Trail cams give you an around-the-clock view

If you’ve ever suspected there was a big buck roaming your favorite hunting grounds, you probably wished you could monitor the area 24/7. But that’s virtually impossible unless you use a trail cam.

Trail cams are motion-activated, weather-proof cameras that can be strapped to trees or posts to monitor wildlife activity.

Many uses

Hunters, birders and watchers find trail cams equally useful. There’s real excitement to watching deer and other wildlife grow and mature through the year.

Most Octobers I find several prominent buck rubs in some sumac stands close to the house. I know white-tail bucks are responsible, but I don’t see many bucks. They get wary this time of year.

Deer routinely clean up the sunflower seeds that fall to the ground beneath my bird feeders, but it’s always does and yearlings. I’ve never seen a buck at the feeders during daylight hours. But I know they’re around.

So a few years ago when a neighbor stopped by and asked if he could set up a trail cam near the rubs, it sounded like a great idea.
Just a few days later, he had images. There were no monster bucks, but at least I knew a few bucks lived nearby.

Best location

If you’re scouting areas for this year’s deer season, you might consider using a trail cam. Within just a few days, you’ll know whether or not it’s worth investing time in a particular location. You simply strap the camera to post or tree and point it towards a prominent buck rub or heavily used trail.

There are many trail cams on the market, so here are a few features to keep in mind.
Image quality is important and is often indicated by the number of megapixels the camera has. More megapixels is better, but the lens quality is also a factor. Go to a big outdoors store, find a knowledgeable salesperson, and ask questions.

The ability for a camera to operate at night is essential because most mammals are nocturnal. LED flash provides nice full color images, but the bright light may spook deer and other wildlife. Flash range is also important. At what distance will the flash be effective?
Higher-end cameras offering infrared image capture is an alternative. Images will be black and white, but color is not essential for determining the presence or absence of deer.

Video mode

This is great to have, but it will use batteries more quickly. Alternatively, “burst mode” takes several images over the course of a few seconds and gives a better idea what deer are doing. Trigger time is the lapse of time from when the motion sensor trips the camera until the shutter fires. This is usually less than one second.

Finally a time-lapse mode can be valuable for detecting wildlife over a period of time. Some camera’s can be set to take images every few seconds, every few minutes, or even hourly. This feature is especially useful for scanning activity on a large open field.
And trail cams can be used for many purposes other than finding big bucks. If you’ve got a mysterious creature coming into the backyard at night and raiding the bird feeder or emptying trash cans, an image or two can identify the culprit.

Or if you see a creature you can’t identify, a trail cam is invaluable. A camera focused on a bird feeder, for example, can quickly determine if night raiders are flying squirrels, raccoons or opossums.

Security devices

And when not being used for wildlife photography, trail cams can double as home security devices. Positioned to capture images at porches and doors, trail cams cam help identify home intruders.
If it sounds like I’m trying to convince myself to buy a trail cam, I am. At $100 to more than $300, trail cams are not cheap, so buyers should know what features they want before making a purchase. I know getting images of deer will be easy, but I’d like to catch a coyote, bobcat, or bear.

For more information, search online, “trail cam information,” and you’ll be busy for hours.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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