One of the best things about my job as managing editor of North American Hunter is having the chance to try some of the newest outdoor gear and then reporting my findings to NAHC members. And according to my wife, Jodi, who also loves to hunt, one of the best things about being married to a managing editor is helping to field-test this same gear.
Faithful readers of this magazine might remember an article I wrote in the June/July 2004, issue called "The Barbed-Wire Buck," which told the true-life tale of a mature whitetail that had become tangled in a fence. The buck still had a great amount of wire wrapped around his left antler when Jodi arrowed him in mid-December, and as one of our 35mm DeerCam scouting cameras revealed, the buck had been carrying the wire for at least the 2 previous weeks.
Fast-forward to 2006 and we'd replaced our two 35mm film cameras with three digital models: the Cuddeback NoFlash and EXcite, and a Pix Controller DigitalEye. Through past experience we'd discovered the best funnels and scrape locations for capturing buck images, and as we placed the scouting cameras in the field in early September, our hopes were high for more whitetail encounters.
Our first chance to bowhunt our South Dakota property during the 2006 season was Sept. 29-Oct. 1, but that 3-day weekend ended without either of us getting a shot. It was still a success, however, because our scouting cameras indicated they'd shot more than 100 images during the previous month. And with what has now become a Sunday night ritual, our family was gathered around our home computer as we placed the three memory cards from the scouting cameras into a card reader to see photos of bucks, does, fawns and even wild turkeys, fox and coyotes.
As the weeks and months of the 2006 deer season passed, we began to recognize various river-bottom bucks based on antler size/shape, as well as other physical characteristics. Quite often when we saw a buck while bowhunting, we'd already had the pleasure of seeing his photo on our computer. Some of the bucks that we saw regularly on our scouting cameras never showed themselves while we were hunting, and a couple bucks appeared on camera only during the middle of the night. I suspect these animals were distant travelers that bedded on properties more than a mile away from our land and were simply passing through under the cover of darkness looking for a doe-in-heat.
Closing The Deal
While it's nice to have great photos of deer that use our property, our ultimate goal is to put one of the bucks we've captured on film in the freezer. There's something special about getting to know a buck with the aid of a scouting camera—where he beds, feeds, rubs, scrapes and travels—and then getting a chance to take a shot at the real deal.
Jodi has been fortunate to have pulled this off three times since we began using scouting cameras a few years ago. In 2003 there was the barbed-wire buck I mentioned previously, then in 2004 a fine 5x5 buck with a narrow spread she'd missed the season before, and in 2006 a big-bodied 5x4 buck with a sticker point off his right antler's longest tine.
In the latter case, I'd spotted the 5x4 at about 100 yards chasing a doe off and on for more than 30 minutes. The doe finally tired of the chase and bedded on a ridge at 10:00 a.m., and he bedded about 10 yards away from her. I believed that much of this chasing had been in front of our DigitalEye scouting camera, so I was hopeful we'd have some good photos of the buck.
I was able to slip out of the area at 10:45 a.m. without alerting either deer—I was frozen to the bone and hungry! As luck would have it, Jodi guessed right on afternoon treestand locations and arrowed the same buck at 3:20 p.m. He was still aggressively pursuing the doe as they passed Jodi's treestand.
We changed the memory card on the DigitalEye a few days later, and sure enough we had a handful of great photos of the 5x4 chasing the doe. And as a bonus, our Cuddeback cameras had captured his visits to a scrape a few weeks earlier. Thanks to our scouting cameras, we knew this buck, and gripping his antlers was so much sweeter because of it.
Scouting Camera Field Report
Spend enough time in the woods with various brands of scouting cameras and you'll soon learn that each one has its strengths. Based on my field-testing, here's how the Cuddeback NoFlash and PixController DigitalEye infrared cameras stack up.
Cuddeback NoFlash infrared: The NoFlash has a 1.5- to 2-second initial trigger time, which is probably the fastest of all scouting cameras, and this allows you to capture an image of a deer walking quickly down a game trail. Unfortunately, it takes approximately 1 minute to save that image before the camera is ready to shoot another photo. In the field, this means that if a rutting buck is following a hot doe, you'll probably get a photo of the doe, but not the buck. The NoFlash shoots brilliant color photos during the day and black-and-white photos after dark.
PixController DigitalEye infrared: With an initial trigger time of 3-4 seconds, the DigitalEye can miss the first deer coming down a trail (assuming the camera is positioned perpendicular to the trail). The good news is it takes only 10 seconds or so to save that image. And once the camera has taken this initial image and saved it, it'll trigger almost instantaneously (1/10 second). The DigitalEye infrared doesn't use a white flash, but takes pinkish-colored photos both day and night; a standard white-flash model is also available (color daytime photos, flash nighttime photos). Knowing each camera's strengths allows me to position them in the best places for obtaining great photos. For example, I typically use the Cuddeback to monitor a deer trail or funnel, a place where solo bucks often pass through quickly. I place the DigitalEye overlooking a scrape, a spot where bucks will pause for at least a few seconds. If I'm lucky and a buck works the scrape for 15-30 seconds, the DigitalEye will capture numerous photos of him.–Dave Maas