Last month in Part 1 of this series, I began to explain the basics of how I personally deal with trail cameras and the data they yield on an ongoing basis throughout the season. Here in Part 2 we will look at how I handle and store digital trail camera data.
The constant flow of trail cam photos across a deer season can be intimidating and time consuming if not handled in a diligent, organized and efficient manner. The key is to always deal with your incoming photos as quickly as possible and to not get behind. Hot, potentially actionable buck sighting or movement data is not much good if you let too much time pass and the data becomes stale by the time you are aware of what the photo data contains.
Dealing with your photos can be a real pain at times, but let me emphasize that I always try to handle and review my incoming data as quickly as possible. Additionally, I absolutely keep and catalog all of my trail cam photos as they come in throughout the season. These extra steps can be time consuming, but over time a constantly growing trail-cam database is an absolute gold mine of information regarding the location and timing of individual bucks as their movements are occurring and evolving across a given season.
I urge you, if at all possible, to evaluate your incoming photos the very day they are collected from your trail cameras. Note and map all useful information that can be extracted, and then be ready to react.
I try to visit every camera site at least once every few days to no longer than once a week to check the batteries, review the camera set up and swap memory cards for photo review. I also make visits of convenience to certain camera locations if my route to or from a deer stand happens to pass nearby.
Upon returning from the field, I plug my recovered memory cards into a card reader that is hooked up to my computer and perform a quick scan of all the new photos before saving them into permanent digital file storage. This quick initial review is helpful, as it gives me a sense of what the new photo data shows. I then begin the process of saving the photos on each memory card into more than one permanent digital file storage location. The extra trouble of saving to different storage device locations is offset by the additional margin of safety that is gained against future potential hard drive crashes or unintentional file deletions.
I recommend that you keep at least one complete set of backup photo files on a separate external hard drive as a safety factor. I copy the photos from the memory cards at full resolution into titled, dated and sequentially lettered or numbered file folders in each separate file storage location.
I have one designated file storage location that stores what I refer to as my day-to-day "working files." My working set of files is the one that I work and manipulate during the process of deciphering what can be learned from the photos. If I inadvertently delete or ruin copies of photos in the "working file," they can easily be restored from the separate back-up file location. That is why it is important to keep back-up files.
I set up master "file folders" on my computer hard drive or external drive for each annual trail camera cycle, such as "011-012.TrailCamPhotos." In each annual master file folder, I then set up dated folders for each memory card swap, such as "9.25.11," "10.1.11" and so forth and so on. In each dated file I then set up named folders for each trail camera location that contributed photos on that memory card swap date, such as "SEcorBigField" and "WhiteOakPatchScrape." These identified trail camera location "file folders" are the repositories where you copy the photos from each respective memory card.
Regarding the buck photos that are found in the overall field of photos obtained on each card swap date, I use a procedure that really streamlines my ability to re-find and return to particular buck photos for review or comparison at a later date.
What I do is, in the dated grouping of "identified trail camera location file folders," I set up an additional file folder entitled "OverallBuckPhotos." In that folder I set up sub-files for each camera location that contributed photos during that card swap round and then find and copy all of the buck photos from each camera location file into the respective location folders contained in the "OverallBuckPhotos" file folder. After all memory card photos have been copied and successfully stored for future use and review, I delete all the photos on each of the memory cards so that they will be ready for rotation back into service when I next visit the camera sites.
The extra steps outlined here can pay off big time for the reader in both hunting success and enjoyment. I strongly urge all trail camera users to take the next step, push the envelope and raise your game to see what additional information can be gleaned from your efforts. Next month we will delve into how I personally dissect and study my trail camera data in the quest for gaining an edge in the woods and also for learning about whitetail behavior and movement patterns on my property.