Stillwater News Press

Outdoors

June 29, 2014

Cross Timbers Report: Trail cameras revolutionize deer hunting

STILLWATER, Okla. — There is no doubt in my mind that the greatest invention to influence deer hunting in the last 10 years is the trail camera.

Ten years ago I came home from the woods with many questions. It is not that I don’t still have questions, but now I have answers to some of those questions. Those answers have allowed me for the first time in my life to make accurate decision about management and achieving proper harvest totals.  

A quick history reveals that trail cameras have come a long way. The standard version 10 years ago took photos that had to be developed, had a standard flash and no capability for video. These cameras were not worth the time or money invested, but they were intriguing.

We got pictures of raccoons and does, but rarely any bucks. The film would get used up very fast and not much information was actually gathered. Trail cameras were a novelty item with a large ceiling for growth.  

Then came the digital camera and the key to unlock the power of the trail camera. There was no film to develop. Cameras could be left out longer and computers could be used to begin stock piling information. But there were continued flaws that had to be sorted out, such as the standard flash and noise that spooked deer. I continued to see them as more of a novelty item than a serious hunting and management tool.

That all changed with inferred technology. The flash was gone and all that could be seen was a dim panel of red L.E.D. lights. Outside of making motion sensors and battery life better, the industry had perfected the trail camera as a hunting and management tool.

I bought into the concept in full force. So many questions that ran through my mind when I came across a large set of deer tracks could potentially be answered. My first year of being serious about their use contributed well over 4,000 photos and videos to my hard drive. I spent the rest of the year scouring through the archive searching for answers to my deer hunting questions.

My last season of trail camera footage contributed almost 10,000 pictures and videos between summer scouting sets and hunting season camera traps. It is difficult to quantify how much I have gleaned from trail cameras. All of the insight into the habits of deer has changed some opinions and reaffirmed others.

My hunting used to be based on superstition and perceived notions. I would hope for bucks to come by and have to immediately evaluate their quality. Bad decisions were made. Deer that were younger than what should be harvested were harvested due to snap decisions.

Now I pretty much know a buck by the first time I see him in person. But more importantly, I know my does and have a complete picture of the quality and quantity of the deer herd.

What may be the most important feature of the trail camera is one that I have mentioned but not yet discussed. I primarily run all of my cameras on video at all times. A 30 second clip can reveal more than all of the pictures taken in the same period of time.

Video allows you to evaluate age of both bucks and does. Deer will come in and out of the frame during a video sequence allowing you to piece together a much better picture of herd numbers and structure. But you also get interaction from the deer than cannot be gleaned from a single picture.   

The first year I ran cameras I got pictures of two bucks and harvested none. Last season I had video of several bucks by mid-October, and harvested a tremendous buck five days after first appearing in front of the camera.

I could go on for days about how trail cameras have changed my hunting, and if you haven’t used them now is the perfect time to begin. They are truly the one piece of technology that has made the largest impact and influence on my hunting each season.  

Jon Kocan is an outdoor columnist for the Stillwater News Press. Kocan is a long time local hunter. Email Kocan at jkocan@stwnews-press.com

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