Friday, September 25, 2009

The Trail Camera Addiction

I purchased my first trail camera six years ago and was hooked immediately. It was like I was hunting without even being in the woods. Or, as my wife would say, "it's like fishing with a fish finder... you see them, but they don't bite..." My first camera was a 35mm Leaf River (which has turned out to be the most reliable camera I've purchased), and the anticipation I felt after I secured it on that first tree was overwhelming. I would check the camera daily. Once the film was full, I would immediately drop off the film and wait for a hour to see what I captured. Then, I would go through the pictures - squirrel, raccoon, doe.... holy moly, a big buck! It was frustrating to get a roll of film with nothing but squirrels, birds , raccoons, does and fawns (lots of does and fawns). But, I have learned to use the camera to my advantage. I now set it up so I only get photos of what I am looking for.

Trail camera technology has changed and evolved significantly over the past six years. There are many models and each has its own set of crazy functions. The prices have evolved also. Prices range from $100.00 to upwards of $700.00! They now come with all sorts of fancy features like infrared flashes, video, wireless signals to view pictures from your computer at home.

But, what is the purpose of a trail camera?

Trail cameras can be a fun hobby or a useful tool for the serious hunter. The biggest advantage of a trail camera allows me to find out what kind of bucks roam my hunting grounds when I am not there. When managing your land for QDMA, this proves to be a very useful practice. The pictures you get from your camera show you the number of potential shooter bucks on your land. This helps me be a bit more patient when I am hunting. I can let the little bucks go, because I know Mr. Big is out there. You can also use these images to get your neighbors on board with your QDMA cooperative. If the neighbors see there are bigger bucks in the woods it may bring them on board. The biggest complaint I hear about QDM is that "there are only little scrub bucks around, if I wait for a big one I won't get a deer." Not true! If hunters are really hunting for meat and not antlers then they should take a doe and pass on the small bucks. I know if hunters try this for one year they would see it can make a difference in the size and number of bucks they see the next year. And, trail cameras are a way to show the proof.

Ever wonder if deer use a scrape year round? I don't. I have proof. I set my trailcam on a small oak tree that is used season after season as a scrape tree for bucks. I set the camera up in May and what I saw surprised me. I had pictures throughout the summer of bucks and does using this tree. They were not scraping the ground , but instead they used it as a scent post by licking the branches. As any good hunter knows a good licking branch can be better than a scrape or rub line, because it is like social media for us. Once you stop by once, you have to go back for more. Every deer that walks by checks these branches to see who was there. In turn, the deer then leaves its own calling card scent. So, whether hunting for a buck or a doe you should see action near one of these spots. And, by setting your camera on that scent post, it will give you good pictures of most of the deer on your property.

Trail cameras are extremely useful in locating travel routes of mature whitetails. That huge runway you were thinking of setting your stand on this year may not be the one for Mr. Big. Nine times out of ten the big boys use a trail you may not even pay attention too. So, how do you find out? Put your camera on them. Most of the time when I set my cameras on big runways I get does and fawns with the occasional small buck. Instead, I look for trails crossing the main trail. I will set the camera to monitor where the trails cross. This way I am covering two runways with one camera. It is best to use multiple cameras (if it is in your budget) at multiple sites and set during the same time frame. I like to leave my camera set for two weeks minimum. I feel this will give you the best data on which deer are moving where and when. Try this set up and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Early season scouting is useful to get an idea of the bucks on the property , but it won't do much good for later in the season. As the season goes on, food supplies change in the whitetail world. With this change deer movements can change, especially when you are talking about farmland areas. With the planting of crops deer move from there native foods to the lush green fields of the farmers. As the season progresses different crops become more attractive than others. Once fall arrives, the farm fields begin to be harvested. Deer then return to their native foods. This is when I like to set my cameras. I set them on trails to the fields for awhile then I transition to runways and good mast crop trees. A good producing oak tree is my best friend. Even with fields full of crops, deer will show up almost daily at a good acorn buffet. From experience, I have found deer like to use these trees as staging areas before they head to the fields. Where I live and hunt in Michigan, deer do not like to go out into the open fields in the light of day. Being one of the states with the most hunting pressure, deer have learned to feed in the fields under the cover of darkness. Use your cameras to find these staging areas, you will know when you found a good one because there will be multiple deer in one shot and it will be during daylight hours.

To see a vast collection of trail camera photos, visit

I hope some of this will help you out and if you have experiences and ideas of your own, please feel free to comment!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Did You Get One?

My father is responsible for my passion for whitetail deer hunting. When I was about 6-years old, my sister and I would wait and watch from our south-facing, living room windows waiting to spot dad's truck headlights from across the field beginning his drive home. We always wondered if Dad had shot the big one. He'd arrive home, and we would run to the door screaming, "did you get one, did you get one?" This was the start of my fascination of deer hunting.

When I was about 7-years old, my father started taking me along to track deer he had shot with his bow. I started out as the last spot marker and gradually became the one who crawled through the thickets looking for more blood. From this point on, I could not wait to be the one doing the shooting of these magnificent animals.

My dad was a typical Michigan hunter at this time. The idea was to put a little bait out and sit on stand waiting for the deer to arrive. I hunted the same way for a lot of years, and harvested some nice deer, but never could close the deal on the big ones.

In college, I first studied Forestry and earned an associate's degree in Forest Technology. After that, I transferred into a four-year program for Fisheries and Wildlife Management. Here I started to see that the game animals I so loved to hunt had habits and needs that I never really thought of before. I began to piece little bits of info together that would transform me into the hunter I am today.

The tables have now turned with me and my dad. Now, I am teaching him a few things about hunting without bait. We have planted a few food plots here and there on his Onaway, Mich. property. He is seeing the benefits. Taking my education and my passion, I've actually started to do consulting for food plots and habitat improvement. My clients as well have seen the benefits of additional land management feedback and planting.

And I am proud to say that now I am the one coming home from hunting and hearing from my three children, "Did you get one? Did you get one?"