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Trail cameras have become increasingly popular

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 7:37 p.m. CDT

We’ve all heard the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

For the most part, it is a completely true statement. Those of us that love the outdoors are infatuated with pictures. We take landscape photos and we have hundreds of pictures with us posing with fish and wild game. The list is endless. Most sportsmen even have their cell phones jammed up with photos from past excursions. There is one type of photo, though, that is not only interesting to look at, it is also a critical piece of our tool set.

Trail Cameras (or Camera Traps, as some call them) are an increasingly popular way to take wildlife photos. Originally, these trail cams were developed to help hunters scout an area without spending countless hours in the woods. As our lives became more hectic, this idea soon proved a hit, and thousands of these devices have been strapped to trees across the nation.

I vividly remember the first time I went to check on a trail camera I had set. I wanted to place a new tree stand in an area I knew was being used by a nice buck. A couple of months before the season, I positioned this camera on a trail and waited.

A few days later, I went to check the results. I eagerly approached and checked the front panel. It said I had over 70 images. Now, of course I knew that not all of these images would be deer. Anything that tripped the motion sensor would cause the camera to take a snapshot. Still, I was over anxious to see if I caught a picture of that nice buck.

In those days, you had to take the camera back home and plug the entire unit into a computer to download the images. As the thing transferred its data, the first pictures started to appear. The first few had nothing but shrubs, than a couple of photos popped up with some does and fawns. It was amazing.

Then, about 50 photos in, there was a glimpse of the deer I was looking for. The animal was close to the camera so I couldn’t see for sure how big it was and how large the antlers were. My heart almost exploded! Here was this buck I thought was in the area right on my computer screen. I still didn’t know all that much about him, but he was there.

Over the years, the technology behind trail cameras has moved forward at a lightning pace. There are solar-powered units that require no batteries, there are cameras with wireless capability that send images directly to your phone and there are even some that can shoot high-definition video.

People and agencies that are not hunters now use these tools all the time. They are the perfect stealthy instrument that can be applied to all kinds of situations. Outdoorsmen have used them to catch trespassers and poachers. Photo quality is good enough now they can read license plates of vehicles and allow for faces to be recognized.

Every time trail cameras are talked about, though, there is the issue of ethics. How fair is it that hunters can scout 24/7 without spending their due time in the woods? This debate has many facets and legitimate points that support those for and against them.

From my own experiences, I can say that the use of a trail camera has never been the sole factor far harvesting a nice buck. There are lots of variables involved in having a successful hunt, and yes, knowing what is in the area is a great start.

Trail cameras are changing the way we see wildlife — literally. They are not only a wonderful tool for hobbyists; they also can play an active role in conservation management. I soon realized after using a trail camera that, in most cases, the deer population on a certain property may not be as large as you think. In reality, you are seeing the same few deer over and over again. These cameras can also let you know what other wildlife you have on your property. I’ve had pictures of turkeys, raccoons and a myriad of others.

All of this discussion about trail cameras reminds me that I haven’t set mine out yet. Looks like I know what I’ll be doing when I get a chance.

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