Sunday, August 30, 2009

Homebrew Trail Camera: The Moment of Truth

Saturday afternoon I had the opportunity to check my new, homemade trail camera for the first time. It had been in the woods for just about two weeks, and I couldn't wait to see how the camera worked. One of the things I like about this camera is that it has an LCD screen built in on the back of the camera to view the images. So there was no waiting until I got home to view the pictures - like with my commercially-made cameras. I knelt down on the ground where the camera is located and was able to immediately see what was captured on the camera.

The camera had performed as good or better than I had hoped. I was surprised to see that it had taken 262 pictures and had completely filled the 512MB memory stick. The batteries in the camera had run out, but they had lasted long enough to fill the card with pictures. The resolution on this camera is 4.1 megapixels, and in my opinion, the picture quality is definitely better than any of my store-bought trail cameras. I replaced the memory stick with a 1GB capacity card, so hopefully it will have enough room to not run out of space before I check it again.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the first batch of pictures. These have not been edited other than me adding the date and time to the bottom right-hand corner of the pictures. You should be able to click on the picture to open it up full size for better viewing. Tell me what you think.

These last two pictures show the quick follow up picture that this camera will take. With my Cuddeback cameras, once they trigger and snap a picture, they will not take another picture for at least 30 seconds. In this instance, the Cuddeback camera would have triggered on the first deer and then would have missed the 8-point buck when he walked by 9 seconds later.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My First Homebrew Trail Camera

My fascination with trail cameras started about 5 years ago when I was a Park Ranger. A coworker of mine had a trail camera that we would use in the wildlife management areas at the lake I worked at. The pictures we got from that camera amazed me and revealed what was hiding in the woods that the majority of people never saw.

I decided to get my own camera, so I bought the cheapest digital one on the market at the time - a Wildview model that had less than 1 megapixel resolution. I put the camera up on the property I hunt and got a few deer pictures, but I was really disgusted with the performance of the camera. It seemed to have a mind of its own. It would take random pictures of nothing, the flash was terrible in the nightime pictures, it went through batteries like crazy, and the low resolution made the pictures really grainy.

I decided to upgrade and get a Cuddeback Excite camera. It wasn't cheap, but it definitely outperformed my first camera. In fact, it has taken thousands of pictures, some of which are really good. This camera is a 2.0 megapixel and I still use it today, although lately it has been acting up a little. It also eats up batteries pretty quickly.

Last year I bought another Cuddeback camera - this time the Capture IR model. This is an infrared camera that does not use a flash for nightime pictures. The idea behind using IR is to not spook game and to keep the camera hidden better from possible thieves. This camera has done pretty good when it comes to battery life. The resolution of this camera is 5.0 megapixels for daytime shots and 1.3 megapixel black and white images for nightime shots. I have been really impressed with the daytime pictures this camera takes, but the nightime pictures are absolutely terrible. I have yet to get a good one.

Recently, after getting fed up with store-bought cameras, I started researching what it would take to build my own homemade trail camera unit using a standard digital camera. After reading lots of articles, forums, and do-it-yourself tutorials on the internet I decided to give it a try. There are several websites and entire forums dedicated to this topic, which is commonly referred to as a "Homebrew Trail Camera". I found a cheap Sony camera on craigslist and I ordered a pre-drilled kit from a company called Whitetail Supply. The kit arrived in the mail a few days ago and I couldn't wait to get started. Here is what I started with. (I've actually already glued a few of the lenses in place inside the case when I took this picture.)
I had to take the Sony camera apart and actually solder some connections inside the camera. I thought this was the hardest part of the whole project because I have never dealt with working on electronics before. I routed the wires through a hole I drilled in the case of the camera and attached a quick-connect so the camera could be easily attached to the sensor control board. I finished putting everything in place and this is what it looked like.
Here it is closed up and ready to be given a test run.
Here is a sample picture from earlier this evening. I gave the camera a quick test while visiting out in the yard with my family.
The neat thing about this camera is that I can still use the Sony digital camera independently from the control board by using the quick-connect to disconnect it from the unit. It also has a pipe-through security feature that allows you to run a lockable cable through the camera to attach it to a tree. It is 4.1 megapixels so the resolution of the pictures should be fairly decent. The control board and sensor run on one 9-volt battery while the camera itself is powered by two AA batteries. The company that sold me the kit claims the 9-volt will last a year. The real test will be to see how long the AA batteries will last.

I can't wait to get this unit out in the woods to see how it performs. It was so easy to build that I have already started getting components to build a second one. Stay tuned and hopefully I will have some real trail camera shots to post from this camera in the next few weeks.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Trail Camera Pics: Young Bucks

After checking the recent pictures from my trail camera I was pleased to see that several young bucks are hanging out in the area. The following pictures were all taken with a Cuddeback Capture IR trail camera. I edited a couple of the pictures by cropping and zooming in to get a better view.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is implementing antler restrictions for the county I hunt in this year. The restrictions are designed to protect younger bucks to balance the age ratio of the deer herd. To be a legal buck, it must have an inside antler spread of 13" or greater (outside the tips of the ears in the alert position) or have at least one unbranched antler (a "spike").

This first deer will be protected by the new restrictions. I have passed on deer like this several times over the last several years, but I don't think the hunters on the surrounding properties have been passing on these young deer. So I am glad to see the new restrictions and I hope that TPWD enforces the regulations for people who do not abide by the new rule.

This next deer will definitely be protected under the new restrictions.

This last picture is the best buck that was in any of the pictures so far this year, but it is the only one I have of this particular deer. Unfortunately this is the only viewing angle I have of him right now. It looks like he will be a 9-point, but I can't tell much about how wide he will be. He is definitely at least borderline on meeting the antler restrictions. Whether I would take him if given the opportunity or not is another story. He might need to grow another year or two - we'll see.

Friday, August 7, 2009

White-winged Doves

With dove season just around the corner, I thought I would share some pictures that my dad took earlier this week. This was the scene in his front yard.

Those are white-winged doves. Historically, white-wings have been a South Texas bird, but in the last few years it seems their range is expanding northward. I had never even seen a white-wing until about five years ago when I saw a flock of them near Lavon Lake. I have dove hunted since I was old enough to carry a shotgun and to this day I have never shot a white-wing, and I have shot hundreds of birds through the years. My dad told me that they are all over the little town he lives in. When he and my mom goes for a walk, he says they literally see flocks of hundreds of them.

I know some of you Northerners think of doves as a songbird and you don't have seasons to hunt them. I feel sorry for you! You are missing out! When wrapped in bacon and stuffed with a jalapeno they are mighty tasty! The limit for doves here in North Texas is 15 per day. I could get my limit with one shot!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Product Review: "Deer Cane"

The last time I reset my trail cameras, I decided to try a different approach. In an effort to get better quality pictures, I started a new mineral lick site about 8 feet in front of a camera. I purchased a gallon jug of Evolved Habitats "Deer Cane" liquid mineral attractant ($10) as well as a 4-pound "Deer Cane" block ($8) to be used at the site.

I dug about a 3-foot diameter circle in the ground, about 4 inches deep, and placed the block in the center of the hole. I then soaked the block and the dirt inside the hole with the entire gallon of the liquid mineral attractant. The directions on the packaging said that the product works best when it has been saturated with rainfall, allowing the minerals to leach into the dirt. Fortunately, just a few days after the Deer Cane was in place we received decent amounts of rain allowing the product to work as directed. The Deer Cane contains a mixture of ingredients, but the primary minerals are sodium and calcium. It should be replenished within 30 - 60 days to keep the site active.

I was able to check the camera yesterday, and I noticed lots of deer tracks around the site and the block was completely gone. The camera had roughly 100 pictures on it and numerous deer had visited the site. Here are a few of the pictures.

I think the pictures speak for themselves. This is the first time I have used this product and it worked great! It attracted deer and the pictures prove they are consuming it. While maintaining a mineral site might not seem like a big deal, it might be just the trick to keep that buck hanging around in the area. I give it a thumbs up!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Bowhunting Legend

I took a trip over to the Cabela's store in Fort Worth this afternoon. Except this time it wasn't to buy something. I went to hear a presentation being given by one of the greatest bowhunters of all time - Chuck Adams.

If you've never heard of Chuck Adams, well, you must not be a real bowhunter. He has quite the bowhunting resume. He is the first archer ever to complete the North American "Super Slam" - the taking of all 27 North American big game species with his bow. He has also taken 111 Pope & Young record-book trophies - more than anyone else in history. He also is widely known for his books and articles about bowhunting. Throughout the hunting community, Chuck Adams is known as "The World's Most Successful Bowhunter".

Before his presentation today, I got the opportunity to meet Chuck and get an autograph as well as a quick picture. In our conversation I asked him how long it took him to complete the "Super Slam" and he told me 23 years.

During his presentation, he talked about his "Bowhunting Misadventures". He had some very interesting stories of his encounters with big game throughout the world. My favorite was his story about an elephant hunt in Africa in which he arrowed a huge bull elephant. After shooting the massive animal, Chuck, his guide and his tracker were tracking the elephant and it charged. All three men ran in different directions and the elephant got within feet of the tracker. Just as it was reaching out with it's trunk to grab the man the guide shot the elephant right through the brain with a .458 caliber elephant gun. The big bull fell like a sack of potatoes almost landing on the tracker. Chuck said that to this day, that is the only animal he has arrowed that has had to be dispatched with a bullet.

The main topic of the presentation was that bowhunting is not easy. To quote Chuck, he said, "What I like about bowhunting is that it is not easy - if it were easy it wouldn't be as special as it is." I couldn't agree more.

I was glad I had the opportunity to get to meet Chuck and hear him talk about some of his hunting adventures. He is to archery what Nolan Ryan is to baseball.