Are Trail Cameras Ruining The Hunting Experience?

trail camera setting up.jpg compressedGot this thought-provoking post from our friend Danny, read and tell me what you think:

The first time I got to go hunting was with my uncle when I was 12 years old (1990).  No one I knew had trail cameras.  In fact, I don’t remember hearing about trail cameras until I was in my 20′s.

My uncle shot a small buck that day and I was instantly hooked.  Fast forward to when I was 16 years old and shot my first deer, a one-horned spike. It was the first buck I had seen while I had a rifle in my hands.  I didn’t know what other deer might be in the area, and it didn’t matter.  I got my first buck.

I remember shaking for what seemed like an hour afterwards.  It was the best feeling in the world.  You know, the “fever” that keeps us coming back every year.  Now, fast forward 20 years to present day. 

I keep 3 trail cameras running on our property.  I collect the cards every Friday afternoon and my daughter and I look through the pictures together that evening.  We name the deer.  We keep track of what times the deer are showing up at different spots.  We can pretty much recognize every single deer on our property. 

The week leading up to opening day this year, there was a small spike still in velvet that was showing up like clockwork at the stand where my daughter, Lexi,  and I were going to be sitting on opening day.  The more and more she saw pictures of him the more “attached” she became to him.  She started to call him “Cutie.”  I didn’t think too much of it until opening day came. 

Sure enough, this little spike showed up the first evening.  I told her to get ready and tried to help her calm her breathing.  When he gave the perfect broadside shot I told her to shoot when she was ready.  I kept waiting and waiting, but no shot.  I looked over to see what she was doing and I could see tears in her eyes.  I asked what was wrong and she replied, “I can’t shoot Cutie.  I just saw 100 pictures of him and he is just too cute.”

I assured her that it was fine and I wasn’t going to force her to shoot anything.  She then replied, “But if Junior, Lollilop or The Freak (other larger bucks on the farm) shows up, I’m shooting.” 

I was glad to hear her say this, but at the same time I thought, “What the heck have I done?”  On one hand I was happy to see her pass on a young buck in hopes of a bigger one. But at the same time, when I started hunting my first several deer were spikes. I didn’t think twice about pulling the trigger.  It didn’t matter if it was only 10 minutes into the season, if it was a legal buck, I was shooting. 

Would that have been different if we had had trail cameras back then, because I’d studied pictures of the young deer and “gotten to know them?” Would I have held off on shooting those young bucks because I had a few pictures of a bigger buck in the area?  Maybe. 

Then I think of all the memories that I wouldn’t have now. I can look at every little set and big set of horns that I’ve gotten over the years and remember almost everything about those days…the weather, the smells, the hard drags out… 
Am I robbing my daughter of memories like this by showing her all the trail cam pictures of our deer?  If she hadn’t just looked at 100 pictures of that spike, would she have shot Cutie? Would that have been a memory for the rest of her life and mine?  If she didn’t know that there are bigger deer on the property would she have pulled the trigger?

Or, maybe I shouldn’t compare my 10 year old princess to that 16 year old boy I was?  Maybe she just isn’t ready to shoot a deer yet?  Maybe she just likes spending time on stand with her dad?  I guess only time will tell.—Danny from Maryland

Very well written post my friend, and good timing. Ironically, just last week I hunted on a well-managed property down in South Carolina where the hunters did not use trail cameras. Very unusual since I don’t go many places to hunt whitetails these days where they are not running dozens of cameras, and showing me hundreds of buck pictures when I get there.

“I used to run a few cameras, put I got to feeling like it was affecting the way I hunt and more importantly why I hunt,” Freddy told me. “Nowadays I don’t want to know beforehand every buck that lives on our property. I want to hunt, and see what I see. If it’s a big buck, I want to feel that excitement and surprise.”

I climbed into a stand that first evening not knowing what bucks if any were around. I’ve got to admit it felt good. I was surprised and excited when I spotted the first big 8-pointer. I did not feel the pressure to look and wait for “a big shooter on camera in the area,” like I do in all the other places I hunt.

Don’t get me wrong, I remain a big fan of cameras. No doubt in terms of hunters finding and killing big, mature bucks, they are by far the biggest innovation of the last 20 years in the hunting world.

But as Danny alludes to in his post, is that really what deer hunting is all about, especially for the kids? What you think?

EPILOGUE: Danny sent this picture and reports that Lexi passed the little spike up again the other night. Hope you get one of the bigger bucks girl!

MD lexi small buck

Trail-Cam Tuesday: Illinois Ugly Buck

IL zach ugly buck

Our friend Zach just got this picture of “Ugly Buck” (my name and term used with affection) with a lop-sided rack and a crazy brow tine. I love character racks, and this buck is a great shooter.

Zach has history with Ugly.

“I missed this deer last year at only 5 yards, he was right underneath my stand and that’s the one shot that no one ever practices,” he said. “I got a picture of him this year on 4th of July but hadn’t seen him since, until now. Come on October!”

This is at least the fourth shooter that Zach has on his land, good luck buddy.

zach 3 bucks

Trail-Cam Tuesday: Big Bucks North to South

pa daddy 2

Mike: Last week I sent you a picture taken from my ground blind of a target buck for this year. This guy showed up the other day too. Unlike most the deer I hunt, I have never seen this before…poof, he just walked into my setup. Goes to show that no matter how much time you spend on a piece of land, a big buck can stay hidden.

What is your guess on his score and age? I say 3 1/2 years and 155-160 gross. Terry “Big Daddy” Murphy

kim WI trail cam

Hi Mike: I was at my property last week, so missed Trail Cam Monday last week. Here is one for this week. Buck on the left is “JR,” a 5-year-old; on the right is “Bob,” a 3-year-old. Bob is one of my wolf attack survivors, not much of a tail left.

The season is getting close, and I haven’t seen the “Boss” yet, but he is always late to the show. With last year’s mild winter, he should have made it through to be 7 years old. Good luck,  Kim from Wisconsin

GA trail cam monster buck

Our friend Jay posted this buck on Twitter, wow! One of the biggest I have seen so far this year, and walking down South. More proof that 2016 should be a great rack year across the country.

Good luck, and send your pictures.

Trail-Cam Monday: 2016 Deer Season Weeks Away, Good Bucks Showing Up!

cam monday pa

From longtime blogger and friend of BIG DEER Terry “Big Daddy” Murphy: Mike, here is a picture taken from my ground blind on one of my food plots last week. I have been after him for two years, this will be my target buck this season here in PA

zach 3 bucks

These 3 bucks have a great story. Our friend Zach set a camera in a 3-acre block of woods where he had never put a camera before, “but I had always wondered what was in there,” he said. Well, he got these images of the impressive trio in just a few days. LESSON: Set a cam in a spot you have never scouted or hunted before, you might find a new hot spot!

cam monday ks bucks

Pair of great bucks from Kansas, on or near a ground where I will be hunting in early December. While I would love to get a crack at one of them, the 4 months between now and when I wil be out there is an eternity. But at least I have a good idea of the buck quality this area can produce, and the 2 shooters tell me it is gonna be a fine rack year in the Midwest and all over.

cam monday alberta

alberta sheldon synchro feed bucks

My buddy Sheldon is growing and attracting some killer bucks on his farm in Canada. The 2 bucks “synchronized eating” is one of the coolest cam shots I’ve seen in a while.

va cam bucks 1

cam monday va 2

cam monday va 3

After a slow early summer, these bucks started showing up at our mineral sites in late July. “High and Tight” 10-point approaching the Ani-block is a cool deer. I expect a few bigger deer to appear on the scene as late summer and fall progress.

Now that we have a good idea of  what kind of rack year 2016 will be here in VA (good if not great) we’ll start tracking the bucks with cameras moved to food plots, ridge points, edges, funnels and other spots where bucks will travel on natural movement. By law here, you must pull all minerals and attractants out of the woods by September 1 prior to each hunting season. LESSON: Read and know your state regs.

cam monday big bear

Back in July we had this big boy stake claim to one of our mineral sites. Not surprising, because of the 12 cameras we checked one day, 10 of them had images of 12 different black bears! Three cameras had been played with, bumped and pulled on, as evidenced by the picture below, but not bitten. I believe curious bears are attracted to your scent when you set and check a camera, another reason to spray your hands scent-free and maybe wear rubber gloves.

bear eye

The bears did not surprise me though. This summer I have hiked and rucked more than 200 miles in Shenandoah National Park, which is only 30 miles or so from this hunting farm; on at least 75 percent of those walks, we have encountered bears, and most days multiple bears.

The black bear population has exploded in Virginia and I see a potential problem looming, especially in very busy Shenandoah Park. In fact the problem is already here. Several trails were closed temporarily in the Park this summer because of aggressive bear behavior, and just 2 weeks ago on Dickey Ridge Trail a female bear w/cubs killed a dog on a leash that a guy was walking. (I hiked 10 miles on this same trail one day last week and saw 3 bears.)

Nobody enjoys observing bears in the woods and along the trails more than I do; I am not scared of them, but I respect them and give them space. Like all predators, black bears must be controlled. While there is obviously no hunting in the National Park, the surrounding lands and counties should offer bear hunters good to great opportunities this fall. I predict maybe a record-breaking bear harvest in 2016.


Deer Season 2016: What Kind of Year Do You Predict in Your State?

trail camera bucks alberta

My friend sent me this fascinating photo from his farm in Canada. He’s been watching the buck on the right all summer, and the 6×6 on the left just showed up. “Good sign,” he texted, “cause the really big ones up here generally don’t show up until late October.”

BTW, since I received this picture smack in the middle of the Rio Olympics, I caption it:

Whitetail Olympics, Synchronized Feeding, the Canada bucks take the gold!

I am heartened to see the nice bucks up North, where the 2015 winter was relatively mild. After some lean times, I think this could be the best rack season in years in western Canada.

How about where you live and hunt? What kind of rack year do you expect? What predictions are you hearing from your state’s wildlife agency? What kind of bucks are showing up on you and your friends’ trail cameras?

Please let me know below because I’ll be putting together a pre-season prediction blog on the upcoming 2016 season, and your specific info will help me out.

(Hint: From what I’m seeing and hearing early, this has the potential to be the best buck season across America since 2010.)