyone’s needs and budget. But choosing the camera that’s just right for you takes some effort. Don’t skip the necessary research and legwork.

Now this Trail Camera shot caught something you don't see every day.

HERE’S TIME-TESTED ADVICE AND TIPS that I’m happy to share. Much of it is plain ol’ common sense, but it still bears mentioning.

  • Set up your camera facing north or south whenever possible. A rising or setting sun can spoil otherwise good photos.
  • Place cameras where there’s a clear, unobstructed view of the game trail, feeding area, scrape, water hole, or field’s edge where game is likely to appear. Trim away any weeds, small limbs, or leafy twigs that might blow in the wind and trigger the camera’s shutter.
  • Hang your camera or its bracket about 3-1/2 feet off the ground for deer-sized animals. I favor an average distance of 10-15 yards from where the animal will appear.
  • Discourage theft or vandalism by using metal holding units that bolt cameras to the tree.
  • To reduce human odor, mist the camera or its container with scent-killing field sprays. Consider wearing latex gloves while handling mounted cameras. Wear rubber-soled boots.
  • Check the camera at least once each week. Don’t hesitate to relocate it near a fresh scrape, new food source, or other potential ambush site.

Good luck and good shooting!