HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- Dr. James Kroll is not camera shy. As the foremost authority on deer management in the world, those two things go together in more ways than one.
Dr. Kroll’s camera appeal, though, is more aligned with game cameras than the ones you stand in front of with a toothy grin saying “cheese.”
“Game cameras are part and parcel of what I call the deer management revolution,’’ Dr. Kroll said. “If you will use them, and more importantly, use them right, they will become an invaluable resource, ultimately increasing your odds at taking bigger bucks.”
Dr. Kroll has more experience with what most deer hunters would refer to as “new” gadgets when it comes to game cameras, eclipsing four decades total. He actually developed the first one in 1972 during a population survey study.
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In the last decade, game cameras have become one of more popular items for deer hunters. In a quick survey of sporting goods stores across the Midwest and South, they outsell deer stands two to one. But that doesn’t mean all hunters are using them the correct way.
Or if the value of what can be gained by using them is being realized.
From Dr. Kroll’s perspective, if he is managing a piece of property and going to hunt, he would have to have game cameras.
“I don’t see how any modern hunter or manager cannot heavily utilize infrared cameras or trail cameras,” Dr. Kroll said. They’re an intricate part of both of those.
“Not to mention they have greatly expanded the fun of deer hunting because people are out there hunting with those cameras 365 days a year. I love to go to hunting shows and see guys standing around with their smart phones showing each other their trail cam pictures. It’s really increased the enjoyment of deer hunting.
“They are telling you what’s on your property right now. And if you use them right you can establish movement patterns for the deer on your property. Bucks’ antlers are all unique like fingerprints. And if you’ve got a grid of cameras on your property you can tell where that buck travels and follow him over time.
“One of the biggest mistakes I run into with outfitters and hunters is they will put trail cameras out in the summer. They’ll put them out late July or early August. They’ll find a bunch of velvet antler bucks. They may go into September and they pull out those cameras.
“They start hunting based on what they saw instead of keeping those cameras in the woods 365 and monitor them all the time. You can go out there and pull the cards on those cameras without spooking your deer.”
“But a lot of people don’t use them right. They don’t keep their data current”
Dr. Kroll’s point was made on a recent hunt in Kansas. He was hunting an 800-acre farm and had about four days to make the most of it. On this specific piece of property there are about 12 really good stand locations. To hit all those areas and get a good idea of what’s there and have the best chance of shooting a big buck, it could take as long as 12 days. And that’s taking into account you are utilizing your stand time wisely.
Most hunters would just take a chance and hope and pray they make the right choice in their short amount of time. Dr. Kroll prefers to up his odds. In this situation he placed game cameras in those locations and located a likely area where a 150-inch, 10-point was visiting in the mornings and afternoons.
“That at least gives me a starting point with better odds,’’ Dr. Kroll said. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to kill him, it just means I’ve increased my odds.
Increasing odds is what most of deer hunting is all about. Hunters spend time practicing with their bows to make sure their odds are better when a deer does show. They buy a better bullet because it increases their percentage. They spend a few more hours in the woods scouting because it increases their percentages. Those are the things a hunter can control.
“The odds are always against you,’’ Dr. Kroll said. “You cannot play the game on the whitetail deer’s level, because if you make a mistake, it cost you a deer. If he makes a mistake, it costs him his life. He’s out there all the time: If you can just add a two-percent chance or three-percent chance, that is worthwhile.
“I travel all over the country and people think because I'm on TV I show up and they’ve got a deer tied up for me. It’s the exact opposite. I show up a lot of times and it’s the worst possible conditions, nobody knows anything, and I've got three or four days to kill a deer. And so I hit the ground with a box full of cameras.”
He places the cameras near a stand, a funnel or on a food plot. The process takes a few minutes for each camera. He spends his first stand time using the same wishful thinking every hunter uses, playing the wind and utilizing the best information available.
The next day, he gathers the cards and replaces them with new ones. Then he goes through each one of them assessing the bucks that are showing up in different areas before deciding which direction to go the next day.
Dr. Kroll goes through his process just to increase his percentages. But there are other values to using a camera and knowing what could possibly walk by you. Photos that show a buck that would look great hanging from your wall makes you want to sit out there an extra hour or more.
“The confidence that cameras add to what you’re doing is huge; confidence to the manager and the land owner and confidence to the hunter. If you know that buck is out there, you’re going to sit longer,” he said.
Many land owners Dr. Kroll has worked with, from Mexico to Canada, were second-guessing whether or not their management program was because working because they were only using information from what they saw during the daytime.
“When you’ve got those trail cameras out there,” he said, “and you come in with three-ring binders full of photographs and say, ‘OK, here was the first year we started, here’s the fifth year. Are we doing any good?’ That’s a confidence thing.”
In a management scenario, you can actually see your age classes grow. It’s just one of the many tools game cams put at your disposal. In Dr. Kroll’s estimation, it doesn’t make sense to spend $500 to $1,000 planting a food plot and not add another $150 for a game camera. Or spend money on everything from a feeder to everything else out there without spending the money on the one thing that will actually show you what you have.
“What a man will spend money on tells me a lot about him,’’ Dr. Kroll said. “The guy that goes out and buys doe in heat and buck lure or some magic potion you pour on the ground; what he’s saying is ‘I don’t want to work for it.’
“The guy that goes out and plants food plots, puts out feeders where it’s legal, is out there monitoring his movement, using trail cameras, doing all those things. He’s making a commitment. Making a commitment to the sport. He’s making a commitment to his land and that animal.”