Seth Raven of Waldo captured a buck with enormous velvet antlers last summer on his remote wildlife camera.
Eric McCabe of Standish got a sequence of photos of an 8-point buck sniffing a branch from his deer cam.
And Dorothy McCarren of Woolwich has dozens upon dozens of Bambi-esque photos she got off her deer cams before she started locating the bucks on her hunting land.
Across Maine, hunters today are using wildlife cameras to find and study whitetail deer. The Maine Deer Hunter Facebook page where many are posted is like a study of the big bucks roaming across the state. And many Maine hunters use more than one deer cam, feeding what they call a new addiction.
“I didn’t really see it as cheating. But it wasn’t for me,” said hunter Tim Soule of Whitefield. “I was all about walking through the woods and finding sign. But now that I’m doing it, it’s just another tool. And it’s not easy. It’s no easier than hunting. You have to figure out just the right position to put the camera. I still haven’t gotten a buck on film.”
Once a few hundred dollars, remote wildlife cameras that are tripped by movement similar to backyard lights now are affordable for many. Most hunters spend around $100, but the cameras come cheaper.
Certainly these cameras also document turkey, porcupine, coyote, raccoons, bobcats and for Maine’s bear guides, those wary, stealth bruins.
But Maine deer hunters, like perhaps no other wildlife experts, are learning more and more about the species they stalk through the eyes of these cameras.
“It’s really neat to see how everything thrives on its own. Deer live pretty much by their noses,” said McCarren. “They smell all the different branches that my hair was on. And I’ve learned how they move in their environment. I think at night they’re more relaxed, but during the day they pick dense, thick brush, where they’re camouflaged.”
McCarren started using cameras four years ago. She now has six. She said improved technology has fed her addiction.
She looks for scrapes and beaten trails, then she gets landowner permission and puts up her cameras. But she’s careful.
McCarren uses a scent eliminator to mask her scent on the camera.
“The deer get wise to human scent. Where I hang the cameras around the trees, I spray everything down,” McCarren said. “As soon as the gun season starts, all their patterns change. Just when you think you’ve got their pattern down, the environment changes and they change, too.”
Call it a fish finder for hunting.
Marshall Richardson, 21, of Gorham said his three cameras have become his hunting friends.
“The most expensive is around $250 but there are cheaper ones for $80 to $90. I got a two-pack for $150. I’ll probably purchase one more,” Richardson said.
This fall he spread those cameras out on his parent’s 75 acres. It helped him zero in on where the bucks roam, but not when.
Richardson hunted in Bethel on Thanksgiving but missed the buck that walked in front of his camera that day.
“I would have had a 10-pointer. He walked in front of my tree stand to the left of the camera,” Richardson said.
Eric McCabe also feels his camera mocked him.
The 26-year-old hunter from Standish started using cameras four years ago. But as a full-time student who holds down a job, McCabe can’t get out to scout. So his cameras do his scouting for him.
But that system backfired a few weeks ago after McCabe hit the tree stand at 8:30 a.m. After two hours of hunting, he checked the camera only to find a photo of an 8-pointer that had passed exactly an hour before.
Missed opportunities aside, McCabe said the wildlife cams have made him a more patient hunter.
“If I had to pick one thing the deer cameras add to my hunting, it’s confidence,” McCabe said. “I’ve learned a lot about deer patterns by using the cams.”
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]Twitter: FlemingPph