- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

A week ago, my friend Ron Speed Jr. laughed loudly when I suggested that every white-tailed deer in Texas is no bigger than a nanny goat.

“Some might sport good-sized antlers,” I said, “but the rest of their bodies lack serious bulk.” Then I reminded him that here in Maryland and Virginia, a buck that weighs 200 pounds or more is not unheard of and the farther north you go, the bigger the deer.

Speed, who long ago showed me how to hook monstrous peacock bass in Brazil’s Uatuma River, runs Exotic Outdoor Adventures as well as his father’s company, Ron Speed’s Adventures Inc., both in Malakoff, Texas. The Speed family arranges super outings and accompanies clients to Mexican mountain lakes to fish for trophy largemouth bass or joins them on the jungle rivers of Brazil’s Amazonas region where the fabled peacock bass reign. Once there, Americans are exquisitely fed and spend their days in perfect safety.

But that’s not what Ron wanted to talk about. The Texan needed to defend his home turf’s wildlife. He knows that many parts of the Lone Star State are home to large deer - remarks to the contrary notwithstanding.

“Lord knows I shot enough big’uns,” he said in his unmistakable Texas drawl.

“If you want to get serious about bagging a quality deer, you need to join the digital age,” Ron said. “You ought to see what we find in the digital cameras that we mount near a feeder,” he said. Before the day ended he sent a batch of photos to my computer. They showed deer that live on the ranch the Speeds spend happy hunting days on whenever the travel booking season is on hold.

The digital scouting cameras that the Texan talked about have become all the rage throughout the United States.

Wherever deer, turkey and wild boar hunters gather, the talk soon centers on what some call trail cameras that are mounted on movable poles or against fences or trees. They are intended to provide proof of wildlife visits to any given area. Trail cameras can be bought that have a simple motion-detection device to trigger the shutter or that operate in a passive infrared mode that activates the little gizmos. These cameras are no more related to run-of-the-mill 35-mm cameras that we used a decade ago than a Model T is to a Ferrari.

Almost every outdoor equipment mail-order catalog in the land sells digital trail cameras that can be used by hunters to scout for the wildlife they seek. For example, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops have a Wildgame Innovations IR4 4.0 megapixel scouting model for $99.99, while others run the gamut from the $200 Cuddeback Capture camera to the $999 BuckEye Cam Orion long-range wireless model.

Most of them work well during day or night hours, but normally the nights reveal the most visits by deer to certain popular feeding areas. Amazingly, even in the case of a flash going off, it has been found that deer get used to it.

If you decide to make the move to a trail camera, it’s getting late; deer season will be here before you know it. As the owner of a new camera, remember to change the location of the little spy apparatus from time to time, making sure that it is free of human odors. Sooner or later you’ll get a decent picture - literally - of how many big or small deer, as well as those elusive trophy bucks, come to your woodland or field locations. In the end, you’ll build a tree stand nearby and perhaps find great success, all because of what the lens of a camera captured.

In the next year or two, wildlife watchers will be able to purchase digital scouting cameras that can be remotely activated and viewed on a laptop computer. They’ll also give temperature and barometer readings. But there’s one thing they’ll never be able to do: pan-fry Uncle Gene’s onion-smothered venison loin steaks and make gravy for the mashed potatoes.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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