It’s like opening presents on Christmas morning. That’s how some folks describe the feeling of viewing the latest pictures from their trail cameras. These cameras can be an invaluable addition to your hunting arsenal and provide plenty of entertainment because you just never know what might show up.

Trail or game camera technology has come a long way in a relatively short time. The first one I owned, and the only one available at that time, was basically an instamatic film camera and the same type of IR-motion detector used for home driveway lights, mounted inside a waterproof housing. It was powered by eight D-cell batteries and about the size of a dinner plate. The number of exposures was limited by the film roll size – usually 24 or 36. And you had to wait several days to a week to get your pictures back. In warm weather, batteries might last a month.

Today there are dozens of trail camera brands, some with dozens of models. They’re a fraction the size of the originals. Some are small enough to fit in your hand and will run for months, maybe even a year, on six AAA batteries. They can take and hold hundreds, possibly thousands of digital pictures, stored on SD cards, that you can view immediately. Some cameras even have built-in viewing screens. They also have all manner of features allowing you to take photos night or day (with an IR flash that won’t spook game), time-lapse images and even video.

At a bare minimum, cameras will give you an idea what’s out there for game that you might otherwise not know even existed. Just knowing there’s a decent buck in your woodlot might provide the extra incentive you need to be more confident about your prospects.

But cameras also have a digital stamp that superimposes time, date and other information (barometric pressure, moon phase) on the images so you can fine-tune game movement and look for patterns.

For example, say you’re finding a certain buck is entering your food plot, but not until after dark. You can move your camera or set other cameras farther back into the woods to see where the buck might be approaching from and possibly staging before dark.

Game cameras also can be immensely helpful for bear hunters. You can tell when bait is being visited simply by looking, but you can’t tell when or by what without a camera. If it’s a nocturnal bear, a small bear, or a sow and cubs, you might not want to hunt that site until things change. Most hunters sit afternoons only, but if the bear is coming early in the day you could be wasting your time. The camera will tell you.

In addition to saving you time by being in the woods when you aren’t, game cameras also reduce the amount of human odor and disturbance in a particular area.

This means game will be less wary and more inclined to continue visiting the area. Depending on how often you need the information, you may only have to visit the camera site once a week or less. And if you really want to keep disturbance to a minimum, there are cameras that will automatically transmit digital images to your smart phone or computer.

Traditionally, trail cameras used motion and heat detectors to trigger the camera when an animal passed by; and they still do. But several years ago, a company called Day6Outdoors came out with the Plotwatcher. It takes time-lapse images at preset intervals that you can play back as a single video clip. This offers several advantages, the biggest being that it doesn’t need to be triggered by an animal passing close by. Place it on a food plot and it will record all the action no matter how far away. In addition to deer, it’s a tremendous tool for patterning turkeys in open areas.

And it’s also just plain fun. The anticipation is high when you pull a card and pop it into a card viewer or laptop, hold your breath and start seeing what came by while you weren’t there. Just seeing the interaction between does and fawns is fun, but when a rack buck shows up on camera, the adrenaline rush is almost as great as seeing it live.

It motivates you to get out there and gives you confidence to remain longer, and anything that does that is simply a plus.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]