Springtime Tips for Trail Cameras

Whether you’re hunting deer or turkeys, it’s never too early to get your trail cameras out. Photo by Steve Sorensen.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Spring has finally sprung, but don’t let lusty spring gobblers or trout tugging on monofilament make you forget about trail cameras. Now is the time to replace batteries and get them into the woods. Yes — even though deer season is a half year away.

A Facebook friend, Kurt Wilhelm, started me thinking about this when he asked whether trail cameras with invisible flash were better to use than trail cameras with a visible flash. I suspect the question was prompted by a couple of things. First, advertisements will tell us to ditch our flash cameras and upgrade to non-flash cameras. Second, of course, is the upgraded cost.

There are a couple of things to consider. When a flash camera is triggered by wind-driven leaves and limbs it fills your camera card with pictures of nothing, but also bursts the flash 30 or 40 times a night. That’s a form of light pollution in the woods that advertises your presence all night long. So, eliminate anything that might accidentally trigger your camera.

Once you’ve removed those sources of random flash, does the flash bother the deer? The answer is NO, and YES.

First, the NO. A lot happens in the woods, so I doubt a flash by itself triggers a reaction because deer see lots of flashes, from car headlights to lightning. If deer reacted to every disturbance they experience, they’d have no peace. Turkeys change trees during the night. Owls swoop down and grab mice. Limbs fall from trees.

Deer are often oblivious to it all, but they do tend to react more when one sensory experience is confirmed by another. They see danger, but react when it is confirmed by smell. They hear a sound, but react when it is verified by sight. Deer react to stimuli by seeking confirmation: they bob their heads, rotate their ears, and raise their noses. What they notice with one sense, they try to ratify with another. We call it curiosity.

Other animals, turkeys for example, aren’t so curious. No one ever said “Curiosity killed the turkey.” Turkeys receive one sensory stimulation, and if it’s something they don’t understand, they bail on you. (Except, of course, when that gobbler is totally driven by testosterone.)

Now for the YES. All deer are not created equal when it comes to curiosity. Curiosity declines with age, so by the time a buck is 4½, he has seen a lot and learned a lot. At a younger age, he may have dismissed whatever didn’t pose an immediate threat. But as he got older he also got smarter.

Suppose that 4½ year old buck notices you checking a camera, or gets a noseful of you. Suppose he sees repeated flashes from the camera even when you’re not present. If he learns to associate the flash with you he probably won’t leave the area, but he may stay away from the camera.

If deer in your area aren’t any older than 3½, don’t worry much about flash cameras. If you’re targeting an older buck, he’ll probably be more sensitive to anything he associates with you — whether it’s the sight or smell of a human, or a camera flash. What if you stop getting pictures of mature bucks, but keep getting pictures of does? All deer learn, but experienced mothers have different priorities and may not react the same way bucks do. Young mothers have led fawns away from one danger right into another a time or two, so they’ve learned not to react on impulse. They’re all about protecting the fawn. The flash itself isn’t a danger, so they may be more tolerant.

The bottom line is this: You can never be too early in getting your trail camera surveillance in place. And if they tell you where your next spring gobbler is hanging out, that’s a bonus!

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, insights and occasional humor. His byline has appeared in the nation's top hunting magazines and he is a field contributor to "Deer and Deer Hunting" magazine. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsman's dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).