I love trail cameras.
I hate trail cameras.
A love/hate relationship if ever there was one. Back in the day we would say it’s the yin and the yang of trail cams.
I’m probably not alone with these ambivalent sentiments concerning technology’s slow, but steady infusion into our outdoor pursuits.
Countless other dedicated deer hunters run lots … maybe hundreds of thousands, if not millions of trail cams nationwide.
Imagine what it would be like to not have those minute-by-minute crystal clear views of our hunting properties? That window into the outdoors was closed, back like it used to be sans cams just 20 years ago.
As larger society has embraced the changes in visual technology, so has hunting and fishing.
Whether bass fishing and electronic fish finders, GPS mapping weed beds, or bird dogs with their electric training and GPS tracking collars, to deer hunting with our trail cameras. The sports we love so much, to a large degree have evolved along with society at large into the visual digital age.
I love tracking, well not really tracking, more like chronicling bucks on my cams. And yes, in a way I am a slave to my cameras. Almost every day I go out in the woods and check my cams on a different hunting property; keeping tabs on known bucks and positively thrilled with a tanker of a new buck shows up. It’s almost like hunting.
Of course it is great to package the photos with my outdoor stories to share with hunters and outdoor-minded folks, but even more so, a competition with my hunting buddies to show them great bucks that show up … as they forward me jaw-droppers they have on film.
Whoops … that’s what we used to say when we had an image. “We have it on film.” ‘Course now it’s digital and incorrect to utter those words because camera film has gone the way of the dinosaur.
And then there are the hunting websites, such as Huntingny.com and others that maintain dedicated sections for trail cam shots, so other site members can comment.
And we dream that these are the bucks that will show up, sneaking under our tree stands or upwind, chasing a doe in front of our popup blinds.
And sometimes … once in a blue moon, it does happen.
Yes, I have used my trail cams to help me pattern bucks I’ve killed.
So it’s all good, right?
Well, then we get to the other side of the coin … the flip side; the bad side of trail cams.
Okay, they are frustrating to use sometimes. The dates don’t run true and some cameras after the warranties have expired have a mind of their own. So we have to use a bit of “Kentucky windage” to figure out some of them when the exact time the buck showed up. Like when the year date tells us that the buck showed at the scrape in the year 2025, or it’s an obvious nighttime infrared shot and the time stamp says it’s noon. And they will quit.
But every malfunctioning trail camera I’ve ever had that was under warranty was replaced by the company, quickly and without a hassle.
I am a slave to my cameras. Running my cams and charging the batteries is a daily enterprise and my time sure could have been better spent … ”but I’ve got to check my cameras.” And what great exercise … up one hill and down another.
There is no doubt that my trail cams are spooking big bucks and does.
You can see it in the looks that the bucks (and old does) give my cams. After a while, after looking at thousands of trail cam shots over the last 15 years … it’s easy to tell when a buck is alerted and scared by the presence of the trail cam. Some of the biggest bucks, especially, shy away quickly from the camera, except when their attention is elsewhere, occupied by a doe or a rival buck.
But once they know the camera is there, these older animals will sometimes shy away, and my scent, left by checking the cams, alerts them to this waiting presence of danger.
So I do believe that there is a significant downside of running cams on hunting properties during hunting season because it can sometimes spook those bucket-list bucks.
This bow season, three big bucks came down to one of my zip-tie mock scrape setups at night. The first one, a big widespread eight pointer, trashed it, the next, a heavy eight-pointer, looking like he had gone a few rounds with a corn-chopper, his butt badly raked up by apparent antler thrusts marks.
Then, the big buck came in, right behind, saw the camera … then instead of hitting the scrape as his two rivals had with raised white tails, stamped his hoof down instead, and quickly exited, spooked.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.