Last fall, I checked several trail cameras on the eve of Wisconsin's bow opener. While reviewing the images, it became clear that I had some bucks to hunt, but the forecast called for a wind direction that didn't have me excited. I had a single stand that was worth sitting in a straight south wind, but unfortunately the camera near that stand didn't show many deer.
As I walked to that stand in midafternoon, I felt like it was going to be nice to sit in the woods, even if I didn't have a chance to arrow a buck. My hopes picked up slightly as I got closer to the stand and could hear acorns pinging through branches and landing in the leaves. After a half-hour of watching squirrels scurry through the leaf litter, I realized that I might be selling my hunt short.
Two hours later, I knew something was going to give. I'd heard several twigs snap under a nearby oak but hadn't caught a glimpse of a deer. When he did show, he walked right under my stand and sported nubbins. A follow-up deer walked slowly in my direction, and I figured it was the button buck's mom. But at 20 yards I realized it wasn't a doe but a buck, and I needed to get my act together. He spotted me drawing, but the angle was good and the distance was even better.
Trail Camera Epiphany
Watching him sprint out of sight, I knew he wasn't going far. I sat down and realized that while the buck was easily within shooting range, he had opted to peel off of the trail that ran in front of my stand and browse randomly through. He was 10 yards from my trail camera, but he wouldn't have walked in front of it.
It was an "ah-ha" moment, and it made me realize that there is a certain danger to relying too heavily on trail cameras. They are amazing tools, but they can't do all of the work for us. This is a trap an awful lot of us fall into, and it's bad.
However, if you plan to scout hard with boots on the ground, eyes glued to optics, and use strategically placed cameras to answer questions about current game movement, then you're on to something.
Trail Camera Models for 2016
A strategy where quality cameras complement your plans to get out and look over your deer ground is the best bet for putting together the complete puzzle. If that sounds about right, then it's worth checking out some of the new-for-2016 models on the market.
Sub-Micro | Strike Force Elite HD $140 / Dark Ops Elite HD $160
A great option comes your way via Browning Trail Cameras in the form of their Sub-Micro Trail Cameras, which are available in two options — Strike Force Elite HD ($140) and the Dark Ops Elite HD ($160). Both cameras feature extremely fast trigger speeds and recovery times, and employ Browning's new SD card memory-management technology to ensure that you never miss a recent shot, even if your card should happen to fill up. Capable of capturing 720p HD video, these micro cameras are perfect for hunters looking for high-quality images and videos of all day and nighttime travelers.
Wild Game Innovations
Vision 8 LIGHTSOUT | $120
The latest from Wildgame Innovations, the Vision 8 LIGHTSOUT ($120), is chock full of hunter-friendly goodies like a one-second trigger, a flash range of up to 70', and a wide-angle 16:9 aspect ratio option. The Vision 8 can capture 30-second videos (720 HD) and 8MP still images. To keep from spooking passing bucks, this trail camera is outfitted with a BLACK LED infrared flash.
Outfitter 12MP Color HD | $200
Known for all things outdoors, Cabela's has been quietly churning out really good cameras lately. I ran their Outfitter 12MP Color HD Trail Camera ($200) in Wisconsin last summer, fall and winter on video mode, and it produced the entire time without a single hiccup. The coolest feature of this camera is that it captures color photos and videos at night. Choose from 10â€“180-second 720p video (with audio), and rest assured that with its one-second trigger speed, 40 white LEDs, and exceptional battery life, this trail camera is one of the best on the market.
Panoramic 180i | $300
My favorite feature of the Panoramic 180i Game Cam ($300) from Moultrie is that it offers a full 180-degree field of view, which means I capture images with this camera that I simply wouldn't get with other models. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the 180i also boasts a .5-second trigger speed, 70' flash range, and the ability to capture up to 15,000 images on a set of fresh AAs.
14MP Trophy Cam HD Aggressor Wireless | $515
Bushnell's latest, the 14MP Trophy Cam HD Aggressor Wireless ($515), is capable of transmitting high-resolution images to anyone using an Android or iPhone. This high-tech scouting camera will also transmit daily GPS updates, and is designed around a new case. For those moments when bucks are chasing and not likely to pose for a portrait, the new Trophy Cam is designed with a .3-second trigger.
G45NG Pro | $199
Ten-percent smaller than previous G Series offerings, the new G45NG Pro ($199) from Stealth Cam is a 12MP camera that is capable of recording up to 180 seconds of video per triggering (with audio). Users can also choose Time Lapse with PIR Override, or simply Burst Mode for capturing quality stills during the day and night. To ensure your images are the best they can be, the G45NG Pro features 45 NO GLO IR EMITTERs, and uses Stealth Cam's Matrix Advanced Blur Reduction Technology.
PROOF Camera 02 | $161
Primos has released several new trail cameras for 2016, with the PROOF Camera 02 ($161) an excellent choice for diehard whitetail hunters. This camera can operate for up to nine months on one set of batteries, and it won't miss a moment of action thanks to the .4-second trigger speed. Set it up for stills, HD video, or time-lapse, and rest easy knowing the PROOF Camera 02 has a 100' nighttime flash range.
Spartan GoCam | $380â€“$470
If you're looking to monitor a site without disturbing game with frequent visits, it would be prudent to check out the Spartan GoCam ($380â€“$470, varies by model) from HCO Outdoors. I ran one of these wireless cameras on a DIY bear bait site last fall and fell in love with it. AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint customers can use these cameras, and data plans start at under $9 per month (no contract necessary). Setup is a breeze, and they take great images thanks to excellent trigger speeds and photo resolution (as high as 8MP).
Long Range IR E2 | $150
Cuddeback has developed a solid reputation on cameras that don't miss a shot. This is largely due to trigger speeds of .25 seconds, which is standard on the Long Range IR E2 ($150). This micro camera also boasts over two watts of IR illumination, and up to a 100' flash range. If that's not enough, consider that the Long Range IR E2 is a 20MP trail camera, allowing users the chance to blow up high-resolution images without losing definition.
Kodiak Series Cameras | $260
Another truly unique option comes your way from Comanche Outfitters in their Kodiak Series Cameras ($260), which sport all of the features you'd expect on a top-end camera. However, they also offer something you're not likely to find anywhere else — WiFi capability. This means that as long as you get within 300' or so of this camera, you can quickly download images and videos directly to your smartphone. No data plans necessary. No need to disturb the camera site to check images. That's a win-win for everyone but the deer.
Day 6 Outdoors
PlotWatcher Pro | $229
When I first tried out an original Day 6 Outdoors PlotWatcher, I didn't think I'd like it. I was wrong. If you've got a food plot, a pond, or a corner of a field that you want to monitor for daylight deer movement, these cameras are perfect. And they've gotten even better thanks to the release of the PlotWatcher Pro ($229), which uses Tru-Video Technology to capture up to one-million images and then turn them into an easy-to-watch video. For this year, users can pick up the Add-on Lens Kit ($50). Containing a high-definition telephoto lens and a high-definition wide-angle lens, the Lens Kit offers even more options for anyone looking to record the comings and goings of the entire deer herd.
Manufacturer's Contact List:
â€¢Browning Trail Cameras, 1-888-618-4495, browningtrailcameras.com
â€¢Bushnell, 1-800-423-1734, bushnell.com
â€¢Cabela's, 1-800-237-4444, cabelas.com
â€¢Comanche Outfitters, 1-844-426-3226, kodiakcamera.com
â€¢Cuddeback, (920) 347-3810, cuddeback.com
â€¢Day 6 Outdoors, (706) 256-2578, day6outdoors.com
â€¢HCO Outdoors, (770) 582-0004, hcooutdoors.com
â€¢Moultrie, 1-800-653-3334, moultriefeeders.com
â€¢Primos Hunting, (601) 879-9323, primos.com
â€¢Stealth Cam, 1-877-269-8490, gsmoutdoors.com
â€¢Wildgame Innovations, 1-800-847-8269, wildgameinnovations.com