I have a confession for y’all. After several years of refusing to do so, I broke down and bought a new trail camera. It was a Bushnell Trophy Cam Essential.
It was on deep discount at Amazon– under $80. It does everything I could think of, stills, video, it even has a “trail watcher” mode that lets you take pics every few minutes round the clock. It works in total darkness. It runs on 8 AA batteries and one load of rechargeables lasts over a month. What’s not to like?
I do not want to bash this camera. It is great. At $80 I should buy a dozen.
The thing of it is this: I went through this back in 2006 with a Moultrie camera. Back then, I had it up over a salt lick, and sure enough I got lots of pics of deer. I even published the pics. This was cool stuff.
The highlight of all the pictures were a couple of shots of twin bucks. They were both nice racks. They traveled together. They looked like matching bookends. They even visited us one afternoon while we were putting up a buddy treestand– just came up and watched like two kids watching workmen at a construction site.
Then they were gone. Some time in September they disappeared and they were gone for good. Poof.
I am seeing the same things again. The Bushnell Trophy Cam Essential provides great eye candy, but as a real tool it leaves a lot to be desired. I cannot think of anything important I would add to this device. It is the whole idea of a trail camera.
Ethics? Schmethics. I’m being practical here. I saw some great deer porn over the past few months. However, there is nothing in the thousands of stills and hundreds of videos that tell me what is going to be happening on The Opener. It tells me nothing of what I should be planning to do.
How can I say that? Look back in 2007, I had the older Moultrie camera up over the same salt lick. There were lots of pictures of doe, but not one shot of the The Big One, the monster I shot that year. Why? It was not the camera’s fault. Part of it is the deer and and part of it is our own nature.
Those Uncooperative Deer
I am not going to tell you guys anything you do not already know. Whitetail deer are remarkably contrary animals. Sure, you can put out a feeder, and get them to show up on a regular basis, but under normal conditions deer are just not dependable. My buddy O.D. claims they follow the 2 out of 7 rule. That is, you can depend on deer to do the same thing, be at the same spot at the same time about 2 times out of 7. That is just enough to frustrate a weekend deer hunter who is hoping the deer he saw on the trail camera last weekend to show up while he is sitting on his stand. I have to say 2 days out of 7 is about right for these deer I’m watching. There is a small herd of deer hitting my salt lick pretty hard, but it is not every night and it is not every day and it is not at the same time, and they may go several days without visiting and then be there four days in a row. O.D. has it about right– 2 of 7.
Bucks? Yes, I’m seeing bucks. However, I do not see the same bucks twice, and if I do, it is weeks apart. I will also tell you that I know for a fact that there are bigger deer in my neighborhood than those I am seeing on the trail camera. Where they go and what they do are a perennial mystery. I was reading an article the other day, written by a guy down in Texas. He was discussing studies that had shown that bucks roam and that 2.5 year old deer seem to roam the most. When they get to be more mature, they settle into a home range and a lot of them live on a fairly small plot.
I say hogwash. For one thing, I did not have time to bookmark the article, and when I went back to look for it today, I found an article purporting just the opposite on the QDMA website. For another thing, you have to just be around one of these guys and realize you are looking at an animal that is 1.5-3 times the size of your average doe. That is a bunch more mass to feed, and their caloric needs must be astronomical. Just look at NFL Football players compared to your average NFL cheerleaders, the mass difference is tremendous. How does your average NFL player maintain all that muscle? They eat. They eat maybe 5 times what I do every day, and I weigh over 300 lbs– and these guys don’t have to grow a hat rack on their heads every year. This isn’t steaks, eggs, and protein shakes either. Deer do this by essentially putting their head in the salad bar and staying there. If you tried to keep a large buck in a pen the size of their purported refuges, you would have a starved deer and a denuded landscape.
So how do deer cope? I cannot say all bucks everywhere roam, but the ones around me sure do. You may see one hanging out in the same spot for a few weeks, but after that ‘Poof!’ gone, and usually for good. They may come back, but how often? 2 of 7 days? during 2 of 7 months? In 2 of 7 years?
The doe will stick around. One thing I’ve noticed with this trail camera is that, this year at least, the deer are not taking their usual September hiatus. Usually I see nearly zero deer activity in September– no deer, no deer sign. This year, they are sticking around and visiting the salt lick where I have the camera mounted. Whether this bodes well or not remains to be seen. I think it has a lot to do with rainfall. When we have dry summers, they leave the ridgetops and take off for the river bottoms and then come back when the acorns start to drop.
Our own foolish nature
The thing about us is I think we are a bunch of magical thinkers. O.D.’s probably about right; 2 of 7 is just about how often you can expect deer to be doing the same thing at the same time of day. They also move around more than we like, and that is no different than humans. One day you go out for pizza, one day you get a burger, sometime before the end of the week you start thinking about pizza again. The problem with hunters is we think there is something magical we can do to change that. The 2 of 7 rule leaves a lot of room for developing a lot of superstition. Scents. Decoys. Anti-UV clothing–we’ll try anything. When it works we think we’ve found the trick. When it doesn’t work, we think it’s bad luck, or that we need to spray more UV suppressant or we need to change stands or . . .
That’s the other thing about human hunters. We think we can control all this. To make matters worse, we have marketing and merchandising people telling us we can, and we lap it up and fall for it. We go looking for the magical, mystical winning edge. I am always getting email from people who want to know what lure or bait or scent or call will make deer come to their stand. The plain simple truth is that nothing will do that surefire all the time. The whole idea of controlling deer behavior, short of putting up 10 foot fences is flawed. If you want to be successful at hunting these critters, you must learn to take things as they are and find where the deer sleep, where they eat and then put yourself somewhere between the two.
Looking on the Bright Side
So what besides DIY deer porn did I get for my $80? There is some important info in those many megabytes of pics and vids. What it is telling me is that normality has returned to my deer woods. I have a happy healthy doe group with 2-3 adults and two fawns that are frequenting the area around that lick. Along with them are several single doe that also show up on a regular basis. Whatever it was, drought, poaching or disease that caused them to skedaddle a couple of years ago, the doe group down in Soggy Bottom has reestablished itself. The only dark cloud is that I am seeing a lot of ribs. This has not been a good year for the hay, yields are half of what they should have been despite good rainfall. I am hoping the acorns come in thick.
The thing of it is, I already knew that. We did not need a camera. Deer numbers have been depressed in my part of the world for a few years. I just started seeing more deer in the fields this past year. Starting back during Turkey Season, we began seeing doe groups out in the fields as we were driving to camp.
Strategy wise, I will probably not alter what I’m doing based on the deer porn. My food plot failed over the summer. I’m going to try and replant for fall, and I’m betting on a warm and wet October.