Trail Camera Photos: It’s Not Just About the Bucks

August 20, 2019 | by Nick Pinizzotto

I got photos of this black cat for several years until I left the property. It's probably still around.

Every year I tell myself the same thing. “I’m not going to let my trail camera photos get unorganized this year and I’m going to sort them as they come in.” Then, about this time of year, I come to the realization that I’m once again buried in photos, and it’s going to take a block of time to get back on track. In fact, my own continued lack of organization inspired the survey question in this issue of NDA On Watch. We want to know how our members organize their photos, and we will share some of our members’ ideas in a future article.

When you have multiple cameras running, it doesn’t take long to get swamped. When this happens, it’s human nature to flip through the photos as quickly as possible looking for deer with the type of headgear that gets you excited. While this may be efficient, it also leads to missed opportunities in terms of other cool or unique shots that your camera captured. Some of my favorite photos are of animals other than deer, or even people, doing funny or bewildering things. While I admit that I’m mostly interested in tracking the bucks where I hunt, I do pay attention to when does are traveling through, and I set aside a folder for unique images to share with friends and to enjoy at another time.

Trail cameras provide a wealth of information about the deer in your area, and some might argue that it can be too much. My good friend Ron Haas from Delaware is one of the best woodsmen I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and hunting with. He kills a mature buck and a double-digit number of does with his bow each year without using cameras at all. He knows the property he hunts intimately and will literally read the leaf litter to determine where and when the deer traveled through. I was able to coax him into running a few cameras to see what type of bucks are in the area, but I think he still prefers the element of surprise.

I've gotten some really cool bird photos over the years, and this hawk is one of my favorites.

My good friend, Mike Groman from Pennsylvania, breaks down the data he receives from his photos and comes close to turning hunting into a mathematical equation. He has narrowed down the best time to be hunting on his New York property to a window of just a few days and it paid off last season when he downed a hefty mature 8-point during that time. Still, he will be the first to admit that he sometimes lets the abundance of information overwhelm him and will agonize for hours over what stand to be in, and when. While the math can help, it’s important to remember that deer are wild animals, and that rarely our success is the result of one following a predicted path at a predicted time.

I wish I had a great photo management system to share, but as I disclosed early in this article, I’m mostly just trying to keep my head above water. When I do have my act together, I have found the commercial management system, DeerLab, to be quite helpful. It does an amazing job of organizing photos, which are then searchable using several parameters. It also creates helpful reports, allows you to tag and track specific deer, and even uses buck recognition to identify antlered deer. There is a modest subscription fee to use it, but if you’re a data junkie that is short on time, this might be the ideal solution for you.

If you’re not using a commercial management system, you can set up your own to meet your needs. For example, I will often make individual folders for bucks that I want to track. Notice I used the term track, and not shoot. One of the things I enjoy most about trail cameras is they allow you to track a deer as it matures, and I have been able to get photos several deer over multiple years. In one case, I have photos of a buck from the time he was two years old until he was eight years old. Now that’s cool! Another thing I like to do is store my photos to the cloud where I can access them with my phone no matter where I am, assuming there is cellular service. This comes in handy when showing pictures to friends or family, and it also makes it easy to share photos with hunting buddies via text if you’re not around your computer.

Some photos need no words.

One tip I can provide is to always transfer photos from your memory cards to your computer before you begin sorting through them and deleting those you don’t want. When you delete photos directly from your memory card, they don’t go to your recycling bin, meaning they’re gone forever. I hate to admit to the number of times I got lazy and was hurriedly deleting photos, only to accidentally remove one that I shouldn’t have. It’s the digital equivalent to opening the old film-style cameras and accidentally exposing your film before it could be developed.

Finally, try to take a little deeper look at your photos before discarding them just because they don’t depict bucks you are keeping track of. If you set aside a folder for “other” photos, you can easily dump initially unwanted images there and then return to take a more thorough look later. Just last week a friend that I share a hunting property with pointed out a mature buck in the corner of one of the photos that I passed right over. If you take a little bit of time each week to slowly browse the discard pile, you’re likely to find something valuable that you missed the first time. If nothing else, this can be a fun project during the off season to help pass the time before next season.