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Changing the Game: Cellular Trail Cameras

Wireless trail cameras have ushered in a new era of whitetail hunting.

Changing the Game: Cellular Trail Cameras

The proliferation of cellular trail cameras has forever changed the whitetail-hunting game by allowing hunters to keep tabs on deer movement in near real time. (Photo courtesy of SPYPOINT)

When I look back at my bowhunting life thus far, it isn’t hard to see how technology has changed things for the better. From more efficient bows and better broadhead designs to lightweight treestand materials and high-performance backcountry clothing, technology has really changed the game! But if I had to pinpoint just one high-tech innovation that has truly revolutionized my bowhunting, it would have to be cellular trail cameras and the role they play in my whitetail pursuits.

Cell-Cam Explosion

By now, I think just about every bowhunter is familiar with cellular trail cameras, with a large percentage of us owning more than one! As the name suggests, a cell cam operates much like a standard trail camera, except in addition to storing captured images on an attached SD card, it uses wireless technology to transmit copies of those images directly to the user’s smartphone and/or computer. Of course, this capability is dependent on network coverage, but as time goes by there is less and less good whitetail ground outside cell range.

In addition to the basic functionality of receiving images remotely, all the cellular cameras work with a companion smartphone app and/or website that allows you to remotely control camera settings, monitor battery life and, in some cases, even see the camera’s location on a map. As technology advances, manufacturers continue to add functionality, such as integrating detailed weather data, image recognition that can automatically sort animals by species — and even separate bucks from does — and the ability to sort images by date, time, location and other factors to help you predict the most productive hunting area based on current conditions.

All in all, cell cams and their companion apps are truly a slick system for bowhunters, providing us with a ton of advantages over regular trail cams, all for the price of a monthly data subscription.

The Cell-Cam Advantage

As a whitetail fanatic, I have long been obsessed with studying the movement patterns of individual deer. In my opinion, the best way to kill a mature buck is to learn its habits without ever letting the buck know it is being hunted! To be sure, standard trail cameras are a huge help to a bowhunter like me, who typically targets a specific buck, or just two or three specific bucks within the larger herd, year after year. Still, they’re not perfect!

My patterning efforts have traditionally involved scouting on foot and running as many traditional trail cameras as possible in the areas a target buck frequents, with the goal of identifying an opportunity I can capitalize on. However, doing this requires me to step foot in that buck’s world, inevitably leaving behind clues that I’ve been there. For example, with traditional trail cameras I have to visit camera sites at least every few weeks to swap SD cards and check batteries. Although this isn’t a lengthy process, it still requires a trip into the area my target buck calls home, and that carries a risk of depositing human scent or even being seen coming and going.

Cellular cameras eliminate all that risk. By using lithium batteries that last for months, or an external battery pack or solar panel, you can eliminate the need to visit camera sites with any frequency. Many of the apps incorporate features designed to aid in camera setup, so you know they are working properly when you set them up. After that, you can simply monitor images and camera status on your phone, only returning to the camera site in the event of a technical issue or, better yet, to hunt!

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Author Clint Casper scatters cell cams throughout his hunting area and uses information they provide to gradually figure out a mature buck’s core area and movement pattern.

This is obviously a huge advantage, because it is a very low-impact scouting method that will not disturb deer or alter their normal travel patterns. The camera apps also give me the ability to adjust camera settings, optimizing how many photos are taken, detection range, flash settings, etc. These are amazing features that save a lot of time and aggravation. Think about it, if you place a standard trail camera in the woods and accidentally leave your image interval set at 5 minutes instead of 5 seconds, you are likely to return weeks later and discover far fewer pictures than you expected on your SD card. In effect, you’ve missed out on a ton of scouting intelligence you can never get back. With a cellular camera, you can easily discover your mistake from the comfort of your couch — and correct it at the touch of a button. This saves endless time, effort and gas money!

Another awesome feature many of the cell-cam makers offer via their apps is the ability to index your photos, identify particular bucks of interest and automatically see reports detailing the locations, dates, times, weather conditions and moon phases of that buck’s appearance on camera. Before the advent of cell cameras, I used to write all this information down and index it myself. Now it is all at my fingertips, saving a ton of time and effort!

Cell-Cam Strategy

Over the years, I’ve developed a proven strategy for using my cell cameras to find and kill mature whitetail bucks. It begins with locating a target buck in early summer and starting to study him. I often locate bucks this time of year by glassing agricultural fields in the evenings. Once I have a general idea of where a shooter buck is spending its time, I’ll dive in with my cell cameras and get to work. As I mentioned earlier, in today’s world most of the areas I hunt have a solid cellular signal, allowing me to scout the buck without him knowing I’m lurking!

I like to start by deploying as many cell cameras as I can in likely areas. Then, I use the information the cameras provide (whether the buck is on camera or not) to move cameras around and gradually home in on the buck’s core area. The daily intel cell cameras provide allows me to accomplish this task much more quickly than I could with conventional cameras, as I no longer have to wait days or weeks to begin putting the puzzle pieces together. Once opening days arrives, time is of the essence, and I hate to feel like I’m always one step behind when it comes to predicting a buck’s next move.

Thanks to the advanced features included in many of the camera apps, I can not only save images of my target bucks but also log variables such as wind direction, barometric pressure, moon phase and temperature. When cross-matching this data with the images, it becomes much easier to identify the combination of factors a particular deer “likes” for appearing at a particular location — allowing me to tailor my hunting strategy accordingly!

Recommended


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Cell cameras played a key role in helping Casper tag this great Ohio buck, as described in the article.

Perhaps you are among the majority of bowhunters who don't have a particular buck picked out, or you’re scouting a new property where you have no history to fall back on. What’s the strategy, you ask? Well, I encountered this very scenario two falls ago and cell cameras absolutely saved the day! Since the season was already underway and the rut wasn’t far off, I knew my best chance on that property would be to hunt high-traffic rut areas. Funnels, pinch points, saddles and inside field corners were the areas I planned to spend most of my time, but I had never actually stepped foot on the property.

With five cell cameras in tow, I marked five good-looking “rut spots” on my digital mapping app and headed in. In less than two hours, I had set up all five cameras and was on my way back home. By that evening, those cameras were already showing me a ton of valuable info. Deer were certainly using these areas, and I had a hunch big bucks would soon be cruising through. Sure enough, two of those five spots heated up over the course of the following week. Daylight photos of mature bucks on the prowl gave me the confidence I needed to head in with my bow in hand, and I shot a great buck at 22 steps on my very first sit! None of that would have happened without my cell cams.

What about big-woods bucks? Yes, cell cameras are a great help there too. For starters, cell cameras allow me to do the majority of my big timber scouting online, making a single trip in to set up cameras at my chosen locations. I like to do this along scrape lines in early October and then just sit back and wait. As photos trickle in, I gain a good idea of what bucks are hanging out in the camera areas. And when those bucks start to hit those scrapes in daylight, or very close to daylight, I know the time has come to head back in and hunt! The immediacy of the intel provided by the cell cameras is key here, as without that real-time data, I may be too late in checking the cameras and miss the small window of opportunity that exists to shoot a good buck.

Cell Cams Out West

It would be silly to act as though cell cams have only changed the game for whitetail hunters! When it comes to western big-game hunting in states where cellular cameras are legal and cell coverage is strong enough for the cameras to operate reliably, they offer huge advantages. More often than not, on western hunts I am hiking many miles from my truck in hopes of finding game. Think about how great it would be to know that game is frequenting a spot five miles from the trailhead before making the trek. With cell cams, we can do this!

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When using cell cams in the West, I like to focus on high-traffic zones such as water sources, saddles and heavily used game trails through the timber. I particularly love to place these cameras on wallows during the elk rut. These spots typically have multiple bulls using them, and a cell camera not only tells me what bulls are around but how often they’re visiting.

Although it can be more work to use cell cameras out West due to the distances involved in placing them, once deployed the cameras really help maximize your limited time in the area by focusing your efforts on areas where game is active while at the same time helping you avoid long, strenuous hikes into areas where there are few if any bucks or bulls on camera.

Super Cell Scouters

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SPYPOINT FLEX-S

SPYPOINT FLEX-S: The new FLEX-S features pre-loaded, pre-activated dual SIM cards that ensure you’re always connected to the most reliable cellular network and an integrated solar panel that charges a built-in lithium battery, eliminating the need to change batteries during the season. The camera takes and transmits 33MP photos and 1080p video with sound, has 100-foot detection and flash ranges and offers four capture modes. $219.99 | spypoint.com

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Moultrie Mobile Edge

Moultrie Mobile Edge: This feature-rich wireless cam includes auto-connect, which allows you to connect to the best signal without switching SIM cards; built-in memory so you don’t need to buy or format an SD card; and, most important, exceptional image quality. The Edge takes 33MP photos and HD 720p video with sound, with 80-foot flash and detection ranges. It runs on eight AA batteries but can take 16 AAs for extended life. $99.99 | moultriefeeders.com

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Browning Defender Pro Scout Max Extreme

Browning Defender Pro Scout Max Extreme: This compact, .25-second-trigger-speed scouter has a lot going for it. For starters, the Auto-Detect feature and pre-installed SIM cards ensure you’re always connected to the strongest signal (AT&T or Verizon). Plus, the camera has 22MP image capability and full-HD, 1080p video with sound, with Radiant 6 Night Illumination delivering crisp, detailed nighttime footage. $139.99 | browningtrailcameras.com




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