Trail cameras are becoming more and more a part of deer hunting, adding to and augmenting our depth of understanding and enjoyment in the outdoors.

Trail cameras are becoming more and more a part of deer hunting, adding to and augmenting our depth of understanding and enjoyment in the outdoors.

And they are fun too - that is, most of the time.

There is always a level of excitement and anticipation when checking a camera, especially after a few days. We never know what we will find - and that's the exciting part.

And when we have a few cameras out there, it is kind of like running a trap-line, always exciting to hike down the trail and look at the next set.

Sometimes our trail cams show us animals we don't expect, even people! But to me, the still images and video clips that trail cams record give us a window into wildlife behavior that we rarely, if ever see, no matter how much time we spend in the woods.

Sometimes when we observe animal behavior, we think we saw something, and have no way of checking it or verifying it.

For instance, last year while checking a camera over an early September scrape, I noticed that does appeared to be feeding on the leaves on a sapling. But instead, they were scent-marking the leaves and overhanging branches over the scrape. They were not eating the leaves at all (beech leaves).

Trail camera video clips can be looked at over and over again, while the actual experience we see can be distorted as we think about it and run it through our mind.

For years I have watched bucks, and once in awhile a doe come into a scrape. But trail cameras over the years have shown some differences in what actually occurs there.

For one thing, most bucks and does that visit a scrape (and it seems to be close to 50-50 bucks to does leading up to the major rut peak), mostly care or focus their attention on the overhanging branch. When visiting a scrape, they may give a cursory sniff at the ground scrape, but the real attention and activity is on the overhanging branch.

Being a visually based human being, I had always thought that the real scrape was the excavation on the ground and that the broken branch or twig over the scrape was just ancillary to the scrape.

Experiments with the overhanging branch show that moving the overhanging branch from the active scrape to another scrape by zip-tying the branch to the other overhanging branch is an effective way to jump-start activity there. And trail cameras record it all in measurable photos and video clips.

It is quite amazing that the current technology in some trail cameras not only allows the correct date and time to be stamped on the photo, but also temperature, moon phase and even barometric pressure! And some cameras are able to be viewed remotely from a computer.

But trail cameras can add to our frustration too. Like any complex mechanical device, they can malfunction and even more likely, "the programmer," or trail cam user can mess up in the set up of the trail cam.

The trail cam industry as a whole is putting out better and better cameras and the incidence of trail cameras being smashed against trees by frustrated owners is undoubtedly less than it used to be when trail cams with film were the rule and the transition to digital was in its infancy.

But the ultimate frustration of a trail cam user is when one gets stolen. Of course we hear of it happening to others and can't imagine our cameras being stolen. But in my case, some of the blame rests with the lack of basic precautions being taken.

I had found a fresh killed young deer on the edge of the woods just at snow-melt back in April. Immediately, I bracketed what was left of the carcass with two of my trail cameras expecting and excited to get a shot or two of some coyotes or even a black bear, fresh out of hibernation. Came back the next day and both cameras were gone.

Makes me wonder if it was a two-legged coyote that jacked the deer, came back to the scene to remove the carcass (from posted, private land) and saw the cameras and worried that their image at the scene was digitized.

What did I do wrong? For one thing, the dead deer - basically a bright red rib cage and hide was right next to a snowmobile-ATV trail. And I did not take basic precautions to camouflage my cameras. Years ago, when I first put out my cameras I was very careful to not only cover them with camo-tape, but also put twigs or logs next to them so even the more than casual observer would not see them. Over the years, effort put into camouflaging the cameras became less and less. That's changed.

But though trail cameras have their frustrating aspects, they more than make up of it with wonderful images and clips that fuel our imagination, anticipation and understanding.

Contact Oak Duke at publisher@wellsvilledaily.com.