Imagine: You’re a kid. It’s Christmas Eve. You’ve put out milk and cookies for Santa Claus, and now you have to control your excitement and find a way to go to sleep.
The next morning you wake up before the rooster crows. You jump out of bed and run straight to see what presents were magically placed under your tree while you were sleeping.
There aren’t many experiences we have as adults that replicate the cannot-sleep, joyous anticipation that comes with Christmas day. Yet, last year, I discovered a passion for something that comes pretty close – using a trail-camera.
Now imagine: You’re a grown hunter. You’ve put out your trail-camera. It’s getting close to deer season, and now it’s the eve before you planned to check your camera. The anticipation of seeing what lurks in your woods builds. You toss and turn dreaming of what you might see. Finally, you pull your memory card from the camera and download images to a computer. Your presents have arrived.
I have a good feeling this trail-camera excitement and anticipation is something everyone who has ever used one has experienced to some degree. For me, using a trail-camera has become a hobby I love.
How It Started:
Shortly after I started working at QDMA in January 2012, I was given a copy of Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting.
I must say I didn’t think the book was relevant to me quite yet. While I always wanted to hunt and did when I got the chance, I had limited opportunities to do so before working at QDMA. The main reasons included attending college while working, and then taking a full-time job that often had me working weekends. Even though I wanted to be in the woods during deer season, I simply couldn’t make it work. So my first thought when I heard “trail-camera monitoring” was that it wasn’t something I was ready for quite yet. I needed to reestablish myself as a hunter. However, I would quickly learn there doesn’t have to be a set “order” for learning about deer management. In fact, it became clear that every Cornerstone of QDM goes hand-and-hand.
I ended up flipping through the book. Once that got me somewhat curious, I began reading. My interest peaked rapidly, and I soon wanted to learn to use a trail-camera myself.
Just as fast as my interest grew, the feeling of being overwhelmed swiftly followed. There are a ton of camera options out there. Which one do I get? Which one can I afford? Which one will work the best? What features does it need? How do I know what features I like or want, having never used one before?
So I did some reading of reviews. Each review, no matter how good or bad, offered lists of positives and negatives for each camera. One person would prefer a particular brand, while another person loathed that same brand.
After sleeping on it a few nights, I came to the conclusion I just needed to make the plunge and get one even if it came with a few bad reviews. I was buying a trail-camera to start learning how to use one, and through that process I would develop my own answers to all those questions.
I am happy with the decision I made. I have come to really appreciate the camera I own and the results I get from it. Yet, in my first year at QDMA, I have also seen pictures from a multitude of cameras, and I have seen excellent pictures from every brand. In my opinion, as long as you are getting what you want from your camera, then it’s the right one for you. So in the accompanying photo gallery with this article, I’ve cropped out the brand name of camera I chose to avoid showing any bias.
Using the Camera & Quality Deer Management:
Thanks to the Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting book and assistance from Lindsay Thomas Jr., our Director of Communications, I quickly learned key points in setting up the camera, such as camera height and direction. From there, I picked up bits and pieces of knowledge about my camera by using it as I went.
As I’ve learned, one of the Four Cornerstones of Quality Deer Management (QDM) is Herd Monitoring. Yet, I’ve also noticed that Herd Monitoring seems to be the last Cornerstone implemented of the four. Here’s my take on why:
Perhaps the most important part of QDM is Herd Management, and thus, it is often the Cornerstone thought of first and focused on the most. While taking the right amount of antlerless deer to adjust population density or passing on young bucks, hunters are still actively participating in hunting – what they’ve known to do all along before being introduced to QDM.
Nowadays, the majority of hunters also know about food plots, and with that, they have some level of understanding of quality habitat. That understanding can range from the food plots simply attracting deer to food plots being just one part of the management practices necessary to improve nutrition and herd health. Thus, when hunters are introduced to the Habitat Management Cornerstone, they can easily relate to it helping their hunting.
The Hunter Management Cornerstone can be seen as a difficult aspect of QDM. Hunters must fully understand both the benefits and the costs of QDM. In just my one year at QDMA, I’ve heard and read several stories of people having to share data with their fellow hunters in order to convince them QDM works. That leads me to believe they tried to convince those people about QDM without presenting the data upfront. Don’t forget, years ago people used to believe the Earth was flat and wouldn’t believe it if they were told otherwise. Evidence is vital when pitching a new idea to others.
Which brings us to the role of Herd Monitoring. Collecting harvest and observation data becomes that vital step that ties it all together. It shows you the QDM program is working. It shows you how to adapt and where to improve.
So what does all this have to do with my first year with a trail-camera?
I started using the camera without having first practiced Herd Management, Habitat Management and Hunter Management. There was nothing scientific about my use of a trail-camera this past year. I wasn’t conducting any surveys or gathering data. I simply put it out in the woods, captured pictures and was excited to see what showed up. Nevertheless, in doing so, I was still participating in Herd Monitoring. I was learning what was out there. As I mentioned earlier, the Four Cornerstones go hand-and-hand. The allure of a trail-camera got me hooked into Herd Monitoring through observation. Learning about Herd Monitoring first has given me a better understanding of the roles the other three Cornerstones play in a QDM program.
In the photo gallery below are some highlights of the photos I’ve captured over the past year. In the captions, I provide some additional details of my experience and thoughts along the way.