By Nick Simonson
With trail camera technology now a big part of most every dedicated deer hunter’s pre-season scouting rituals, getting a glimpse at that big buck (or several of them) patrolling a certain area provides a shot of excitement for the upcoming autumn, the opportunity to understand more about the animal’s movement, and a connection with the creature that lingers long into the hunting season and sometimes even beyond.
Clicking through the dozens or hundreds of photos that come through on a camera’s memory card is a lot like flicking through a pack of trading cards as a kid. A rapid flickering of the right arrow button or click of the mouse burns through those photos of empty fields and does and fawns, the way my hands blurred through the cards of journeymen players and lesser-knowns until the flash of Michael Jordan or Kirby Puckett brought my high-speed scan to a halt. It’s the same with antlers. As soon as a nice buck in thick, summer-soft velvet appears on screen, the clicking of the keyboard stops and the ticking of my heart increases from knowing there’s a big deer in the area. Sizing up the area where the animal was caught on film in relation to my stand, I can almost picture myself above him in September, trembling at full draw until he turns. It’s a mental image that will fill my practice hours and help me through until the season starts in a couple months.
Unable to resist a Black Friday blitz in November, when trail cameras go on sale at loss-leader prices to get shoppers in the door at nearly every sporting goods retailer, it almost seems foolish not to buy three of them for $100. Where this post-season purchase pays off (besides in the pocketbook) is this time of year, and when hung correctly along the trails and turns that deer take through a hunting area, multiple cameras provide great insight into the movement of those big bucks. By following the time stamp on each photo from each camera, and the direction of movement caught on each image, hunters can glean important information about how the animals move from cover to feeding areas and back. Additionally, for those cameras with highly detailed stamps that show temperature and moon phase, hunters can add these seasonal factors into the equation and determine how those elements affect deer movement.
Finally, and perhaps the most intriguing part of the role that trail cameras play in the scouting and hunting process, is how the appearance of a big buck creates a sense of ownership or concern for that particular deer. Leading up to the season, that buck becomes the target of all hunting activity, the hope of seeing him causes hunters to pass on smaller, yet still respectable specimens, in favor of the chance to claim the trophy seen in the photos. What’s more, when that buck disappears from subsequent sets of photos, it becomes a cause for concern. Was it hit by a car? Taken by a predator? Moved on to a different part of its home area for better food or cover? These questions and more often plague the attentive hunter not seeing the trophy that once frequented the trails covered by a camera, especially when he disappears through the hunting season.
Then the worst is feared, and the question is asked internally: “did another hunter claim the deer that I’ve been watching?” Sometimes though, with that concern, when a deer doesn’t show before or during the season, comes the relief brought by a late-autumn photo after the firearms season passes, as the shadowy gray form appears once again before the lens, showing that the buck did indeed survive the season, and with a little luck and some survival skills will be there once again to get caught on camera next summer and the connection can be renewed for another year…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: One to watch. Seeing a nice buck on trail camera this time of year jumpstarts excitement for this autumn’s hunting season. Simonson Photo.)