Nature Column: Trail cameras either great tools or unfair advantage

Recently, I wrote in this column about an archery deer hunt I was involved with on the Arizona Strip.

That unit is in northern Mohave County and is home to what is arguably the best trophy mule deer hunting in the United States.

This year, a huge controversy on the Strip concerned the use of trail cameras by various hunters and guides both before and during the hunt.

The question is being asked, are these a valid tool for hunters, or do they give the hunters an unfair advantage over the animals they are pursuing and should be banned.

Here is a little background on these cameras.

Theses cameras were initially designed about four years ago to be used by persons, including private property owners, who wanted to see who or what was utilizing a specific area when they weren't around.

Then they were advertised as a great scouting tool for hunters, who could monitor trails and waters without alarming or spooking game.

Initially, the quality of the cameras and the photos being taken wasn't very good, but today many are loaded with the latest cutting-edge technology and they take great photos. Many cameras use infrared technology, so there is no flash at night to alarm an animal when it comes by.

With the increase in quality and features, the price also goes up. A couple of the cameras are priced near $500 each, which means a sizeable investment for those who own them.

This year, the craze of using trail cameras to scout became a reality to those who were on the Strip deer hunt.

Though I don't personally own any of these cameras, one of he guys I went to the Strip with did own a couple.

What we found while we were conducting old-fashioned pre-season scouting for a week prior to the season opening was that almost every water hole we checked had one, two or even three trail cameras on them.

One time Mike Hulsey and I walked by a water and we felt like rock stars when three different hidden cameras took our photos as we checked the area for sign!

We heard that many of the high-profile guides on the Strip had as many as 100 cameras out on waters throughout the 1-1/2 million acre unit.

And using them apparently paid off.

In one case, a trail cam photo was taken of a huge non-typical buck that was using a small waterhole. A hunter later took that buck and it scored an incredible 322 points!

Without the camera would that hunter and his guide have known that particular buck was in the area? Possibly, but knowing that the buck was in the area proved to be invaluable to them.

Technology has no doubt changed hunting in America in many ways.

The bows we have are faster and quieter, and hunters can shoot accurately at much longer ranges than they ever could before.

High-powered rifles now have specialized scopes on them that make taking big animals cleanly out to ranges of 500-600 yards possible, providing the rifleman has the skills to make the shot.

We use binoculars and spotting scopes today that enable us to see animals at incredible distances that our fathers and grandfathers probably didn't think was even possible. But it's not just hunters that use this tool. Wildlife watchers also utilize them.

Many animals are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the time of day just before sunrise or right after sundown. Without tools like trail cameras to capture their movements, many animals would never be seen by these wildlife enthusiasts.

Cameras also have a legitimate use by wildlife managers. They can use them to census the number of animals in a specific area, while not having to spend a lot of time in the field doing ocular recognizance.

Bottom line is that in my opinion, trail cameras, whether you like them or not, are here to stay. And yes, they are a valuable tool that can be used by sportsmen and others.

And just like everything else in today's society, those folks with a lot of money will tend to own more of them and ultimately see more benefit out of them than the average guy.

But there are problems associated with them. There are already reports received of thefts of cameras and/or memory cards, and of vandalism to others.

G&F and other law enforcement agencies that deal with sportsmen on public lands are going to have their hands full when it comes to policing folks who use trail cameras. Here are some basic suggestions for your personal conduct when it comes to trail cameras that you may find in the wild.

• Don't walk up and look directly into the lens! If you do, you'll be photographed! Make obscene gestures at the camera and you may find yourself on one of the many Web sites out there along with descriptions about you and your family.

• Don't remove the cameras from where they are secured. They are private property! Removing them or damaging them can be a felony.

• Don't remove memory cards and/or turn the units off.

Outdoor Notes:

• Winners of the Kingman Bass Club's tournament that was held recently at Lake Mead were Mike Massey and Dennis Davis. Massey/Davis had a five-fish limit, which included the big fish that weighed 8.15 pounds. Art Fuller and Mike Miller came in second.