Information trail: Hunters use trail cameras to gain edge in deer season preparation

A silhouetted image of a mature buck on a trail camera can provide a hunter with a plethora of information for a successful hunt. | Submitted photo
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 20, 2019 3:10 am Updated: Sep. 20, 2019 3:41 am

CLAYTON, Ill. -- Ross Benton loaded the photo card into his laptop and waited patiently for everything to download.

"Last time I did this, I had more than 500 images," he said. "Three were worth looking at."

Those three told one heck of a story.

They were of a 14-point buck continually traveling a path in front of Benson's treestand on his Adams County property. He's still yet to see the deer in person, be it during hunting season or just while out scouting.

Still, those pictures keep him alert each and every time he ventures that direction.

"My tweeters are always up," Benton said. "I know that deer is in those woods somewhere. If I stay patient, I might just see him.

"Who knows? Maybe we'll get to see him today."

As luck would have it, the same deer was in the first picture Benton was able to take off his trail camera. There were plenty others, many more than the three he had last time.

He had dozens of photos of deer using that trail. Most of them were does, but the one monster buck -- Benton believes he would score more than 160 points if taken -- keeps popping up.

"There he is again," Benton said as he flipped through the photos. "You know it's him by the one drop tine, but I think his neck is getting bigger. He's such a hog. That's a big deer, a heavy deer.

"I can only imagine how difficult it would be drag him out if you were lucky enough to harvest him. He's a beast."

If not for the use of a trail camera, Benton would have no idea such a trophy buck existed on his property.

He could guess, but he wouldn't know.

"It gives me information," Benton said. "It helps me prepare. That's why I use trail cameras. Does it make me a better hunter? No, because it doesn't help me shoot straighter or more on target. It's just information."

Information is vital.

Hunting isn't just a hobby for most. It's a passion. They aren't just weekend warriors who grab a gun, head to the woods and hope to have success.

They prep for months. They choose the right setup, the right spot and the right time for every movement. They use scent blockers, pack their gear a specific way and avoid giving away too much information to the deer.

And they look for every advantage, which is why trail cameras have become so popular.

"I can't imagine what it was like before we had trail cameras," said Colby Smith, a Brown County hunter. "It's hard to believe we put up treestands with no knowledge of movement and tracking. Sure, I remember looking for hoof marks in the dirt or the mud and using that for help, but these images make a huge difference.

"I use these trail pics as my guide for everything. I don't hand a treestand unless I've had a trail camera over that spot for a couple months at least."

With that in mind, how many trophy bucks has Smith harvested thanks to all of his extra intelligence?

"Well, I've never taken a big deer that we have trail pics of," Smith said. "I've killed deer in those spots, but not the monsters we've seen in pictures."

He laughed at his misfortune.

"It makes it sound like the trail cameras don't work," Smith said. "But they do. I've killed deer every year since I started using trail cameras because I'm hunting in better spots.

"A monster buck isn't the only key to success. Taking home a deer and filling the freezer with meat for the winter is success. That's what hunting is all about."

Still, the pictures hunters pull from their trail cameras of a silhouetted buck with a massive rack give you the goose bumps buck fever creates.

With deer season approaching -- archery season begins Oct. 1 -- buck fever is about to become an epidemic.

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