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Scouting Trail Cameras

Pro Tips For Using a Wireless Trail Camera

by Mike Rex   |  January 12th, 2011 1

The author's son, Ryan, shows off the trophy whitetail he took in 2009. Ryan was able to monitor the buck without intruding in the area thanks to photos from a wireless trail camera. Photos courtesy of Mike Rex.

Heading into fall, I had saved up 30 vacation days, all ear-marked to hunt one particular buck. As luck would have it, that specific deer passed within 25 steps of my stand on the opening day of the season. With six weeks of “use it or lose it” vacation time in the bank, I decided to pursue some other interests in the fall woods, including filming hunts and trying to determine if an advantage existed between the standard flash and new (at that time) infrared trail cameras.

I had used flash cameras for years with mixed results regarding their effects on alarming or “spooking” deer. Several times I had observed deer walking in front of the camera, triggering the flash and not reacting adversely. Other times they would bolt off as if they’d been shot at with a cannon. To this day, I am not sure if it’s the flash or the sound of the camera firing that sometimes alarms the deer, but I definitely had better luck getting multiple photos of the same deer with infrared cams.

My field test with the infrared units consisted of setting up multiple cameras over freshly worked field edge scrapes. My reasoning for choosing field edge scrapes is the belief that they are primarily visited by deer after dark and the chance of me bumping a deer at midday would be greatly reduced. Although I took precautions not to contaminate the area around the scrape, it was obvious that my continued visits to pull the camera SD memory cards were adversely affecting whitetail activity.

Years ago, I watched a video of bloodhounds being trained by corrections officers to track escaped prisoners. Twelve hours after the “make believe” prisoner zig-zagged across a cut stubble field, the hounds were able to track him step for step. A whitetail’s nose is every bit as sensitive as a bloodhound’s. I can’t think of a better way to negatively alter deer movement than repeated human intrusion.

Again, a conventional trail camera is an extremely valuable scouting tool. However, to truly stay on top of what’s happening in a given area, you need to visit the camera frequently to view the photos. The wireless trail camera has eliminated this problem and allows the hunter to monitor, real time, what’s passing through a particular area, without contaminating the area with human scent.

In the fall of 2008, I hunted an area that was difficult to access. To get to where I felt I needed to be, I was forced to traverse a rock wall. There was one cut in the wall that both myself and the deer could use to get up and down the ridge — a perfect bottleneck. I set up a wireless trail camera at the head of the cut and was able to monitor deer activity at the pinch point 24/7 without ever having to climb up the ridge. Over a three month period, I was able to capture multiple pictures of a mature buck in the area, which ultimately led to my son Ryan taking his best buck to date (a 180-inch non-typical) during the last week of the Ohio bow season.

Wireless trail cameras like those made by Moultrie and Smart Scouter have shown me that the longer I can leave a unit undisturbed in a heavily used deer travel area, the more accurate my reconnaissance will be.

On occasion, a wireless trail camera has prevented me from bumping a deer in close proximity to my stand site. One particular morning last fall, I was outside the truck gathering up gear for an all-day hunt when an email from a wireless system came across my iPhone. The photo showed a nice buck within 50 yards of the tree I planned to hunt. The fear of spooking the deer prompted me to forgo the morning hunt with hopes that he would return later in the day. Without this information, I certainly would have run this deer off, making the hill that much steeper.

A common problem with leaving traditional trail cameras out for extended periods of time without checking them is battery life. This is especially true in cold weather. Most wireless cameras have the ability to let the viewer see the battery life status from a remote location. The viewer also has the ability to remotely change camera settings such as photo quality and the delay between pictures. Another issue with traditional cameras is reliability. If your traditional camera quits taking pictures after two days and you don’t check it for a week, you may just assume it wasn’t in a very active place. In reality, it just didn’t take any pictures. With wireless systems, you know immediately if the camera fails.

Living in one of the more remote areas of the Buckeye State, I often get phone calls from friends and acquaintances asking, “What are the deer doing?” Or “Are they moving down your way?” Many of these calls are from absentee landowners or land leasers that live great distances from their hunting grounds. If these hunters had wireless cameras positioned in strategic areas of their property, they would know firsthand if the deer were moving or not, rather than relying so much on reports from locals.

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