Looking For Wild Nightlife? Try Setting
Up A Trail Cam In Your Backyard.
By Payton Miller
“Suburban wildlife” is not an oxymoron to lots of folks living within close proximity to wilderness areas. Or even comparatively undeveloped ones for that matter.
I’ve had whitetail fanatics e-mailing me stills and videos of monster bucks for quite a spell now—nearly all with nighttime infrared illumination. But up until now I’ve never tried setting up a trail camera myself.
What prompted me to do so was not the prospect of getting images of bragging-size deer. It was to capture and identify the members of the nightly parade of predators and scavengers trooping through my backyard. It happens year round, although things do get a bit crazier in the hot summer months.
I live in the north end of Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley, about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. No, it’s not exactly the east slope of the Rockies. But you’d be surprised at the scope of non-human activity going on after hours.
For my little foray into the world of automated wildlife photography, I chose two excellent “entry level” trail cams, rotating them to different spots and different angles every 2 or 3 days, hoping to boost my voyeuristic desire to “catch” critters in the act of scrounging around for anything edible. The two models were a Browning Strike Force Elite HD and a Stealth Cam G34 Pro. Both can be mounted on a tripod or be lashed to a tree via a nylon strap/buckle arrangement. Both cost in the neighborhood of $100 to $125 (I was using fairly inexpensive SD cards).
If you’re looking for a bit of the excitement of playing trapper, without all the associated hiking, inclement weather, hard work and skinning hassles, a trail cam might be just what you’re looking for. Even if you’re not trying to pattern the movements of a 200-inch whitetail, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy running your little “virtual trapline.” I find myself full of anticipation every morning, getting up early and rushing out to gather the two SD cards for downloading to see what’s on them.
Both these trail cams have a ton of features I am still working my way through—video (with audio) and a menu of programmable modes. If you’re a techno-dunce like me, I’d strongly recommend enlisting the aid of any handy 10-year-old to set things up.
I’ve set both to take a burst of shots whenever anything sneaks into range, which is 80 to 100 feet. Both run off 6 AAA batteries and both record the time, date, moon phase and temperature on each photo. You can set them to take shots on a time-lapse mode or get daylight color images, but what I want is IR-triggered B&W nighttime images “when the action is.” I know, for instance, a certain raccoon likes to show between 3 and 4 a.m., while one particular gray fox is more of a “10 to midnight” kinda guy. I’ve gotten kind of fond of the fox, incidentally, since I’ve noticed a downturn in the number of ground squirrels in the neighborhood.
The showstopper came, however, when I got a couple shots of a pretty good-size black bear in the backyard—about 10 feet from my bedroom window at the rather disconcertingly early midnight hour. (Note to self: Do not wander out to the garage refrigerator after dark for a cold one without looking around first). Knowing our publisher Roy Huntington also runs a Stealth Cam or three on his rural Missouri homestead, I sent him a pic of my prize subject. He responded with one of his own and this note:
“I’ll see your nighttime bear and raise you a daytime bobcat.”
So I’ll keep trying to snag something really exotic to impress Roy. Who knows? Maybe a jaguar will wander up from Mexico. I realize I came late to the party on these things. But I’m having a ball on the learning curve.
This Southern California black bear (above) didn’t quite feel like
giving up a full-face profile. A gray fox (below) got caught in mid-trot.
Roy Huntington’s cam caught this Missouri bobcat at high noon.
Nothin’ But Net
When at a public shooting range, good manners dictates consideration for shooters at neighboring benches. There may be little you can do about raw noise and muzzle blast without a suppressor, but there is something you can do about hot brass blowing out of your ejection port. CTK Precision’s Universal Brass Catcher will keep you popular with your fellow shooters who aren’t crazy about being on the receiving end of a rain of empties.
It features a heavy-duty steel frame and a 16×16-inch net opening. It’s made in the USA, easy to assemble and can be moved about easily on your shooting bench to accommodate any configuration of self-shucking self-loader you can come up with. The price is $60—cheap when measured against the goodwill you’ll earn. Not to mention your back will thank you when you no longer need to stoop and pick up brass.
CTK Precision’s Universal Brass Catcher kept empties off our spotter.
Nobody likes to be dinged by hot brass, even from a .32 ACP 1934 Mauser!
Browning’s Strike Force Elite HD (left) and the Stealth Cam
G34 Pro (right) made for an excellent one-two photo punch.
Lots of clay-busting shotgunners feel a velocity boost is a “good thing.” However, I’ve talked to a couple of serious “sustained lead” kinda guys who’ve taken pains to emphasize you have to get used to higher speeds, and claim switching from, say, a 1,145 fps target load (your basic Winchester AA) to shot loads in the 1,325 to 1,400 fps range calls for a degree of adjustment.
To be honest, I’m more of a relatively untutored “low gun” snap shooter, so during a couple skeet rounds with Aguila’s 12-gauge High Velocity Sporting Clay No. 8’s, the 1,325 fps didn’t affect things all that much that I could tell. But at yardages longer than 21 yards, which is roughly max skeet distance (more or less, depending on where you actually break them), a serious competitive type would most likely notice. What I did notice, however, was the way the clay was “abso-tively” crushed when I did things right.
I’m going to save a couple boxes of this stuff for the dove opener in Arizona. After the birds start getting wise, flying higher and flaring quicker, that extra speed could pay off. Aguila has come up with an eclectic array of ammo products over the years—from short 1-3/4-inch 12-gauge Minishells to an impressive array of subsonic and hyper-speed rimfire loads. They’ve even got a blistering 1,400 fps live pigeon load just in case you really feel the need for speed.
A pair of early 20th Century bolt-action beauties indeed! At top is a 26-inch barreled Westley Richards Mauser in .318 Express. At bottom is an 18-inch barreled Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine in 9×56 MS. Both calibers are pretty rare (translation: obsolete) and hard to find today—which certainly doesn’t take anything away from their effectiveness.
According to Barnes’ Cartridges of the World, the original 9×56 Eley-Kynoch factory load pushes a 245-grain bullet at 2,100 fps. The .318 WS featured a 180-grain bullet at 2,700 fps or a 250-grain at 2,400. At any rate, both rifles went—together—for $6,900 at the June 24-26 Rock Island Regional Auction. For more information on RIA auctions, contact them at 7819 42nd St. W., Rock Island, IL 61201, (800) 238-8022.
Aguila Ammunition, Texas Armament and Technology
2014 Airport Rd
Conroe, TX 77301
Browning Trail Cameras
Prometheus Group, LLC
2 Perimeter Park S, 305e
Birmingham, AL 35243
E7383 Nietzke Rd
Clintonville, WI 54929
Stealth Cam, LLC
P.O. Box 535189
Grand Prairie, TX 75050