Something interesting and thought provoking happened to me recently while out running errands.
I had dropped by my local pharmacy, and while waiting for a prescription to be processed I made idle chatter with my friend Keith who was the on-duty pharmacist that evening.
Keith is an ardent deer hunter, and when I am in the store we often talk about recent hunts and happenings. Whenever I capture a scouting camera image of a really good or noteworthy buck, I usually transfer such images to my iPhone so I can show or discuss it later with friends and hunting partners.
Keith and I have traded comments numerous times over the trail camera images that are saved on my iPhone. Had I thought about it at the time, I would have realized that in all of our previous deer-centered conversations Keith had never once himself shown me an image or told me about an image that he had taken with a scouting camera.
But he always has plenty of stories about bucks taken or seen from a deer stand.
As Keith stood behind the counter putting the wraps on my prescription, I asked him a short and very routine question for this time of year.
“Keith, do you have any scouting cameras out yet?” I asked.
“No, and I do not have any plans to put any out now or in the future,” he answered.
To say that I was surprised would be an understatement. I was literally dumbfounded, and I am certain that he visibly saw my jaw drop.
This was a sentiment that I had not heard from him before. Had Keith suddenly given up deer hunting? Had he lost his hunting lease, or maybe sold his hunting land?
Seeing my shocked look, Keith went on to explain that, while he is around fellow deer hunters who use cameras, he has absolutely no personal interest in knowing what is out there until it walks by his stand in person. You see, Keith is a traditionalist when it comes to his deer-hunting hobby, and in his view the use of a camera for scouting beforehand takes something away from the sport.
In spite of the proliferation of trail cameras in the woods these days, Keith is not alone in this view.
We both had a good laugh and acknowledged that there is really absolutely nothing wrong with using cameras or not using cameras. It is a personal-preference thing, just like dog hunting versus still hunting, tree-stand hunting versus stalking, and on and on. There is no right or wrong way to hunt deer, as long as applicable game laws are followed and fair chase is used.
I can kind of see where he might be coming from, though, as I was once a young lad who anticipated and dreamed about what surprises would be found under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. I am also old enough to remember back to the days of no sonograms. Couples actually had to wait until delivery to find out the sex of their children.
By the same token, when I first started deer hunting in about 1971, it was all a surprise. You did your scouting with shoe leather, and just hoped that something legal and shootable would meander by on opening morning. As a result, there was definitely an element of anticipation.
But has the recent advent of trail/scouting camera use actually diminished the sport of deer hunting in some way? I think not, but am totally respectful of other viewpoints.
As many of you already know, over time I have become hopelessly addicted to, and am very much in favor of and in love with, the use of scouting cameras. As a consequence, have I, as a prolific trail camera user, ceded away the element of surprise and diminished in some way my enjoyment of deer hunting? Is the anticipation and magic now gone?
Oh, quite the contrary. In my personal view, the element of surprise is still there just like it was in the old days.
The elements of surprise and anticipation, for me, have actually been greatly enhanced and expanded. The satisfaction I get from seeing deer in general and bucks in particular from the preseason on through the entire deer season using scouting camera photos is exponentially greater than it once was “back in the day.”
I cannot even put a price on the knowledge I have gained over time regarding buck behavior from studying my ever-evolving collection of photo data. In fact, regarding a targeted buck that is known to me as a hunter from trail cam photos, the actual final taking of the targeted buck just completes the circle.
I am actually hunting, and hunting hard —though not with a weapon — in the days, weeks and sometimes months before the opening of deer season. You might say that I now have two hunting seasons — a virtual one and an actual one, with a bit of overlap.
And the overall enjoyment I get from each is almost the same. It is hard to put into words the feeling one gets from finding a good location for camera surveillance, placing a camera in that location, and then at some point swapping the camera card and finding on it photos of a nice buck. It is euphoric, to say the least.
As far as any notion that one might have that I, as a trail camera user, have gained an unfair advantage and that my deer hunting is now “like shooting fish in a barrel,” I say no way! I often have wise old bucks elude me year after year, in spite of having numerous trail cam photos showing their presence.
The thread of photographs that an old, mature buck leaves behind shows me areas where he has been, but the vast majority of the time the photos are actually taken at night.
I say if someone is biased against the use of trail cameras and feels that it takes something away from the hunting experience, then don’t use them. There is nothing wrong with that point of view at all.
On the other hand, if you are like me and are already a trail camera user — or if you are thinking about getting started — dive in and try and get as much “bang for your buck” as you can.
In my world, deer hunting season opens in late summer and runs all the way until early spring, even though I carry a weapon for only a portion of that time period. By way of my web of trail cameras, I am virtually in the woods 24/7, rain or shine. Deer, turkeys, dogs, predators, poachers: I see it all.
I emphatically think that any perceived negatives for trail camera use are more than offset by what you gain. So, hunt hard, hunt safe and use all of the tools that are available to you.