By Tim H. Martin
Photo: Trail cameras have become the hunter’s best recon tool for evaluating and ambushing big bucks.
Trail cameras have become the hunter’s best friend when it comes to planning an ambush for a trophy buck. When creating your hit list, be mindful of a few things. The camera can play tricks with the actual size of a buck’s rack.
As Rack Magazine’s art director for more than 20 years, I get to see thousands of trail cam photos and have noted several factors which affect the way we perceive antler sizes and scores.
What looks to be a good buck on a trail camera might actually be a GREAT buck when you see it in person.
Beware the side view! That’s the worst for antler assessment. This angle hides tines and true beam length, so be careful not to underestimate antler size if the side view is the only view you have.
An old, large-bodied buck with long ears will sometimes fool the eye into estimating antlers as smaller than they truly are. If the buck in your photo shows traits of an aging deer, like a sagging belly, deep chest and blocky head, pay extra attention to that one. These often score higher than you think.
The camera doesn’t always shrink a rack. Sometimes it makes antlers appear bigger.
If the buck is standing close to the camera at night, the flash will often overexpose its rack, creating the illusion of greater mass.
Also, with deer positioned close to the camera, the lens will foreshorten things, meaning objects closer to the lens will appear proportionately larger than objects farther way.
If the buck is facing the lens at ground level, this deceptive angle will make its antlers look much larger than its butt, especially if its ears are laid back.
If a buck is moving, blurring in the photo will also create the effect of bulkier antlers.
A velvet-covered rack is misleading as well, and it’s easy to overestimate a buck in summertime photos.
If a buck has sleek, slim features, as bucks just reaching maturity usually do, it’s a prime candidate for ground shrinkage. Evaluate these trail cam candidates extra closely to decide if they should be passed on this season.
You’ll get good at judging bucks in trail cam photos the more you learn how to assess these factors, and the more dead bucks you have to compare to their images.
Try to get others in your hunting group to familiarize themselves with individual animals. This way, no one will be surprised by ground shrinkage (or gain) when they mark a buck off the club’s hit list.
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