Whether you need to keep an eye on your quarry or just enjoy watching the wildlife, Sporting Rifle’s Mike Powell has the lowdown on the technology to help you do it
Spy cams, trail cameras, surveillance tools, call them what you will – I’m rather fond of them, and the last year or two has seen a huge proliferation in the different types and makes that have become available. Their uses are manifold, and no doubt you’ll have noticed some watching us as we go about our business in towns and cities. This type of equipment is sophisticated in the extreme, but it is not what I am on about here.
The types I prefer to work with are the small, portable units that I can use when carrying out my fox control work. There are dozens of these compact units being offered for sale, which raises the question: Which one is best? I have used one of the Deben units for some time now, and it does the job really very well, but I suspected there had been further technology advances, so I approached Scott Country, which handles several makes. They sent me a few models for testing: the Bushnell Trophy Cam HD 1080p No Glow Stealth, and a couple of Spypoint cameras: the Spypoint ProX Plus and the Spypoint Tiny-W. In addition, Deben sent me one of its new Prostalk models: the PC5500 ultra low glow IR.
As I said to begin with, I like these cameras. To me, wildlife watching is remarkably like going out shooting – you never know what is going to happen. I am fortunate to live in a rural area with no shortage of wildlife at my back doorstep. The field at the back of my home is visited regularly by fox, rabbit, badger and roe. When I go out in the mornings to walk the dog and let the chickens out, the thing I really can’t wait to do is to get the camera in, link it to the computer and see what’s been about during the night. From a shooting point of view, the stealth camera can be a valuable tool in the fox controller’s armoury, enabling him to see where and when the top predator is about and the routes his movements take him.
They can also be debunkers of long-established thoughts (or myths). The most common is that foxes are regular in the time they are about. I once subscribed to this line of thought myself, and was surprised when the night camera revealed that fox movements, once under way, are sporadic and can be quite random. They start their nocturnal meanderings at fairly set times and quite often return to whence they came at about the time daylight begins, especially during the winter. However, once they are on their way, their travels seem to take them here, there and everywhere.
Currently, there is a fox lurking about my field who comes there almost every night – encouraged, I might add, by a few dog biscuits rolled in some meat fat. He has been my ‘guinea pig’ for this practical test. All the cameras tested have caught Charlie about his or her business, and I have used a few of the pictures captured as a comparison of the various makes on test.
So what did I learn from my nightly covert camera action? Firstly, I have to thank Charlie for turning up nearly every night. His (or her) reactions to the various cameras were interesting. Although I set them up in the same small area, I moved them around so Charlie didn’t get too used to them.
Clearly, wildlife notice the IR when it is triggered. Reactions vary from staring intently at the cam, through ignoring it (rarely), to taking off at great speed. Deer are not too worried and will sometimes come right up to the camera. Badgers, true to their kind, totally ignore it.
I suppose your choice depends what you actually want the camera for. Personally, all I require is something that tells me what’s about and when. All the tested units did this well, and I have no complaints. If, however, the night camera bug bites deep, then you may wish to go for one of the more technically versatile models, which allow finer tuning of the end results.
Every camera tested bar one – the Prostalk – had the ability to see the pictures taken on the camera’s screen. This is handy, but in my case not essential, as I had been able to place them close enough to home to be able to get them back to a computer with ease. All had video as well as still picture settings.
All the units tested were very well made and weatherproof. In rainy and misty conditions, the cameras did not perform quite as well, but as with most technology, I expected that. Charlie didn’t turn up on those nights anyway.
Again, there were similarities in the settings available for the cameras. Time delay between pictures, distance, quality, number of pictures taken at a triggering – the list goes on, and it was extremely hard to grade the test models on available functions.
The Tiny-W was something different, as it did have some features that were unique. It was housed in a case, which allowed removal of the camera without having to release the holding strap, but its main feature was its little ‘bin’ or black box, which can be placed up to 50 feet from the camera. You can obtain all data from the black box as well as the camera – this is exceptionally useful if filming something that must not be disturbed. Additionally, if some light-fingered souls removed the camera, you would have a record of this tucked away in the remote black box.
Positioning of the camera is obviously important, and knowledge of your target species is essential. In my case I was baiting the area and I did have a co-operative subject, but when I use a camera in the field I place it near obvious areas such as well-used runs. If I’m using it for protecting poultry, I place it where it’ll get a good view of likely visit spots.
Height, although not critical, can be of some importance. If you place the camera too low, small mammals such as rabbits can end up triggering it. I find that between three and four feet off the ground is about right, with the camera tilted slightly forwards and downwards. As with all forms of night vision, practice makes perfect, and as time passes you will find out the best way of setting these cameras up in your area.
When using them in the field, be aware that there are those about who will be only too happy to take over ownership of your camera, so it needs to be placed where the general public can’t see them. Some, like the Spypoint range, have the facility to make them more secure by having built-in security rings for anchoring them.
There are so many facilities these little units offer, I suggest you look them up on the vendor’s website and compare them there. Incidentally, when fixing the cameras to your chosen tree or post, make sure the fixing tapes are neatly tied up as loose ends flapping in the wind can trigger the cameras.
There was very little to choose between any of these cameras as far as their performance was concerned. I did find that the cameras with the low light emitting systems didn’t seem to spook Charlie as much as some of the others, which is possibly important if you are looking for close-up pictures as opposed to just finding out what is about. However, Charlie came close enough for good pictures with both types.
All the pictures taken were of good quality and more than fit for purpose, despite the varying weather conditions they were taken in. All of the cameras are easy to set up once you’ve grasped the basic principles involved, and all came with clear instructions.
For the keeper or the professional fox shooter, wildlife cameras can be extremely useful, keeping you posted on what is about, especially round the rearing and release pen and other sensitive areas. For others, they are interesting, educational and above all good fun. It really is addictive finding out what has been around during the night, which is often more than you would suspect.
I liked all the cameras tested, and in truth I found it almost impossible to separate them. The one you buy really does come down to what your intended use is, rather than vast differences in quality. If possible, try them out before you buy so you can get an idea of what sort of light it will emit and how it will attach to your chosen spot.
Now I have to decide whether my mate Charlie should be allowed to continue his film star status or be consigned to the record book. I think I’ll leave that down to his (or her) future behaviour.