Thoughts on the science of trail cameras

Things have really changed over the past 40-odd years when it comes to deer hunting. There would certainly be some debate regarding certain aspects of the sport, but for the most part — in my humble opinion — we as deer hunters have never had it better than we do right now, especially here in the Deep South.

When I first tried deer hunting in about 1970 at age 22, the range and availability of hunting attire and equipment was extremely limited. I had fortunately spent a stint in the military and had a pair of un-insulated leather combat boots, plus several olive drab cotton fatigue pants and shirts, and to top it all off a hooded cotton field jacket.

I borrowed a Marlin .35-caliber to take my very first deer while in college here in Mississippi, but my first actual owned gun was a Remington 870 Wingmaster 16-gauge pump shotgun.

My deer hunting ammunition supply consisted of a “five-pack” or two of No. 1 buckshot. Man, I thought I was loaded for bear.

Believe it or not, I actually killed a deer or two in those early years, but truth be known, those unlucky victims of my early efforts were just — well — unlucky. It had little to do with my knowledge and prowess or lack thereof as a deer hunter.

When I look back and recall having to layer up with two or three pairs of cotton socks, a set of cotton “long handles,” a couple of cotton shirts under a sweat shirt, my field jacket and my military-issue gloves, I can almost feel the bone-chilling cold all over again.

But since there were no real alternatives available at the time, we deer hunters all blissfully went to the woods and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in spite of how we were equipped.

Back in the day, if one wanted to find out about deer movement at a particular location, a piece of thread tied across the trail was about the best thing going. It was a one-shot deal, though. It would tell you that something came past and usually what direction “it” traveled — if the thread did not break and get carried away.

As crude as this all sounds, it was pretty much the only trick we had in the bag before the advent of trail cameras.

I well remember my curiosity and skepticism upon hearing about the first generation of trail cameras. They consisted of just a regular 35mm flash camera installed in a box and hooked to a crude motion detector. The number of photos that could be taken was dictated by the number of shots on the roll of film that was installed, usually a choice between either 24 or 36 photos.

The only thing that kept the process even halfway affordable was the fact that you could take your film for processing to Walgreens and a few other film-development competitors where you were charged for processing but only had to buy the prints that you were satisfied with. Most hunters that I know were of course never satisfied with photos of does, armadillos, possums, squirrels and any number of other similar subjects, and automatically put them in the reject pile.

Thank goodness the so called “good old days” are way in the distance in my personal rear-view mirror.

Now let’s fast forward to the present day in our quest for success as whitetail deer hunters. The science of monitoring deer activity through the use of digital trail cameras is evolving at a dizzying pace. Over just the past few years we have seen cameras miniaturized, infrared flash is now “black-out,” camera speeds and photo quality have improved dramatically, and on and on.

My personal way to stay up to date with the latest trail camera technology without breaking the bank is to replace at least two or three of my oldest cameras with the latest and greatest each year. The cameras being replaced can then be easily sold to someone looking for a bargain, and you can recoup a few bucks in the process.

Since I run 12 to 15 cameras simultaneously during each season, this method allows me to stay somewhat up to date and take advantage of the ever-evolving and improving technology.

I touched on something back in the March 2012 “Happy Trails” column that bears repeating and that I think is very important efficiency wise when running a string of cameras: I urge each serious trail-camera user to put together a shoulder bag or something similar containing all of the possible things that you need or might need when visiting your camera sites.

I had listed in detail in the referenced column of a collection of items that included such things as a pouch with duplicate memory cards, small tools, lobbing shears, extra camera batteries, tree straps, Bungees and other potential hardware that might be needed, camera-operating pamphlets, a small notebook and a pencil, and, lastly, two or three short wooden dowels to cock or tilt cameras downward when necessary.

The full article can be read by downloading the digital edition in the Sportsman store.

I now want to add to the list one additional item that I have been using lately with great success: an iPad. An iPad with an SD card adaptor can be invaluable when used in the field at a trail camera site in order to see exactly what has been recorded since your last visit.

Based on what you see, you may decide to move the camera to a new location, or you may gain information that causes you to change the setup or aiming azimuth.

Even though the photos can be downloaded from the memory card to the iPad onsite, I personally prefer to swap my memory cards in the field and bring the full ones back home or to the camp for computer storage and evaluation of my trail camera photos.

Yes, this does involve an extra step or two, but I do not want to risk losing any of my precious photo data — especially during the core of the deer season.

About Bill Garbo 83 Articles
Bill Garbo is a petroleum engineer and avid whitetail hunter from Madison, Miss. He has lived and hunted out west and taken numerous big game species, but hunting big old mature southern whitetail bucks is his favorite pursuit by a country mile.

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