What's in your backyard?
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Ever wonder what might go "bump in the night" in your backyard? Well, with the advent of technology and inspiration from the hunting community, wonder no more. The proof is in the digital pudding.
Enter a small photographic device called "Trail Camera," "Deer Camera," "Scouting Camera" or "Game Camera." A trail camera is a self-tripping camera half as big as the old bread-box that can be strapped to a tree or fence post or on a tripod near a food source or game trail, and will take photos of any warm-blooded creature, man or beast, that crosses in front of its sensors day or night.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
Camera trapping efforts
I live in farm country at the edge of suburbia, and I know from tracks in mud or snow that I have deer and raccoons that frequent my property, but even as much time as I spend outdoors on my own land, I was surprised at the results of a few nights of my camera's "trapping efforts." I put down a food source for predators (hunks of scrap meat) and captured photos of red fox, coyotes, opossum, raccoons, crows, a red-tailed hawk, barred owl, the neighbor kid, next door black Labrador retrievers, and even mice. These things are sensitive! Near piles of corn and seed I captured images of ducks, deer, raccoons, crows, squirrels, mice and many species of songbirds.
My neighbors were pretty sure marauding deer were eating the flowers from right in front of their front picture window, but even though evidence showed there was nibbling and predation on the tender spring shoots, there were no tracks. Huh? We set up a trail camera on the flower bed one night, and the evidence was in. Ducks! A couple of visiting wild Mallards were eating their way through the perennials early every morning!Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
Dog food depletion
This winter my buddy Steve was complaining about his dog's food bowl going down at an erratic rate, even when his Labrador Huck was off on other adventures. We used a trail camera on a tripod near the dog bowl for a couple nights. Yipes! Rats! Big ol' Norway rats, and lots of 'em. Steve got the rat-poison situated in safe places around the area of his out-building, and in a couple days, no more rat photos proved the lethality of that stuff! Problem solved.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
"We kept noticing that the cat food on the back porch was disappearing faster than normal, so my husband set up the trail camera," Shannon Whyte says. "We figured we'd get a picture of a raccoon or maybe even a skunk, but instead it was our miniature donkey, Booger!"Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
Deer hunters have been using these devices for a few years now, placing the cameras along trails, near rubs and scrapes during the breeding season to determine the numbers of deer and size of bucks that frequent an area. They then go back and swap out memory cards on the cameras, learning whether or not they are going to be hunting an area that contains deer that they might try to harvest. Photo: Diana DuffyDate Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
Early generation trail cameras initially housed small film cameras, but in recent years the digital revolution has rendered film obsolete. No more running film to the drug store to see what's captured on the cameras.
Farm and home security is another great use for these devices, enabling a homeowner to document the comings and goings of activity in any farm yard. Some of the newer units use an invisible infra-red flash that is undetectable to any passerby. One unit, the Smart Scouter, even has technology using available cell phone signals and will transmit every new image to your cell phone as it happens. These units are popular with contractors who want to protect property at construction sites at night.
Prices of trail cameras range from $100 to just under $800, depending on features like frame rate, mega-pixel size, durability, lens quality, and ease of use. Some models are quite cumbersome to set up, while other newer and more expensive models are very intuitive and set up with the push of a couple buttons.
Most of the units use either size "C" or "D" batteries. By using the newer Nickel metal hydride (NiMhd) rechargeable batteries, some units will work in temperatures of -20F to +110F, and take up to 2,500 images on a single compact flash card.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
Hanging the cameras
Hanging the cameras is as easy as strapping them to a tree near a trail. If no tree or fence post is available nearby, other options exist. Trail-Pod makes a tripod with carrier to hold the camera in any position. They also make a screw-in device that will get the camera high up, with a ball-head socket to aim it in any position.
Since these little pieces of electronic wizardry are fairly expensive, theft can be a problem, especially near high traffic areas. This problem has led to the manufacture of a number of security devices that thwart thievery. Swivel Safe makes protection boxes for many models of cameras to protect them from bears at bait sites or from thieves intent on stealing the cameras. Their steel-welded units surround the camera and are tied to a tree using a heavy cable.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
Owner Tom Kobza had one of his early units along a river a few years ago, and lost it to thieves wielding a chain saw and pistol. They cut down the tree with the saw, and still couldn't get the camera out of its padlocked box. So, they shot the lock with the pistol, ruining the camera in the process. Frustrated, they threw the whole assembly into the river. Two seasons later, Tom and friends were back in that area. A draught had lowered the levels of the river enough to expose the camera and box in the mud. They brought the shot-up rig back to the shop, and downloaded the waterproof CF (compact flash) card that was still in the camera. True to form, the camera did it's job, capturing images of the thieves wielding chain saw and handgun, and proved beyond doubt the identities of the culprits, who had a little explaining to do in front of the county Sheriff.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
Bushnell has taken the technology ever further, by adding a solar panel to charge batteries and an electronic game calling device to try to call various critters to the call during the night.
Some Reconyx Reconyx camera models employ technology that shoots images in the dark without any visible flash at all. Their RapidFire Covert IR features Light Filtering Technology (LFT) that eliminates the tell-tale red glow common to other Infrared Cameras. Pictures are taken all night, and no one is the wiser.
The Reconyx RapidFire Covert IR is now available in a high output model (RC60HO) with an increased night time flash range of 50 feet while still remaining totally covert.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
A number of websites have sprung up around the trail camera crowd. A good one is <a href="http://www.chasingame.com">Chasing Game</a>. They cover not only pros and cons of various makes and models, they also have sections that cover everything from build-your-own security box and tips on covering your camera to guard against thieves and to hide it from animals, and offer a section showing sample images from all the cameras they cover.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: December 3, 2013
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