Images from Gary Moultrie

If there’s a Venn Diagram that shows sets of deer hunters, tech geeks, and Microsoft Excel junkies, I would be one of the few people who rest in the center where all three sets overlap.  It should not surprise you that I’m sitting at my laptop tonight with my heart racing every time I hear the glorious DING of a new text from my best friend, Gary Moultrie.  Let me explain…

I’ve been tinkering with trail cameras for 7 years now.  The land that we hunt is more than four hours from where I live, so gathering any kind of data about deer movement on the land is difficult.  I make more than a reasonable share of trips to the land every autumn, anyway.  Usually they’re so brief that I spend more than twice as much time in the car as I do in the woods.  Totally worth it, by the way.  I love those trips.  I’m usually accompanied by Tyson, or even Chelsee has been insane enough to join me a few times.

Typically these trips involve a check of the stand to make sure bears haven’t finally taken it down for good.  Once I’m certain that the old stand is still hearty enough to support me I check the trail cams.  I’ve had many over the years.  I’ve had a few fail me.  I have three now, and the brand I’ve settled on is Moultrie.  To be fair to all other brands, I haven’t tried them all.  I won’t name the few that failed me.  I’ll just say, of the brands I’ve tried, Moultrie has the best combination of speed, photo quality, and value for the money.  The key element is photo speed.  If a deer is running, or even trotting, tenths of a second can make the difference between a good deer pic and a pic of a deer’s ass.  Or, nothing at all.

Making all of those trips to the woods is fun, but it’s costly, puts a lot of miles on my beloved Tacoma, and costs me some fall Saturdays or vacation days.  The dream was to have a device that could send me pictures so I would’t have to drive nine hours just to see what’s been around my stand.  A few years ago cameras with cellular modems started hitting the market but they were way out of my budget.  Then last year Moultrie released a device called the MV1.  I paid $120 for it.  It’s an external modem that connects to my camera and sends pics to the cloud whenever they’re taken.  It has a Verizon SIM card and you have to pay a monthly fee of $10.  However, it’s a month to month contract and you can stop it and restart it whenever you want without penalty.  I was more than willing to pay $30-$40 to get pictures sent directly to me all fall, so I bought it and put it up last November.

You can set up the camera to text you when new pictures are available.  Pretty soon I was getting texts from Moultrie Cam whenever a deer passed by.  What a cool feature.  There’s nothing like getting a message out of the blue with a new deer pic.

The first time I used it, I screwed up.  I had the settings wrong and even though the camera was taking pictures, I never got them.  When I got there for deer camp last year I adjusted the settings and got it right.  I decided to leave the camera and modem up when I left to see if I’d get pictures during the winter.  It worked.  Here’s a beauty from last December:

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It was kind of frustrating to see pics all December and January last year of the deer that avoided me in November.  It was still cool to know that the device worked.  Then in February the batteries died…or so I thought.

Tyson and I went back to the land on September 9 and the USB cable connecting the modem to the camera was lying on the ground near the tree.  Something had pulled it.  Not cool.  While we were there I put up my next cool toy: a solar panel.  Now I could conceivably power my camera and modem without batteries all year.  This is fantastic.  The camera was up and everything was connected.  We tested it to make sure I was getting notifications before we left the woods.  All good.

On the road back to Green Bay I got a text from an unfamiliar number.  It said, “Moultrie Mobile: You have new images available.”  Tyson and I were like kids on Christmas morning.  Here’s what we got:

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Mere hours after we were there this bear came sniffing around.  More on that in a minute.  I love getting the text notifications about new pictures, but I had to do something about this weird number.  I needed to give my camera a name and put the number in my contacts so I would then receive the texts from a friendly name instead of just a random phone number.  Naturally, we named the camera Gary.  He needed a last name, though.  After six seconds of discussion Gary Moultrie was born.  Now whenever I see a text from Gary Moultrie I know something exciting has happened.  What treasure is waiting for me in Moultrie’s wonderful cloud?!?

For a few days Gary Moultrie was sending me treats.  I had dreams of a wildly successful deer camp dancing in my head when I received this picture in September:

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After a few pics of this fantastic buck, nothing.  At first I thought maybe it was just slow.  Then days went by.  The modem was still communicating but something had stopped Gary from sending me pictures.  Something had to have disconnected that USB cable again.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get back to the hunting land until last weekend, so I went nearly two months without a word or image from Gary.  I purchased a new cable to connect the two devices because I feared something happened to the other one.  When I approached the camera site Saturday morning I could see the cord lying in the leaves from 20 feet away.  Something pulled that cord out.  Tyson and I replaced the cord and made sure to tie this one down with an extra strap and zip ties. It’s as secure as it can possibly be.

The camera was still taking pictures the entire time it was there.  When I downloaded the pictures from the SD card there were over 2,000 of them.  After the pictures of the buck above, this is what I found:

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You tell me what you think that is.  Looks like a black bear to me.  That would explain why the cord was disconnected.  However, one of the pictues was 67 minutes after the other two.  No pics of anything approaching or leaving.  Could it have been something smaller climbing the tree?  I’ll never know.

No matter.  Gary is running and better than ever.  Hopefully the connection will last at least a few weeks until some other woodland pest decides to play with the shiny plastic device stuck to the tree.  Tyson and I strapped that thing down securely, so something is really going to have to target the cord specifically if it’s going to break that connection.

Now I have the pleasure of not only a working trail cam sending me pictures every day, but 3.5GB of trail cam pics from September 9 through November 2.  I decided to get analytical with my pics this year using some file tagging on my Mac and an Excel spreadsheet.  The first thing I did was eliminate every false trigger or picture of anything that wasn’t a deer.  Among those pics I had one coyote, three turkeys, nine raccoons, and 29 bears.  That’s 29 pictures of bears, not 29 individual bears.  This should probably be the point where I explain that I have a 10 second delay on my camera.  Once a picture is taken, it waits 10 seconds until it will take another.  If an animal stands within range of my camera for several minutes you can get 20-30 (or more) pictures of it.

Now, be amazed as I dazzle you with these statistics from my camera:

In 53 days I got 1,817 pictures of deer.  That’s 34 pictures a day on average.  Again, that’s not 34 different deer.  It might only be 5-6 deer hanging around there for extended periods.  I still feel like 34 deer pictures a day is an encouraging number.  Of those 1,817 pictures, 1,157 of them were just antlerless deer.  567 of them were what I consider young bucks.  Those are deer I would not shoot.  I like seeing their little spikes, forks, or small baskets.  I would absolutely shoot a mature doe before one of these little bucks.  Good things come to those who wait.

The key number I’m looking at here is 93 pictures of deer I consider “shooters”.  These are the bucks I will be looking for next weekend.  Those 93 pictures were taken over 22 separate appearances by those bucks.  So, in 53 days, I had 22 different sightings, which means one shooter every 2-3 days on average.  I’ll take those odds considering I’ll be there in my stand for three days.  The next question is, how many of those sightings were during shooting light?  12 of them, and even two of those are questionable because they’re right at dusk.  That makes things more difficult.  10-12 good buck sightings during shooting light in 53 days.  Basically on average, a shooter buck during daylight every 4-5 days.  The encouraging sign is that the the buck activity is picking up since the calendar flipped to November.  September was busy on the camera, then the October lull seemed to hit for the entire month.  November and the rut have brought the boys back to their feet.

In fact, in the past two days there has been a lot of activity, day and night, from nice bucks.  That leads me to tonight, which was easily the most fun I’ve had since owning a trail cam.  Polk County is supposed to get snow tonight.  How much?  Depends on who you believe.  I’ve heard anywhere from 2-3 inches to a foot.  At 8:09 PM I got this picture: 43170-20181109021027-101MFCAM_MFDC2909

If there’s an animal in this picture it’s moving in the periphery where it can’t be seen.  I think the falling snow set this camera off.  I thought nothing of it and moved on.  Then at 9:27, this:

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OK, that’s cool.  Nice buck in a crazy snowstorm.  Great pic.  They kept coming, though.

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OK, now this is getting cool.  I especially like the top one where you can appreciate the width of his neck.  Then Gary upped the ante.  Let’s introduce a lady to the picture…

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Dim the lights, start the fire, and cue the Jodeci.  Looks like the big fella is going to be doing some hardcore tending tonight.  He looks especially stalkery in that middle pic.  I guess this lady wasn’t in the peak of her estrous cycle or she just wasn’t giving off the right do me vibe because the big boy just kept hanging around after she left.

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After 18 minutes and several pics he wandered off.  Although, I will say in that first 9:45 picture above I feel like there might be another deer in the background on the left obscured by the falling snow.  He might have found a more willing partner to the north.

He was only in my life for 18 minutes, but it was more than enough to get me even more fired up for next week’s deer camp…if that was even possible.  Texts and phone calls went out to multiple members of our hunting group.  It made for a fun night.  I hope I see him next weekend.

Now another group of Bucks from Milwaukee is making this night notable for other reasons.  I’m 2,000 words in to this post and this game is not over so I’m not going to get in to detail.  I don’t want to jinx anything.  I’ll just say they are 3/4 of the way to making a huge statement against the champs and I’ll leave it at that.  Time to stare nervously at my TV and hope they can keep the Warriors down for a little longer.  I’m going to give the last 12 minutes of this game my undivided attention now…that is unless I get another text from Gary.  Good night, everyone.

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