Deer hunters are always looking for an edge to help them harvest that buck of a lifetime, and as any successful deer hunter will acknowledge, information is the most valuable resource when hunting trophy whitetails.

In the past, gathering information involved long hours of scouting your hunting area to find deer sign, locating active trails and hopefully spotting a trophy buck or two. Having to work for a living limits most hunters' scouting sessions to a few weekends that happen not to interfere with chores around the house or other family activities.

While we trudge along attempting to keep up with our hectic schedules, the deer in our hunting areas are going about their business as usual - using new trails, moving to new food sources and changing movement patterns as hunting pressure increases in the fall.

If only there were some way we could be out there to monitor these changes on a daily basis, then we would know what the deer on our hunting property are doing and could make the most of the time we have to hunt.

Thanks to advances in technology, trail cameras allow us to scout our hunting areas and monitor our deer herds 24 hours a day seven days a week. A series of strategically placed trail cameras located on well-used trails, food plots and scrapes can serve as our "eyes in the woods." The amount of information we can obtain is limited only by the number of trail cameras we decide to utilize, and we can gather this information much less intrusively than by physically scouting the area.

"I get the data I need from the three Cuddeback digital cameras that I use on my 1,000-acre property," says Jimmy Cassell, owner of Waterloo Plantation located along Bayou Pierre in western Claiborne County. "On the other hand, my neighbor utilizes a total of 18 Moultrie trail cams on his 3,000 acres of intensively managed whitetail habitat. Deciding how many trail cams you need is simply a matter of personal preference."

Regardless of what kind or how many trail cameras you decide to use, there are basically three bits of information these deer management tools can provide the hunter: what, when and where.

First, and most importantly, motion-sensor trail cameras allow you to see many of the bucks you have available for harvest in your hunting area. In other words, trail cameras help us identify what bucks are out there. Most first-time trail camera users are amazed to discover that the number and quality of bucks roaming their woods is far greater than they had previously thought. Nothing boosts a hunter's confidence more than knowing that a trophy buck is in the vicinity.

The second bit of information trail cams provide is when to hunt. Anyone who has used a trail camera will tell you that bucks, especially big mature bucks, do most of their feeding and moving around after dark. Fortunately, most all trail cameras on the market today print the date and time on each picture. Knowing the specific time of day that big buck is on the move can help you determine when you need to be in your stand.

Finally, the third bit of information trail cameras provide is where to hunt or, in some cases, where not to hunt. Obviously, if the trail camera pictures indicate that Old Mossy Horns is visiting the clover field every afternoon a half hour before dark, then you definitely need to be waiting on him in the clover field stand an hour or two earlier.

On the other hand, if a few does and yearlings are the only images captured by the trail camera on the edge of the ryegrass field adjacent to the swamp, then you will most likely be wasting your time trying to ambush a trophy buck from that location.

Surprisingly, many areas are rarely, and sometimes never, visited by mature white-tailed bucks. Using a trail camera to identify and eliminate these unproductive areas from your hunting palette is just as important as identifying areas that are target-rich with trophy bucks.

With an overabundance of makes and models available, choosing a trail camera can be a daunting task. Realizing that all trail cameras are not created equal, durability and dependability should be top priorities when making your selection. Once you get past these factors, everything else boils down to personal preference.

Experts suggest buying as many trail cameras as you can afford. According to Brian Murphy, a wildlife biologist and the executive director of the Quality Deer Management Association, having one camera per 100 acres is suggested in order to get an adequate census of your deer herd. In as few as 10 days, trail cameras will capture 95 percent of a deer herd from any given piece of property. In addition, trail cameras are highly effective when used to categorize deer of various sexes and ages.

Your first consideration in selecting a trail camera is choosing between film and digital cameras. Many hunters will be lured into buying a traditional 35mm film trail camera because its initial purchase price is much less than the digital equivalent. However, the savings on the front end will soon be lost through the cost of film and processing.

Digital trail cameras on the other hand have some clear advantages. With a high-capacity memory card, you can take many more digital photos before downloading them. If you have a laptop computer, you can even download the images instantly in the field and place the blank memory card right back in the camera.

Also, for those pictures that need a little more detail or sharpness in order to see a deer more clearly, digital images can be easily enhanced with the aid of a computer. Comparing film and digital trail cameras is like comparing a paddle to an outboard motor. Although they do the same task, one does it a whole lot better.

The next big factor to take into account when purchasing a trail cam is whether you prefer an incandescent or an infrared flash. If a high-quality picture is what you're after, then the traditional incandescent flash trail camera is your best choice. However, based on the results of numerous studies, there is no doubt that incandescent flashes spook some deer. Incandescent flashes also require a surge in power to charge the flash, resulting in decreased battery life and a full second slower trigger time.

Basically, an infrared flash trail camera will take pictures quicker, last considerably longer on a set of batteries and not scare deer from your hunting area. And for those concerned with theft of their expensive trail cameras, infrared flashes will not draw the attention of other humans, unlike the blinding flash of an incandescent camera.

Start using a trail camera, and there is a good chance you will get pictures of bucks you never knew existed on your property. With a little luck, you may even harvest one of these wall-hangers. If not, you can rest assured that your time will come because using trail cameras will make you a better deer hunter.