Trail Cams

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pic: a flying squirrel

One of the more popular and interesting (for a number of reasons) developments in wildlife world in recent years are trail cameras; cameras that can be left out in the woods and take pictures of whatever comes by. These cameras are not only really popular with hunters; wildlife managers and researchers like them too. They’re also used by those who are simply curious as to what lives in the fields and woods near them. Finally, trail cams are very useful for security purposes.

We (I and fellow volunteers) use them to aid in monitoring of an elk herd we introduced to the area in 2000 and 2001. The elk have had their share of problems – especially poaching and predation by wolves – but the animals have hung on and are holding their own. The really bad winter of 2013-14 set things back some, but last winter and this winter have been more moderate and should help the herd get back on track and resume growing.

During the summer, we usually change the cards once a month in each of the seven critter cams we have (we don’t put them out in fall or winter; again, for a variety of reasons). It’s astounding what gets recorded. Sometimes there are in excess of 10,000 images – from a single card – to sort through. Granted, there are lots and lots of images of nothing more than leaves waving in the wind, but we’ve recorded images of the majority of species one would expect to see. Photos of elk (including huge bulls engaged in great fights), deer, moose, bear, and wolves abound, but we’ve also got pics of grouse, flying squirrels, mice and voles, lynx, hares, foxes and a whole lot more. No cougars, though.

My spouse and I also use trail cams on our property (232 acres of mostly woods) to monitor the wildlife, particularly to spy on the deer. Every year the trail cam sees deer we never see with our eyeballs.

Still, I have to admit I have mixed feelings about trail cams, especially their widespread use by hunters. Trail cams let hunters know what’s out there as well as the habits of their quarry. Some trail cams even have Wi-Fi capability, so in some locales, hunters can live-stream what’s happening to the internet, or have it rigged so that when an image is taken, it pops up on one’s computer instantly. Hunters use that information to then set-up ambushes knowing they are in the right place, and also know the best times to watch.  Often bait is used to further the advantage in favour of the hunter (some jurisdictions have restrictions on baiting, but in Ontario, only waterfowl and turkeys presently have baiting restrictions).

In the past, it took a great deal of time and effort to hone the skills required if one wanted to be a good hunter and woodsman (which includes women!). Of course, it still takes skill to master the intricacies of technology, but being a good techie doesn’t equate in my mind with being what I think a hunter is or should be. I sometimes think using all this technology to aid in the hunt just isn’t ethical.

Maybe I’m just an old fart with old ideas the world no longer has much a use for. I’m OK with that – my main worry is the animals we share the planet with. There is no way they can evolve fast enough to keep up with the technological changes going on. It seems legislation is also having a hard time staying on top of constantly changing technologies.

I suppose given all the issues facing wildlife and wildlife management, trail cameras are probably only a minor worry. And I have to admit, using trail cams sure is a lot of fun.

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