Post Deer Season- Time to Implement a New Game Camera Strategy

Seems kinda an odd idea doesn’t it? Give me a few minutes of your time to follow what I lay out here and you may agree or take with you a few ideas you may adopt. It is much more about critical thinking on how things are done as it is not so much being a slave to technology. Once you read through this you will realize that marketing has overdone their job, and you really don’t need an inventory of $600-$800 cameras to have an effective and state of the art setup. It is just as easy to waste your hard earned dollars and have them not do the job at all or being stolen as quickly as you put them up.  To preface how I intend to layout my thoughts across here, think in the perspective of a detective, after all you are looking to collect covert data correct? I design image sensors for a living and do a fair amount of camera work for the US Navy and other military/police services, this makes all of this second nature. To be frank, you and I cannot afford most of what the military gets to put into service (although I get to test some cool stuff), but the principles and methods which they are used are applicable to catching big bucks on camera just as you might poachers and thieves.

Technology primer (one of much confusion)

  • For starters, do not let marketing fool you into more pixels is better, same confusing misinformation used in selling cell phones. most of the game cameras out there use 1/4″-1/3″ format sensors and once in a while you see a high quality deer cam with 1/2″ or 2/3″ sensor. Unless it is a large format sensor with a high quality glass lens in front of it, you are getting duped. Think optical system. Fine resolution comes from the increased ability to resolve a feature in front of the lens. Without detailing all the math of lines-per-mm and a second issue of crosstalk(where the truth is actually told) it is safe to say you are not getting more resolution in a 1/4″ sensor past 3-4MP with a cheap plastic lens in front of it. When you see them at high pixel counts with out increasing sense area (format size) and not using better lenses you have more pixels looking at the same resolved spot, and you also get less dynamic range as smaller pixels have less capacity to capture photons (light) I get counter arguments all the time to this. Talk to the news photographers who toted Nikons/Canons with 3-5mp 1 inch or full frame sensors and compare what they got against 10mp-20mp cameras that are cheap and again with small format sensors. The resulting pictures are worlds apart in quality.  To make the point even simpler in terms of economics, the cost is directly related to size of the sensor and to a lesser extent the cost of supporting electronics. Sensors are made on silicon wafers and it boils down to a simple real estate equation and yield during manufacturing.  Unless you plan on making huge prints or require significant digital zoom/cropping you really have little case for spending big money on deer cams. As I lay out my preferred set up, there is  a call out for three cameras per setup,and they each have different functions/costs/requirements.
  • Flash- if you are only interested in what critters are passing by during shooting hours, flash and the expense of it, makes no sense. For the rest of you, black flash is the way to go especially for security. There is a misuse of the term IR (infrared)  in the game cam industry. This has to do with distinct wavelength bands and that is an entirely separate topic Anyone in the military dealing with weapon sighting systems would understand my comment. Essentially all of them are near-IR and barely so. Many of these cameras have a red glow giving away their location, standard strobe flash is an obvious giveaway to criminals which can be useful for decoy cameras. There are some studies that show where black flash does not emit a visible glow to humans and also not to spook deer. A low pass optical filter eliminates any energy in the visible spectrum. For those interested in geeking out on definitions: wiki/infrared

One of the disclaimers I need to make here is no matter how good or sophisticated a system is implemented, it can be defeated by two distinct groups. First is the professional,  as they will have working knowledge on how cameras work, how they store /transmit data, and how they get power. Like any predator they will be steadfast studies in your movements, and be keen on any clues you leave behind. You do design your camera setups to make it take a long time to disable. A professional will pass up spots if they cannot get in and out quickly. The second is the other end of the scale, and you can’t fix stupid, they may destroy your stuff, but will likely be around long enough to get caught. The real goal here is to deter. As a land owner or someone who leases land, having to deal with the hassle of court, and bad relations that follows will leave a bad taste in your mouth, making your victory over crime seem less appealing.  What we are addressing in reality is the low hanging fruit and the majority of folks that will bug out once they become aware of your intent of tracking deer but to also manage your place/property against trespass and or theft. I cover the security aspect first here as it doesn’t work well to have deer cams if they disappear before you get to check the pics of deer you hope to see.

First- Main Camera

My basic approach to each location I wish to check for game movements or security  purposes involves a minimum of two cameras and in most of my installs I use three. 1st camera is my main workhorse, a 3mp to 8mp camera ideally black flash, and depending on budget, a cell type that transmits SMS to save money on data plans and send pics directly to your cell phone. I also use a common system of RF transmitters that go to a DVR that sends email of pics when movement is detected. For remote locations or where a center base of operations is not applicable the game cams with cell capability are showing great promise and the pricing has now broke though under $200. I use these main cameras to capture whatever my main interest is in the location.  Faster triggering cameras do have an advantage, but it is also one that slower triggering cameras can be overcome when placing cameras to look at deer coming straight on, or angling in. I personally want to see the width of their headgear. But for setups that only offer side profile and deer walking through  perpendicular, the faster triggering cameras are a must. Marketing points out the great advantages in one particular scenario, and omits the other possible setups. My point is buy the feature where and when you need it. This allows you more money for more cameras and lets you think about where you really do need to spend the extra dollars.  As a side note, as much as it is desirable to share deer cam pics with your buddies, they also provide clues to those with less ideal intentions. Not only can location be figured out, flash range, blind spots, or even how far one need to be to not get a clear defined image of lets say a thief in progress? Sharing exactly what you have and showing enough pics will give those that understand imaging enough clues to thwart your efforts. In my case, I have the luxury of updating and testing new stuff all through the year, and I do not disclose much. Having pics show up on your smartphone is a quick way to let others know that you are on top of your place, and matters little if your home or not. We have found that to be useful as public information.

Second- High Security Camera ( I want to keep and own my main camera)

The second camera sole job is to monitor my first camera. It can be a cell transmitting type but it adds cost. I prefer a 3-5mp camera with SD card, small footprint,long battery life, the ability to accept external battery is handy (I’ll modify it if it does not, not a particularly hard modification to do) and camo case if I can get it. They now have some with bluetooth for remote viewing when nearby. which is great as this camera should be hidden, high, above normal sight line. Keep in mind that when snow is on, or a muddy area, footprints reveal where you go as well as everything else. In terms of catching thieves this is the most important camera and should be the most difficult to find and least accessible to remove. Borrowed from an observation in the hobbyist world of game cams, one can give the appearance of remote transmitting with the addition of a 1/4 wavelength rubberized antenna, and it is difficult to know whether it is real or not. Truthfully  any camera can be modified to adapt an rf /or cell transmitter. The power for it is another discussion. Depending on your model camera a 6V lantern battery (many cameras run on 6V, but you do need to check) and the addition of a small solar panel to trickle charge the batteries is advised. Using brown/grey wire they can easily be routed/placed in the crotch of the tree and made difficult to spot.

Third- Decoy Camera

In an ideal setup, this is actually your most import piece in the puzzle. It should also be the least expensive purchase. This should be the first thing any one sees no matter which direction of approach. Key word: Highly visible (not neon). Do not for any reason buy off the self fake cameras, they are a dead give away even among the least intelligent criminal among us. Flashing LED- dead giveaway . In fact the solution is super easy. Get on craiglist, ebay , garage sales etc, look for needs-repair, broken, as-is deer cams and or security cameras. they can be got from $5 to $30. Remember you are not interested in getting them working, otherwise you are paying for the possibility of that. You are looking for used or like new outer appearance but not broken and obviously not capable of working. Same deal for lens. Remember most deer cams do not appear to do much of anything when working. Why some game cam companies insist on having a led signal when a pic is taken is beyond me, I can see it for test and setup, but once it is set to go, the deer could care less. You can put in old batteries to have realistic weight if you like. I also do this to make it realistic.  If you can get your second camera to monitor the first camera and this one it is a plus. I normally setup this way. You are just more likely to capture a thief stealing the decoy camera.

Why do I disclose all this? As a designer/engineer It bothers me to see folks pay for technology that they don’t need and in some cases does not serve them well at all. I have no fear that my disclosure will make it easy to disarm my setups, as  only the installer knows which is which and would take more than a few minutes to figure out. By that amount of time, their images have been captured and emailed, and is a losing proposition for the criminal. I know of fun stories of perps having their faces captured an emailed while they stole a cell enabled camera. some also now have GPS location (or triangulation from cell towers which makes police work even easier.)

Late season camera scouting

when the guns are oiled and put away after the big deer chase, it is ideal to put up new cameras. especial with the addition of boot leather scouting. Where deer go when pressured, when things settle back down is all good intel for next season. Most hunters want to know what deer made it through the season and other cool stuff like when they drop their antlers. I personally like it for tracking turkey flocks as spring and fall seasons are my particular passions. You can also benfit from end of year sales, post season sales as most places do not want to carry inventory for another 7-8 months. Plenty of good reasons to enjoy your deer cams.

BTW for some great information and reviews on game cameras, tips, and modifications check out:

http://www.chasingame.com/

http://www.pixcontroller.com/ 

 

© 2014 Mike Joyner- Joyner Outdoor Media 

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