Digital scouting cameras are all the rage these days. Indeed, they are great tools for collecting data both ahead of the oncoming deer season and during critical phases such as when bucks are rubbing and scraping.

Of course, there is no guarantee what you'll get when you hang one, or that capturing a big buck on a data disk will ultimately lead to hanging that buck mount over the fireplace. But at least it's a place to start and the anticipation is always great fun.


Trail camera antics

Last year on a piece of leased land in Hinds County, I hung a new camera just to see if I could figure out exactly how it worked. I put the camera over a fresh rub that popped up from one weekend to the next. The spot was inside a little island clump of woods with cow trails meandering all through it. It was a perfect set-up with a good camera mount tree just feet away from the rub.

I let the camera sit for a whole week before I pulled the data card to carry home for an inspection on the desktop computer. I have since bought a battery-powered viewer you can use right in the field. Anyway, I have to admit there certainly is a high level of excitement wondering what the camera might have captured, if anything at all. It's a lot like going hunting yourself without actually having to be there.

When I pulled up the shots on the computer, I was initially disappointed that only two photos were shown to exist on the card. Wow, only two exposures in seven days?

I got an overwhelming laugh at the first photo of a shot square on to the rear end of a solid white cow. I guess I was happy the bovine didn't rub the camera off the tree trying to scratch its rump. Indeed, this first photo was definitely anticlimactic.

However, the second photo made up for it. Quartering away from the camera, but looking directly back, was a terrific shot of a very nice 8-point buck. Whamo, this thing really works! At least I definitely knew that a shooter buck was in the area. That was genuinely exciting, and certainly convinced me then of the value of scouting cameras and also why deer hunters get so charged up about using them.


Reality therapy

Now let me tell you the rest of the story. This was a nice buck, and being the sharing kind of guy I am, I told two other hunters on the lease to be on the lookout for this buck. He had a distinctive bent antler point, so anybody could recognize this particular buck.

For the next two months, three hunters posted in different stands at various times around the perimeter of this area from different vantage points watched for this buck. We never saw it.

"I climbed in my tree stand 200 yards west of this island of trees one afternoon," said Jobe Maynor. "Rain was threatening, so I wasn't sure how long I would get to hunt.

"At just about peak hunting time right before dusk, the sky ripped open. I mean it poured buckets. I gathered up my gear, and headed down the ladder sticks. I glanced out to the far end of the field, and I could barely make out a racked buck crossing from the main woods line to the island. I could swear it was that bent-antler buck, but who knows?"

No one ever saw the buck again, and neither did the camera.

The whole point is that scouting cameras are terrific tools to monitor deer herds for a variety of reasons including sheer whitetail head counts as well as identifying some of the bucks working the area. Like all deer hunting tools, tactics and technologies though, hunters have to know when best to use them and how.

"Many land managers are using trail cameras all year long to monitor deer-herd activity," said Jason Pope of Madison. "That, of course, requires a lot of time and commitment. I don't have the time, so I don't start to hang cameras until late August or September.

"For hunting purposes, I figure putting out cameras too early might give us a false sense of where deer are traveling.

"I often mark maps or make mental notes of where I saw active deer sign last year. I will hang a camera on well-traveled routes, food sources, narrow funnels or crossroad areas in the woods. Anywhere I think deer will travel or where they left their marks last year. More often than not, these spots yield good shots every year."