Deer hunting with trail cameras
It is the unknowing for certain what lurks in the thickets or swamps that keeps me going back. (Andrew Aughenbaugh column)

Am I the only deer hunter left who does not use trail cameras?

Run into any deer hunter on the street and within a few short minutes, he'll be pulling out his cell phone and showing pictures of his deer. "This one will be good next year." He'll say over the first couple pictures. Then he'll get to the hit list, the deer he is targeting this season.


I'm not here to knock the use of trail cameras. If you want to spend the money, effort and time, go ahead. But for me, I enjoy my hunting without the surveillance of the woods.

I had this discussion with several friends years ago when trail cameras entered the market and hunters began to use them. I discovered that I enjoy the Christmas present aspect of entering the woods and not knowing in advance what I might or might not find during my hunt. It is the unknowing for certain what lurks in the thickets or swamps that keeps me going back. I also learned I enjoy the satisfaction of a successful hunt after scouting and interpolating the signs in the woods.

My scouting goes something like this: I hike the woods and fields gathering information based on the signs I find along the way. I begin with looking for general things like food sources, bedding areas, and travel routes. Then I break it down further by looking at individual signs like tracks, tree rubs and evidence of feeding. Once I have gathered the information, I enter the woods choosing my hunt location based on the information collected and my past experiences.

With each first deer sighting, I liken it to opening a Christmas present. Is that movement a young buck, a doe or an old trophy buck? I like it that way.

Another scenario that comes to mind is the waiting for one of the deer on the hit list before taking a deer. Each time I enter the woods, I'm excited for the possibilities. Whether it is taking a doe, a heavy racked buck, or coming home without a deer, I know I was out there enjoying the time away from daily life. If my hunt turned into a time of debate, having to choose if I should shoot the deer at hand or wait for the one I have a photograph, I believe that would complicate the experience.

Not knowing what can appear at any moment while on stand is a large part of the experience I don't want to give up.

Last weekend I climbed the mountain behind camp for an afternoon hunt. I was camped in the mountains of Western Maryland deep in the woods far from any public road. Sitting in camp after finishing my lunch of cold roast beef leftovers graciously given to me by my mother, I sat to read and wait for the time to enter the woods for the evening hunt. I soon came to realize I could just as easily be in my tree stand reading and hunting simultaneously. At 12:30 in the afternoon, I hiked up the mountain.

The hillside was covered in fallen acorns. I discovered this food source a few weeks earlier on a scouting trip. Hiking up the hill, I thought of the likely travel route of the deer leaving the bedding area, a swamp at the bottom of the mountain, and the wind direction. Based on these factors, I chose a tree with good cover and climbed using my climber style tree stand.

Reaching a height with the best vision of the mixed forest, I fixed the stand and settled in for the rest of the day. The surrounding woods were mixed with different hardwoods and a single hemlock stood in the mix. This forest is open with little undergrowth and cover. However, the spot I had chosen to spend the day was above a slight drainage depression with more undergrowth and cover than the rest of the area. My experience tells me that deer generally prefer to travel through these thicker areas and avoid the wide open sections of the forest.

The wind safely carried my scent away from the direction I felt the deer would come. I opened the book about a trapper life in Alaska and began to read. I would read a page or paragraph and then scan the woods. The sound of falling acorns played in the background. Every few minutes the scampering of a local resident red squirrel would jump my heart and send my eyes to scanning the forest below.

I felt it as much as I heard the soft sound to my left rear. Slowly turning, the stark black coat was quickly recognizable. A black bear approached. She was followed by her two young cubs. When she reached my scent trail, she froze in place and searched. Unable to find me, but sensing my presence, she wandered off taking her cubs with her. I have seen a few bears in the woods over the years, but this was the first time I had a bear walk up within bow range of me while I was posted in a tree stand.

The magic hunting hour before dark was two hours away when the doe first appeared. I have seen a few bucks in the area on other hunts. There was hours of the day left. I could have let her walk and waited for a buck that might come. However, the archery season is a long one. One hopefully with more opportunities to come. The freezer at home is empty of venison.

Venison is one of the two reasons I hunt. The other is to enjoy the time afield and a part of nature's process.

The arrow flew.


My hunting time in the woods is about living in the moment at hand, and I choose not to clutter it with hit lists and photographs of what might have been.