In my opinion trail cameras have had a bigger impact on hunting success than anything that has come along since I started chasing whitetails back in the 1970s. They allow deer hunters to scout multiple properties at once, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Without a doubt, trail cameras have helped put me in position to kill multiple big mature whitetails.
I have found that like a lot of other things related to hunting mature bucks, getting the most from trail cameras is an art. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert at it but without a doubt I am a whole lot better at getting photos of mature bucks than I was a decade ago. I have also become a whole lot more efficient at using the info gleaned from trail camera photos to put myself in a position to kill those bucks.
I use trail cameras for two purposes; to inventory bucks on a property and to focus in on the specific habits of individual bucks I am targeting. Taking inventory of bucks on every property that I have permission to hunt allows me to focus my hunting efforts on those properties that hold bucks I intend to shoot. That does not mean that I don’t hunt other properties also as I try to spend some time on every property I have permission to hunt each season to monitor things and there is always the chance of seeing that rare buck that I don’t have photos of.
When it comes to keying in on a specific buck, trail cameras can provide some important pieces to the puzzle. This is especially true for the older bucks that I target because I typically have photos of them over multiple years. By the time a buck is old enough for me to target, I often have keyed in on patterns of him being at the same places at the same time of year for multiple years in a row.
I think one big mistake many hunters make when trying to pattern a buck with trail cameras is that they are trying to pattern the buck right then to kill him right away. I am not saying this wont work but I take a different approach. I am patterning a buck for several years before I ever put him on the hit list. When it comes time for me to make my move I am not doing so based on photos I got a week or so ago; I am making my move based on what I have seen over the last 3 or 4 years. Instead of being a step behind the bucks I am after, I am now able to be a step ahead of them. I don’t care near as much about where a buck was last week as I do about where he will be next week. This obviously makes killing them a whole lot easier.
I often get asked about my preferred brand of trail camera. Like all electronic devices, trail cameras seem to improve with each passing season and like a lot of other things, most of the time, you get what you pay for. With that said, I do have three favorite trail cameras and each has a very specific purpose.
Let’s start with the brand I have used the longest, Reconyx. I have never used a more dependable camera than Reconyx. I can put out a Reconyx camera with confidence that I could go back 2 years later and know it will still be working unless the batteries are dead. Speaking of batteries, I get about 40,000 photos from my Reconyx HC-600 cameras using Energizer ultimate lithium batteries. Reconyx also has an awesome software for keeping track of photos and they have proven to have fantastic customer service which is worth plenty. The big drawback with Reconyx cameras is their price at roughly $560 each. This keeps a lot of hunters from buying/using them.
After having 3 Reconyx cameras stolen at one time from a property a few years ago I have become a lot more leery of where I will put them. Strapping nearly $600 to a tree and hoping anyone that sees it will leave it alone is no longer appealing to me. Thus I searched for a less expensive yet reliable alternative to use on those properties where theft is a real possibility, after all I do hunt the “real world”!
Exodus trail cameras are fairly new but I have used them the last 2 seasons with great results. The overall quality is a notch below Reconyx but I can almost buy 3 Exodus cameras for the price of 1 Reconyx. Exodus cameras have proven to be very reliable and although I have never had to use their customer service I would rate is as excellent since you call or text one of the company owners and get a return call within minutes. The Exodus “Lift” camera is the only one I have used to this point but I feel so good about Exodus cameras that I just ordered some of their new “Lift 2” models earlier today. If this new model offers a noticeable improvement over the original Lift model, they will be pushing Reconyx in terms of quality.
There are some situations where I want a cellular camera that instantly sends photos to my phone. Over the years I have used multiple brands of cellular cameras and was always disappointed … until last season when I bought my first Spartan. Of the brands of cellular cameras that I have tried, Spartan is so far superior to the others that it is not even a fair comparison. Photos are of extremely high quality and sent instantly. Again, I have been impressed with Spartan trail cameras to the point that I recently bought several more to use this season.
I typically place my cameras out around July 1 each summer as I focus on getting photos of as many velvet bucks as I can. It is always interesting to see how individual bucks change from year to year and to see the new bucks that may show up on a property. I am counting down the days now until I once again get my cameras out and start another “hunting” season. Since 2004 I have not shot a buck that I didn’t already have trail camera photos of. In fact it is extremely rare for me to see a buck while hunting that I don’t already have photos of. Trail cameras have not only allowed me to extend my “hunting” season by several months each year but they have clearly allowed me to take my success to a level I never dreamed possible.
This season I am going to be making new blog posts from time to time on this topic to share trail camera photos, tips and stories of individual bucks. To see all of these blog entries be sure to “like” my facebook page Don Higgins/Higgins Outdoors.