I remember the first trail camera I ever used. It was a pretty nice unit for the era and worked pretty well too. It was a flash model with 35mm film. Each time we checked it we ran 45 miles to the nearest 1 hour film developer from our hunting cabin. We had only one camera for the 400 acre farm we were hunting but over the years we got more and more. It didn’t take long until we had just about every corner of our farm covered. At times I think we had more than a dozen cameras out. And when the cameras became no-flash with SD cards it became easier and easier to let the cameras do our scouting for us.
No doubt, cameras helped us quite a bit in identifying deer and scouting different parts of the farm. And they are an awful lot of fun too. But cameras cannot be the only source of information we use when developing our strategies each year. And cameras can be misleading…not always by what pictures they take but by the ones they don’t.
On the farm I talk about above, we had about one camera for every 40 acres we hunted. About half of that was tillable ground…so really about one camera for every 20 acres of timber and cover. And yet, over the years I learned that those cameras sure missed a lot of the whole story.
In 2001 we saw and had a buck on camera we nicknamed DC. DC stood for the Double Crab Claw he had on the ends of his main beams. In 2002, we had not a single sighting or picture of this buck. We figured him at 3 ½ in 2001 so we were very much looking forward to seeing what he looked like in 2002. He was completely off the radar. I had even forgotten about the possibility he was around. Well, on Nov. 1st of that year he showed up following a hot doe into a standing bean food plot only 20 yards from my stand. I shot him while he sniffed a doe and we never did get a cam pic of that buck in 2002.
In 2007 while sitting in a ground blind with my 12 year old son Forest, we got a short glimpse of a buck we had nicknamed Odem. Odem was a very tall and symmetrical 10 point. He was very easy to pick out on cameras and when we saw him that night. For the next 2 years as he went from 3 ½ to 5 ½ we had dozens and dozens of pictures of him, watched him during the summers on bean and alfalfa fields, and even had a few sightings of him. Two of those years we found his sheds. Then in 2010, he disappeared. No pictures, no sightings, nothing. I don’t think it’s uncommon to not see these older deer with the naked eye…but with as many cameras we had out we should be getting something right? Well, near the end of that season, during Wisconsin’s gun season in late November, we got two very good pictures of him in a scrape that we had a camera on all fall. What’s up with that? And then nothing ever again! I don’t know what ever happened to this deer.
In 2008, we watched a buck we nicknamed Side Kick all fall. He was a nice 3 year old that put on a lot of miles. There were dozens of sightings and so many pictures from our trail cams that we deleted many of them. Then in 2009, when he would be 4 ½ we saw nothing of him.
I remember moving cameras around trying to get a shot of this guy. Toward late October we finally got one picture of him in a scrape along the edge of a corn field…right in the area I would have guessed was close to his core; and right in the general vicinity we had been running cameras all fall. Two days later, I had him at 35 yards from one of my favorite stands called “The Hang and Hunt”. I got him.
The point of these three stories is to point out the limitations of using cameras. They absolutely provide today’s hunter with better insight to their hunting grounds. But don’t for a second think that just because you haven’t caught him on camera that he’s not there!
One last point I would like to make because I think it is appropriate for this article. You might have caught it already from the three stories. I think that without a doubt older class bucks just simply do not put on the miles that younger deer do. I think that at 4 years of age a buck’s core area drastically starts to shrink…before age 4 not so much. I’ve seen 3 year old bucks put on a ton of miles. Those same deer as 4 year olds are a whole different animal it seems. So if you are hunting mature bucks don’t be surprised if your cameras don’t pick them up as good as they once did…any don’t be foolish enough to write them off when they just might show up at 35 yards some day!