By Nick Simonson
My favorite holiday comes in mid-August. No, not National S’mores Day or International Beer Day (close runners up though), but that day, after the hustle-and-bustle of summer activity gives way to a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon when I can unwrap my favorite late-summer present – the memory card in my trail camera. Sure, it’s not a traditional holiday with a set date, occurring every couple of weeks between July 4th and Labor Day, it’s just as enjoyable, without the calorie count of those events either.
Positioned over a well-hit mineral lick, the camera captures the movements of does, fawns and the occasional buck wandering through the areas I plan to hunt in a few weeks, giving me insight for the upcoming season, and a chance to picture that moment when one of those bucks might happen to wander in front of my stand site. It’s this little gift – like a Christmas present in the middle of summer – which spurs on all the other preparations undertaken right now for the season. Whether it’s getting the last few arrows out of the bow and into a foam target, or checking the batteries in my range finder, or washing, bagging and storing my hunting clothes in scent-free soap and storage totes, all of these little steps toward a big season are spurred on by the photos that come in from the field.
The great thing about trail cameras is that most of the summer photos, particularly those taken this time of year late in the antler-growing season, are of the wandering, reclusive bucks in full velvet, coming through the area at night. Just like the clearest, deepest water magnifies the size of a 20-inch walleye as it comes up through the column making your eyes tell your brain that the four-pounder is really a 10-pounder on the other end, the nighttime photos of bucks with their antlers in full velvet, reflecting the infrared flash of the camera tend to enlarge the apparent size of their racks. This phenomenon provides added excitement to the preseason experience until fall comes on in full and the velvet is shed, giving a real look at the final product – which, while not as big, generates an even greater rush when encountered in the field. Each photo gives a hint of that adrenaline surge to come and prepares your racing heart for the experience, much like a Good Friday fish feed conditions your springtime stomach before the big ham dinner on Easter Sunday.
Like most holidays, there is the all-important element of family and friends mixed into the non-traditional trail camera season, as the best photos of the biggest, and sometimes the weirdest-looking bucks are shared over the virtual table. Email, text and social media messages carry the tidings of hope and good fortune for the coming season. At this point in the year, it’s not unusual for half of my Monday morning social media feed to filled with similar photos from friends near and far who downloaded their recent crop of pictures, making the first day of the work week feel like a trip into the field and a bit of a day off in its own right.
Still, while the chummy exchange is friendly on its face, it’s a known fact that hunters will guard those photos of the biggest of the big bucks that show up on their trail cameras like the Grinch trying to hold back holiday cheer from the good folks down in Whoville. Those images of the biggest of the big bucks won’t see the light of day outside of the computer screen at home until they harvest their quarry, or someone else on nearby property does. In the case of the latter, it usually comes with begrudging congratulations and the traditional follow-up of “I had that guy on camera all summer” and the airing of grievances over a late-night, post-season conversation with those closest hunting buddies.
Whatever the fall brings, whether these photos turn into a buck on the wall or just a passing encounter in the field, this time of year is one of my favorite holidays, and until the season starts in a few weeks, hunters will be able to experience it again and again with the help of a trail camera and some willing, wandering deer making their way to the screen via their journeys through…our outdoors.