The firestorm over the use of digital trail cameras for deer hunting rages on. The debate among hunters is whether the information revealed by trail cameras is of any real value or is it just imagined? What information from a trail camera can really be useful to hunters? It is worth the cost and the time to keep up with trail cameras?

The argument here does not extend to using these technical devices in the field of wildlife management research even at the private property level. The pertinent research results now being gleaned have clearly proven the value of 24-hour deer photography for wildlife management and whitetail research purposes.

However, do such photos of deer on a particular piece of hunting land make for better hunters? Is the use of trail cameras an ethical practice for hunting or does it just distract from the learning and practicing of the real woodsmanship essential to being consistently successful? Does a great color photo of a big buck on your place ensure it will eventually hang on the den wall?

Juicy items for debate to be sure.


Unrealistic expectations

"I think many of us hunters that jumped into using trail cameras even back when they used 35mm film had the wrong ideas about their utility," says Dr. Andrew Dulaney of Byram. "I suppose we thought that getting proof of a big buck on our hunting land was somehow insurance that the buck would even stay there in the first place.

"Secondly, we hoped in our heart of hearts that with the buck photo in hand, it would be just a matter of time before we would collect him. Truth is, to date, of all the photos of bucks we have taken where I deer hunt, we have only seen one or two of them during daylight hours, and that was just for a fleeting moment.

"Sure it is really neat seeing all the photos of deer on the place and other wildlife as well, or even another hunter that stumbled across the camera by accident. If we catch a nice buck on a camera, it is a plus. At least now we realize that one or two photos of the same buck basically only means that buck was in front of that camera at that time and place. And that is almost always at night. We may never catch that buck again on the same camera or any of the other ones. As far as I know, none of our hunters has ever harvested a buck we caught on a trail camera."

If this experience is true across the board, then why bother with the effort other than just having an interest in seeing deer photos?

Capturing a particular buck on camera is a pleasing experience, but what does it prove? Now if you catch that same buck repeatedly on the camera or even catch him on other cameras, too, then there is more of a reason to take a stronger interest in pursuing that buck. But until then, all you have is a nice photo to share on emails, your Facebook page or on a blog. It is best to keep this all in perspective.


Effective trail camera uses

"When I bought my first piece of hunting land in Madison County, I had no real idea what kind of deer were on the place," says Jason Pope of Madison. "I was starting from scratch.

"I found old sign from previous seasons, plenty of old rubbed trees and bare spots under hanging branches that I could only assume were old scrapes. Truthfully, though, until I hung a couple trail cameras, I didn't know if I even had any decent bucks or how many does might travel the trails I located.

"I put the cameras out in the summer just to see what I had. I was pretty pleased with the results. I collected photos of several decent bucks, numerous does and even wild turkey. You can bet that peaked my interest even more as I planned for fall food plots and hunting stand locations."

Trail cameras are indeed great for making assessments of new hunting lands and old properties as well. Game surveys are a legitimate reason to use cameras.

By posting trail cameras around his newly acquired property, this hunter was able to determine that there were in fact bucks cruising around on his place. Certainly that is good information to know. As he stated, that was just a start, but a good one.

Now that the season is in full action and the rut is fast approaching across the state, this is the perfect time to post trail cameras. If you are ever going to capture a big buck on your place that is likely to hang around for a while, this is the time. If you connect on a good buck on your camera, then consider hanging several in the same areas watching trails and food resources.