By Brian Kieft
The Early Days
I happened to be an early adopter of game cameras in the early 90's. You know…, the ones that required 8 "D" size batteries, 35mm film, and they looked like a tackle box strapped to the tree! Those were the days!!!! It was definitely a love/hate relationship. Constant trips to Walgreens, pictures with only half an image, and battery changes once or twice a week. Sharing that first full size image of a reclusive whitetail buck though was like showing off my unborn child’s sonogram. Was that the bomb or what? Sure beat the trip-wire trail timers I had. They only gave me a time-stamp and daydreams of an angry Sasquatch. I wish I had that picture!
Those first few years were a major enlightenment. I began to realize what a blessing game cameras were. Areas I once thought were barren of any game animal were actually enchanted mystical lands full of heavy racked whitetails, long beards, and coyotes on the hunt. Bucks I would have never dreamed of were roaming my hunting grounds! I had more fun setting up cameras than I did tree stands. It was an addiction that only became worse when digital game cameras came out. The ability to head home and view pictures on my laptop without having to get them developed was like crack. Checking cameras actually became more addicting than the hunt itself. I rarely saw the models of my obsession in the flesh, but they always posed well for the camera. “Where are all the deer at?” I would ask myself. “I had multiple pictures last week and had four different bucks on film!” Not a single one showed up at dawn or dusk with my bow. “Hmmm, better reactive my Scent-Lok suit!”
It didn't take me long to figure out that it wasn't my Scent-Lok suit ruining my sightings and hunts. My game camera addiction had gotten so out of control that my constant intrusion began to literally curse all my hunting areas. I didn’t care at the time because all I wanted was another hit of a freshly downloaded image. Pressured whitetail bucks despise humans and human scent. We can’t eliminate it all and the more I intruded to get that fix, the more scent I left behind. Ohhhhhh, the relationships I destroyed.
The placement of my cameras in relation to where I hunted was the major deal breaker I began to realize. To get good pictures, and lots of them, I always placed the cameras near food sources that I intended to hunt. That required me to not only intrude on days that I hunted, but also the days I checked the camera pictures. My areas became a cesspool of human scent and flash-bombs. My hunts suffered and so did my confidence. Bucks that were already nocturnal started wearing ski masks. Seasons would pass without a punched tag because I knew if I waited long enough, I would get a crack at the big one (The “Pros” use pet names like log splitter, skyscraper, juggernaut, peaches and cream, you get the point…). NOT!!!!!!!
Time for a Change
I knew I had to break the camera habit so I could enjoy a successful season. I knew my addiction was hurting my chances and relationships with my antlered quarry. After a few years of non-stop camera use; I quit game cameras cold turkey for about three archery seasons. They were some of the best seasons of my life!!! I’ll explain why.
First: I harvested some really nice bucks that I would have passed in previous years due to waiting. Game cameras usually show us the best buck in an area. What does an addicted game camera junkie do with that information? We hold out and pretend everything else on the market is too young or not broadhead worthy. Why? I’ll tell you why; The Outdoor Channel. I got back to my roots of hunting for sustenance first and antlers second. Once you become aware of what’s out there, you hold yourself to a different standard and neglect what true hunting is all about.
Secondly: I saw more deer. I wasn’t intruding in my hunting areas as much. I’ve always been diligent with scouting and stand preparation before season only to ruin it during hunting season to swap out an SD card. It doesn’t take much intrusion on public grounds to educate a mature buck. Stand rotation and having those secret spots that only get hunted 2-3 times a year become null and void when placing cameras nearby.
Third and Finally: My hunting seasons were far less stressful and way more enjoyable. Insanity and frustration takes over when Good Ol’ V12 (Pro nickname) doesn’t show up. “Oh well, I guess next year he’ll be 285”!. Come on….. Get realistic and get back in the game. I did; and if a buck like “V12” had stepped out, I would have only known him at that moment as “Holy Shit”.
After those camera-less seasons however, I did miss the fun of knowing what was in the area. I missed the gobblers looking into the lens, the raccoons standing on their hind legs like preachers, and bobcats sneaking through the brush. I missed the bachelor groups of velvet bucks together and the fawns with fresh spots. I had to be careful though. My past few seasons had been successful and messing with my previous addiction could be troublesome. I knew if I was going to dabble with game cameras again, I had to follow a new set of rules and stick to them.
Game Camera Usage Tips. Less is Better!
Coming up with a new set of rules for my game camera use was going to be hard. I knew the pros and cons of using them. I knew that heavily pressured deer are extremely hyper sensitive to human intrusion and I needed to use that knowledge to formulate my own plans. I wrote this guideline for myself and the payoff has been extremely positive. They’re a set of commandments I follow still to this day. The guide below doesn’t’ analyze what camera to use, but rather how I use them effectively from a low impact standpoint. If you’re struggling to see the objects of your affection with a bow in your hand, try incorporating the list below. The list is short and easy and I promise there will be no need for rehab.
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