Keep your trail spying a secret --use an infrared camera.
Cameraman Sean Hagen and I had been tucked into our ground blind since well before daylight, waiting for a whitetail buck to slip out of the Saskatchewan bush. Finally, a buck showed. He was a two-year-old, not the size of buck I'd traveled this far to shoot, so I left my bow leaning against the blind wall.
Suddenly, the buck lit up as if struck by lightning! He jumped sideways about a half step, and then he continued on his way, seemingly unconcerned. The buck moseyed around a bit and then ambled back the way he'd come -- and got hit by a second flash. This time he showed no reaction as he slowly vanished into the bush.
What can we surmise from this en-counter? Not much, except that our outfitter had neglected to turn off his trail camera when he dropped us off that morning, and the deer was setting off the flash.
The question of whether a standard flash trail camera spooks deer remains unanswered. Some hunters say a flash spooks deer. Others claim deer get used to the flash. The deer? We don't know what they think.
One way or the other, more and more hunters are deciding not to take the risk and are switching to cameras with in-frared emitters that invisibly illuminate the darkness. The only thing they give up is color in their nighttime images.
Shopping for one of today's sophisticated cameras can be intimidating, and it requires research. Here are a few things to consider:
€¢ Buy digital. With a digital camera, you don't have to hassle with rolls of film. You can store hundreds of images on a memory card and then download them to your computer for filing, enhancement, emailing, or whatever.
€¢ Look for the IR designation -- infrared flash. Regular flash cameras work fine, but the bright white flash may bother game. Some IR cameras emit a red glow, which may alarm animals, but the odds of spooking deer out of the area are reduced.
€¢ Look for fast trigger speeds. The faster the trigger speed, the better for capturing moving game. Trigger speeds average from one to five seconds, but some cameras now have trigger speeds under one second.
€¢ Don't get hung up on megapixels. You're probably not looking for magazine-quality photos. You're just trying to answer the what, where, and when about the game you're hunting.
€¢ Seek user-friendliness. Software in the camera determines how complicated it is to set up and arm. The simpler, the better.
€¢ Get a decent-sized memory card. A one-gigabyte card will hold hundreds of images. Still, buy two cards so you can swap out the cards quickly in the field.
Here's a rundown on some of the latest trail cameras
This company takes high-tech to the nth power. The Buckeye Cam comes in two models -- the Orion and Apollo. The Orion features a blazing two-tenths of a second trigger speed and infrared night images. More amazingly, it sends your images to a base unit or personal computer up to two miles away! That eliminates having to hike into your hunting area and, because multiple Orions can download to the same base or computer, your coverage can be extensive.
The Apollo is the same speedy IR camera with adjustable resolution, but it doesn't include the wireless feature, which can be added later. This technology is state of the art, as is the price.
A trail camera that calls in game? That's what you get with Bushnell's Trail Scout Pro with Game Call. An external speaker can be programmed to emit deer, elk, moose, turkey, or predator calls at preset intervals.
The Trail Scout Pro also features an extended-range infrared emitter to illuminate nighttime photos, and the motion sensor can detect game out to 45 feet. It can be set to take still images or video with sound, has many programmable features, and comes with a tree bracket and cable lock for security purposes.
The capture speed on the new CamTrakker MK-8 digital trail camera is said to be less than one second -- fast enough to freeze passing game. An IR Filter provides the nighttime image capability of this camera with no visible flash emitted. A full-color LCD display lets you view images -- up to four at once -- in the field, or you can swap out the SD card. This camera comes with a 512 MB card and rechargeable batteries. One thing this camera has that some don't is a glass lens, which contributes to better-quality images.
The new Cuddeback Capture IR is packed with features at a very reasonable price -- under $250. It takes color images by day and black-and-white images at night, out to a range of 25 feet. Because of something called Hair Trigger Technolo-gy, this 3.0-megapixel camera has a trigger speed of less than one second, twice as fast as previous Cuddeback cameras.
Another great feature is ease of operation. A single knob takes you through the setup process in just seconds. With a separate field viewer, called a CuddeView, you can peruse images in the field.
Moultrie's Game Spy digital cameras have infrared emitters with no visible white flash, and they come in two resolutions -- 4.0 megapixels for the I40, 6.0 megapixels for the I60. The IR flash reaches out to 50 feet, and battery life on quality D-cell batteries is said to be 150 days. A wireless Remote Activator, which is included, allows you either to trigger a photo from your treestand or activate an LED locator to find your camera or stand site.
The Game Spy can be set for video clips of 5, 15, or 30 seconds. It has a 11„2-inch viewing screen.
The Xtinction camera boasts a blistering half-second trigger speed and programmable IR emitters. Use it on the 32- emitter setting and it is true infrared with no visible light -- white or red. At that setting, the range is 30 feet. If you want longer range, simply activate 16 additional emitters to reach out to 40 feet.
This camera has a 31„2-inch color touch screen for reviewing images and video in the field, and a USB port allows you to quickly download images to a convenient jump drive. This camera operates for a month on 10 AA batteries. All the lenses are glass.
The Extreme 3.0 from Recon Out-doors features SNIPER Trigger Technol-ogy for fast trigger speeds, and the No Flash, No Dash IR system illuminates the scene out to 50 feet. This camera takes both still images and video in color during the daytime. At night, it's still capable of photos and video in black-and-white. Like most trail cameras, this one detects motion via a passive infrared detector.
The Extreme also comes in a 5.0- megapixel version. Both models operate on six D-cell batteries and Compact Flash cards for memory.
The latest model of game camera from Reconyx is the RapidFire Covert Color IR RC60. A feature called Light Filtering Technology (LFT) eliminates even the red glow of the infrared emitters so neither game nor humans can detect the flash, which reaches out to 35 feet. This camera is also extremely fast, thanks to InstaOn motion-sensing technology, which triggers in less than a half-second. The images -- color by day, black-and-white at night -- are at 3.1 megapixels in resolution.
The RC60, operating on six C-cell batteries, includes CodeLoc password protection.
The Smart Scouter Cellular Surveil-lance System is another of those far-out high-tech units. This camera immediately sends images to your cell phone or to the Smart Scouter website, from which you can download images to your computer. The Smart Scouter is armed with a 50-emitter infrared flash array, giving it a nighttime range of 60 feet. It also has three PIR motion sensors. The outside sensors snap the camera out of battery-saving sleep mode, and the shutter triggers quickly.
The average monthly cost for cell service and uploading of images is said to be about $20. The Smart Scouter operates as a regular camera in areas without cell service, and it can be used for security purposes.
Video footage is the rage of the times, and the Prowler DVS from Stealth Cam is built for motion. The Prowler uses 42 IR emitters to illuminate the darkness for both still photos and video. During the daytime, the photos (5 megapixels) and video are in full color. Length of video clips is programmable from 50 to 90 seconds, and the footage includes time, date, moon phase, and temperature.
The Prowler takes still photos in one to nine-frame bursts, and the photos can include ambient data. Two other IR cameras from Stealth Cam are the I540IR and the I430IR, both of which cost less than $175.
Wildview cameras are priced for those who want to use a number of cameras to cover lots of territory. Wildview also has expanded into the IR market, offering the Infrared Extreme, with a 30-foot range of invisible nighttime illumination. This 2.0-megapixel digital camera is simple, effective, and economical at about $170. It includes a Burst Mode for multiple images at each triggering and a USB port for downloading images.
|Manufacturer Contact List|
€¢Buckeye Cam, 1-866-325-8172,
€¢Cuddeback, (715) 762-2260,
€¢Predator, (715) 893-5001,
€¢Recon Outdoors, 1-866-647-3266,
€¢Smart Scouter, 1-888-707-2688,
€¢Stealth Cam, 1-888-304-6125,