Wireless Trail Cameras | Darron McDougal
Wireless Trail Cameras
The ins-and-outs of using cellular-enabled trail cameras to scout for whitetails.
By Darron McDougal
I still recall many heart-pounding trips to the drug store to retrieve developed prints from my 35mm relic trail camera. At the time, digital trail cameras were barely in the pipeline — the few available models were quite problematic with molasses-slow trigger speeds. Anyway, there was tons of excitement around thumbing through prints to see what had ambled by my camera.
Life and technology have changed full circle since I was a young teenager. Digital cameras made 35mm models obsolete, and now cellular technology has become king. Arguably, cellular technology is the premier choice for folks looking to maximize scouting results.
Let’s discuss some ins and outs of this technology.
How They Work
Most cellular-enabled trail cameras operate similarly to standard digital trail cameras. The difference is that they’re equipped to transmit images and data across the airwaves to your e-mail, smartphone or both. As you’d assume, the transmission requires cellular service. With some cameras, it’s necessary for the camera to even capture content.
Wireless technology puts current movement information at your fingertips. You’re not reviewing week- or month-old data like you are when you pull cards from conventional cameras. Getting current information on the fly can significantly benefit your hunting decisions.
Most wireless trail cameras are managed through an app or an online portal. The convenience is incredible. You can change camera settings, manage your data plan and view captured content and battery life. It simplifies everything.
Benefits and Best Locations
The problem with conventional cameras is that pulling cards and checking battery life require physical visits to the camera location. Obviously, this introduces human impact that can disrupt and change deer movement. Sure, field edges accessible with farm equipment are easier to visit with little consequence, but trudging through the forest throughout the season to a deep-woods trail camera has a far greater impact.
Considering those points, the best wireless-trail-cam locations are those that have cellular signal and where you want to minimize disturbance. Since you can view captured data remotely, there’s no need to re-visit the trail camera until batteries need to be replaced.
To start, wireless trail cameras are generally more expensive to buy than conventional models. Plus, you’ll have to purchase a cellular plan — usually through Verizon or AT&T — for the camera to transmit data to you remotely. The good thing is that most cameras have plans that can be turned on and off at the user’s hand online or through a digital app. Further, plans can be quite reasonable and tailored to your anticipated uses. For example, the plan I use with my CuddeLink Model K-5789s costs $15 per camera per month. So, if I use a camera for only four months, I’m at $60 per camera per year. That’s not too bad at all.
I must warn that wireless trail cameras can cause folks to make poor hunting decisions just like they can help you make wise decisions. Let me explain. For years, we’ve relied on the element of surprise to encounter and harvest deer, and that goes for using conventional scouting cameras. In short, we’d hunt regardless of what we knew was in the area. With wireless cameras, we get information right away, and it’s easy to misconceive that if a big buck isn’t on a camera that its not in the area.
We easily forget that trail cameras capture a fraction of what’s transpiring in our hunting areas. If a doe triggers a picture and a buck is 5 seconds behind, it will be missed in many cases. Or, a big buck might cruise through 60 yards away from your camera. This deer could potentially be grunted within range, but if you’re not in your stand, you’ll never know he existed. See what I mean?
We must remember that all pictures and videos are historical information — things that already happened. As predictable as some whitetails can be, we must treat the future as unknown. So many things can change that affect deer movement. You might not have mature bucks on camera, but maybe a neighboring landowner goes into a bedding area and starts making firewood and all the deer vacate onto your property. Relying on cellular trail cameras to inform hunting decisions is okay within reason, but relying too heavily on them can cause you to miss opportunities, also.
Keep It Legal
I can’t stress it enough: Before you order a cellular trail camera or several, study the regulations in your state. In Arizona, for example, cellular trail cameras are illegal. Other states, such as Nevada, have a trail-camera season that applies specifically to cellular-enabled trail cameras. I don’t have enough room in this piece to compile regulations for every state, so exercise your due diligence and know the laws before you place any type of trail camera, especially on public lands.
If you’re looking to maximize your scouting results and effectiveness, cellular trail cameras will undeniably help you do so. They reduce your impact to the woods, and they save you trips to do card pulls. You pay a little bit more for them and the data plans, but, used correctly, the payoff is astounding.
If you’re serious about scouting, I’d suggest looking into the market’s wireless options and making the leap.