September 24, 2021
“He hit my rubbing posts and the mock scrapes twice yesterday,” said my Nebraska buddy and whitetail fanatic, Terron Bauer. “He came through on the north side of the river about an hour after sunup and then, at some point, crossed the river and came through the south-side funnel about 2 p.m. That makes two days in a row he’s done the same thing. I need to kill him before he finds a hot doe and locks her down.”
When I hung up the phone, I was shaking. I was happy for my friend, of course, and felt confident he’d get the job done. What gave me the jitters were the photos of the deer from Terron’s Spartan cellular trail cameras, which I scrolled through on my iPhone while my buddy gave me the 411. This was a quality buck, and viewing right-now pictures of him was amazing.
When Terron set this cell-cam duo back in July, I downloaded the Spartan Camera app and joined his account. What a blast it was to see his hit-list of deer grow. This particular buck was a monster. He’d disappeared in mid-October but now was regularly back on camera and actively checking the downwind side of Terron’s hinge cuts for ready-to-breed does.
It was over quickly the following day. Terron used weeks of cell-cam data, along with a stiff north wind, to slip in and get the job done. It was the first time he’d been in the area since setting the cameras back in July.
“It was incredible,” he told me. “Now that I’m tagged out, I’m going to pull all of my standard digital cameras, sell them and buy as many more cell cameras as I can.”
Cellular cameras have changed the face of deer scouting. Today’s new models are remarkable. None that I’ve played with require a computer science degree to set up, and once you’re linked to the camera via the manufacturer’s app, you’ll start receiving images instantly.
Most models have multitudes of options, and when on the hunt for the “right” camera, I highly suggest you do your research. Some apps are more functional than others, and some cameras offer more beneficial features than others. For instance, I run more than one camera I can control directly from a smart device. Not only do I not have to head into the field to pull an SD card to collect images, but I can also change settings such as on/off times, camera sensitivity, image capture mode, transfer frequency and more. When you can change camera settings directly from your phone or computer, this greatly reduces your human foot-print in the field.
Another tip is to make sure the camera will link with your cellular network. Remember, a cell cam must have a network signal to transmit pics or accept camera-setting changes. So, be sure to select a camera that connects to a network with good coverage in your hunting area. Most cell-camera makers offer AT&T and Verizon models, and some have taken technology to a new level and offer a single flagship camera that will work with either network. Still others offer even more options when it comes to cellular network providers. You know what network performs best in your neck of the woods. Be smart when making your selection.
I have some whitetail haunts where service goes in and out. One second, I have a strong LTE signal, and the next, not a single bar. It’s weird, but it happens. Often, I will get pictures on command, then nothing for a few hours and later a bunch of photos all at once. Don’t fret. With cams placed in areas of sub-par service, set a once-per-day or twice-per-day transfer, which typically works well. If all else fails and you get nothing, you can always go in and pull the camera’s SD card, which will have all the camera’s images stored on it.
When setting cameras in locations with questionable service, try to place them in more open areas and stay out of deep bottoms where LTE service won’t be available. Most cameras have some type of service detection feature you can view during the setup process.
The whitetail game has exploded in recent years. While most serious whitetail nuts can’t afford vast acres of whitetail paradise, many have scraped and saved to purchase a small property they can call their own. Others have partnered with friends and family to do the same, or have invested funds into a yearly lease.
Small acreages can produce significant results. I took my largest buck to date off an 80-acre farm in Nebraska. The tricky thing is that it’s hard to hold deer on a small property but very easy to bump them from it.
Once your stands are set and things are ready for fall, the last thing you want to do is keep going in and out, and in and out. Not only are you disturbing deer, but you also may be changing and impacting patterns that otherwise would work in your favor come November. With a cellular cam or two on the property, you can stay privy to deer movement and only return when it’s time to deflate some lungs.
Of course, there are those hunters who own or lease vast acres of whitetail nirvana. Whether you use your whitetail properties for your own hunts or operate them as pay-to-play grounds for other hunters, cell cameras will save you time and money.
Checking trail cameras is a time-consuming process. When you have lots of cameras spread out over lots of acres, that means burning gas and either walking to and from each location, or deploying a UTV or e-bike.
A buddy of mine owns a large slice of whitetail heaven in Illinois. This past year, he made the switch to cell cams, and during a phone conversation last December, he told me it was the best investment he’d ever made.
“Not only do I get up-to-the-minute data about where the hottest action is, but I can also show my hunters the deer they may see during a given sit,” he said. “It used to take me half a day to check cameras, download pictures and then go through and log them. I don’t check cameras anymore. I set a time on my cameras — twice a day — to send images. Then, I import the ones I want into folders and delete the others. It’s so awesome.”
What About Theft?
Cellular cameras are a pricey investment, and I recommend thinking twice about using them on public lands. An unethical hunter with sticky fingers may snag your cell scouter at the first chance. Sure, you may get a picture of the thief, but you may not be able to identify the scoundrel or ever see the person again.
Then, there’s what happened to yours truly. I was using a cell camera on a piece of public-land elk dirt. The camera was over a wallow and could be easily seen from any direction. Not smart. Someone noticed the camera and walked up behind it. The person placed a hand over the lens while turning the unit off. There was nothing I could do but watch black images come to my app.
When using cameras on private ground — whether it is owned, leased or accessed through knock-on-door permission — be sure to lock each of your cameras. Yes, it’s an added expense, but it’s a necessary deterrent. The lock tells a would-be thief that work will be needed to remove the device, and the antenna lets the person know there is a good chance pictures of the crime will be taken and transmitted to the owner.
My Oklahoma buddy, Scott Sanderford, owner of Croton Creek Outfitters, has another solid idea. He owns and leases lots of ground, and trespassing has been a problem in his area.
“We post all our properties with signs that let everyone know that cellular cameras are in operation throughout the property and that images are sent directly to our phones,” Sanderford says. “Since doing this, I haven’t had a cell camera or a standard digital camera get stolen.”
One last tip, and one I use often, is to place a standard, no-flash digital camera in the same location as the cell camera. Position the no-flash camera 8-10 feet above the cell camera, and angle it accordingly. This removes the standard camera from the line of sight, and should someone steal or destroy your cell camera, you will at least have photos of the culprit.
Know The Rules
While cellular cameras are tremendously effective scouting devices, you need to pay attention to state regulations regarding their use. In my neck of the woods, laws regarding cell cameras are as clear as mud. I love them and use them on my local whitetail property and elk spots where cell service is available. However, these cameras may not be in use during hunting season, and I remove mine at least 14 days before any hunting season starts.
Cellular-camera regulations vary widely by state. If you have questions about the legalities of cell-cam usage in your hunting area, I highly recommend contacting the local game and fish office. It’s better to talk to someone in person than to try to sift through the do’s and don’ts of an unclear regulation. In places where cell-cam use is legal, even if only during the pre-season, you don’t want to miss out on the advantages these technological advancements offer.