I often am asked, "Do you have your trail cameras out yet?"
For the first time this year I will be able to give a positive answer. Saturday I finally ventured out onto the mountain to set my first camera on a trail that goes past my favorite treestand.
Apparently I am behind the rest of the crowd when it comes to scouting. Most of my friends and outdoor associates who use cameras religiously had them out in the spring. While some hunters enjoy putting out cameras to simply get photos of deer, most use them as a serious scouting tool.
The biggest reason hunters put out cameras well before the start of archery season is to check selected areas for large bucks. Knowing that a big buck has been spotted at a specific location can change the way someone hunts during the season.
If a hunter knows there has been a mounter in the area, he will likely pass on deer with smaller antlers for a chance at the big one. Instead of hoping there is a shooter somewhere out there, cameras can assure a hunter there is a shooter out there.
Last season was the first time I shot a buck that I got a photo of with my camera before the start of the season.
The previous year was the first time I actually tried to shoot a specific buck that was identified on a trail cam photo. My dad and I had photos of the nice buck on two different trails. It seemed that I was always putting my climber on the wrong path. I would see the buck, but well out of range each time.
Back to last year. In early September, I put my camera on a trail near a ladder I sit in quite often in bow season. When I switched out the memory card and checked out its contents the first time on my laptop, I had mixed emotions.
While I had a few photos of this buck, the only others to make an appearance were a doe and two fawns. I decided that I would try and keep tabs on the buck and attempt to get his pattern down leading up to opening day.
Unfortunately, his appearances at my camera site were very sporadic. Some days he would walk by my ladder in the morning and the afternoon. Other times, it would be a week between getting photos of him. The one good thing I took from the photos was that he was not using the path after dark.
A week before the opener I pulled my card one last time to see if the buck was still in the area. I had one photo of him, along with several of the doe and fawns (which still had their spots) and a small buck.
During the opening morning I did not see a deer. After climbing out of the ladder I pulled my camera to see if the buck had been around the last week. When I got to the cabin, I was disappointed to not have a single photo of him.
I sat in that area three more times without seeing a deer the first week. Usually I hunt sparingly during the start of the season and hunt hard the final two weeks, but I was after this specific buck.
Now at this point in the past, I would have given up on the location and tried my luck somewhere else on the mountain. But the trail cam photos made me want to stay on the buck.
I sat in the ladder one more time on morning of the second Saturday of the season. Once again I was shutout by the whitetails with only a grouse and raccoon keeping me entertained. Without spotting the buck or getting a photo over the past two weeks, I was ready to make the change.
At that point my dad suggested another ladder that was higher up on the mountain and a few hundred yards west of where I had gotten pictures of the buck. I had always had good luck seeing deer there the previous year, and I thought a change of scenery would be a good idea.
An hour into that hunt that evening, I was able to harvest the buck I had been chasing since getting the first photo of him six weeks earlier. It was a very short season, but a very rewarding one. He was not the biggest buck in the woods, but the fact that I actually tried to shoot that exact one seemed a great end to my 2013 deer season.
Along with pre-season and in-season scouting, I also like to use trail cameras just after the end of flintlock season. I am always interested to find out what bucks made it through another year and try to imagine what their antlers may look like the following fall.
While I and most others use trail cameras as tools for scouting at various points throughout the year, there is also another reason this technology has become a favorite of so many outdoorsmen: It is fun to find out what animals wander through the area where your camera is set up.
Over the past few years I have gotten photos of the animals you would expect such as deer, bears, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and turkeys. I have also been lucky enough to get a fox, fisher and grouse. I am, however, still waiting on my first coyote photo.
Hopefully when I pull my card in a week or two, I will find a buck worth chasing in October. But if that fails to happen, I am sure I will still enjoy scanning through the images and seeing what animals walked by my ladder.
Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.