TRAIL CAMERAS: A 15-Year Journey Reveals a Leading Trail Camera
By Tecomate Associate Consultant Jason Snavely
Only a year like this could force me to think so intensively about my addiction to trail cameras over the years. My earliest experiences with trail cameras date back to the 90s while working on a whitetail research project in Mississippi. My employers, a graduate student and a wildlife professor, were determined to fine-tune a new technique of employing trail cameras to census deer herds. My "job" was to refresh the bait piles, batteries and rolls of film. I've been working with trail cameras now for 15 years. This year is like no other!
As I write this, my hometown and those surrounding it along the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania are suffering the effects of record setting floods. Fortunately for me, my home is built high enough on the farm to evade the rapidly rising waters. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for one of my trail cameras that was set up belly high on a sycamore 800 feet from the high water mark of a creek. Needless to say, my camera was completely submerged and took a pounding from floating debris. To better understand the power of such an event, 300 yards from my camera and right in the center of my "bottom field" sits a car, a Suzuki Samurai that originated from a vacation cottage several miles upstream. The bad news for me is my camera is covered with mud and now serves as a "decoy" for sticky-fingered trespassers. What's the good news? Incredibly, my SD card was just fine as were the photos on it. I'm satisfied.
As I approached my "flood plain camera" I smiled and shook my head in disbelief. Disbelief not only because of the evidence of once floating debris stuck in trees much higher than my cameras position, but also because the 2011 season has brought a trail camera jinx to Drop-Tine Farms-PA. My flooded camera represented my sixth trail camera casualty since January 2011 and it's now out of the lineup for the fast approaching season. Granted, a flood is a natural disaster and any camera submerged in record setting floodwaters will be defunct in minutes. However, losing five cameras during the prime of their existence is incomprehensible to me.
A client recently told me how confusing it is for him to pick a trail camera from two rows of options at Cabela's. After our conversation, he realized he only needed to consider three. The rest just don't make the cut. I'm a huge fan of capitalism, but as far as I'm concerned only a handful of leading manufacturers are competing for the title with the rest giving trail cameras a bad name. Reconyx remains the leader of the pack for reasons we will get into in a minute. The hype in the media about which trail camera is best has turned into who can pay the most "hunting celebrities" to appear in commercials and ads.
As a wildlife consultant, trail cameras do not merely represent a scouting tool for me. Instead, they are vital to my job security! Let's face it, to PRODUCE MATURE bucks and to KILL MATURE bucks are two completely different things. My income is a function of how well I produce MATURE trophy bucks with the killing being up to my clients.
In seminars, I'm commonly asked which trail camera I consider to be the best. My response is Reconyx. It's that easy. Since trail cameras are tools to execute my job successfully, I can't afford NOT to use Reconyx. Here's why.
Some of my earliest encounters with trail cameras were with two-piece, active infrared-triggered trail cameras. Active infrared-triggered trail cameras consisted of a transmitter and a receiver. In this case, an invisible beam of infrared energy is emitted from one part of the unit and received by another part, typically at the other side of a heavily used trail or bait. Though still utilized by some researchers, active infrared-triggered cameras are not marketed or heavily utilized by hunters. There are several reasons for this; however, the simplicity of using a single unit with a passive infrared sensor (PIR) outweighs them all. The PIR sensor in a camera represents a very small portion of the unit in a physical sense; however, the quality of the PIR sensor can make or break the overall functionality as well as your level of satisfaction with that camera. A more in depth discussion on PIR sensors, including how they work and what makes a great one great, is best suited for another article. In this article, I would like to discuss the three most important aspects to consider when thumbing through a Cabela's catalog in an attempt to make a wise selection. I'd like to prove that most couldn't afford (financially) to make a bad decision, regardless of a cameras price. All too often I watch as clients purchase less expensive units to cut costs and buy more cameras for their money. I'm not at all surprised when their report just a couple months later is less than desirable resulting in the need to buy MORE cameras! Investing wisely up front will save you money and result in less down time for your cameras..., which results in more pictures!
#1 Trigger Speed
Trigger speed is typically highlighted most in trail camera marketing wars because it's crucial. Trigger speed is simply the length of time that elapses between the PIR sensor detecting temperature differentials and motion and the camera recording an image. Independent tests show that Reconyx continues to lead the pack when it comes to trigger speed. The end result is missed photo opportunities have gone extinct! This one is a no brainer!
#2 Detection Zone
Detection zone doesn't get nearly the attention that trigger speed gets, and that's unfortunate. Detection zone is heavily under-rated. The detection zone is the cone-shaped area in which movement is detected by the PIR sensor. Detection zones can vary from long and narrow to short and wide, and any combination in between. Regardless of how fast your cameras trigger speed is, a photo will not be taken if the animal does not enter your cameras detection zone! Ideally, the detection zone of your trail camera would be equal to the field of view of your camera lens. Again, Reconyx has addressed detection zone. Their instruction manual states "The Passive Infrared Motion Detector on your HyperFire™ is precisely aligned with the camera lens to give you the best chance of capturing subjects that come into the field of view of the camera, while not capturing pictures of anything that is not in the view of the camera." I think you know where my vote goes!
#3 Recovery Rate
Recovery rate has always been under-rated and the reason dates back to 35mm film cameras that were limited to 24 or 36 exposures on a roll of film. To avoid having entire rolls of film burned up on one highly photogenic animal, manufacturers literally handicapped film cameras so they could not take rapid fire images. With digital camera technology and improved memory card capacity things are completely different. Reconyx pioneered RapidFire™ technology. Not to be confused with "burst mode," rapid-fire technology results in burst mode sequences every time an animal enters the detection zone. The difference being, each photo is individually triggered by the animal's movement as well as temperature differentials. As soon as the animal exits the detection zone, the camera stops taking pictures. Camera manufacturers utilize burst mode in an attempt to compensate for slow recovery rates. In burst mode, one trigger initiates a sequence of a predetermined number of photos. If an animal sticks its head in the detection zone and immediately exits, that one trigger event will result in blank images. After the last photo in the burst sequence, there will be a 60 second recovery rate. What are you missing during that 60-second recovery rate? That question is answered when you use a Reconyx. Again, Reconyx pioneered rapid-fire technology and also remains on the cutting edge of NearVideo technology.
Considering trail camera marketing campaigns and ads I completely understand where the confusion comes from while consumers shop isles full of options. However, when you make informed decisions based on trigger speed, detection zones and recovery rates the process becomes much simpler!