Like any other archery nut, I’m excited to see the new bows and crossbows unveiled at the beginning of each year because there’s usually something innovative and impressive about the new designs. But what really trips my trigger are the latest trail cameras.
Over the last decade or so, trail cams have become more than scouting tools for me; both the units and the pictures they capture have become something of an obsession in their own right. I value all those images of bucks, gobblers, and even songbirds as much as I do a tagged buck. Okay, maybe not quite that much. If you’re going to be hanging trail cameras of your own, here’s a look at the hottest new models for 2019.
In recent years, I’ve come to regard Browning cameras as bullet-proof performers that consistently take sharp pics and clear video, have slick features like an interface screen that aids in camera setup and picture viewing, and a rock-solid mounting bracket. This year Browning has upped their game with the Dark Ops series of sub-micro models that feature an invisible flash and 80-foot detection range. But the feature I like best is the Illuma-Smart technology, which Browning says adjusts flash intensity for perfect nighttime images and video. All this in a package that measures only a touch over 4 inches long and 3 inches wide, and features an SD card management system that lets you access the most current images and videos every time you check the camera.
There’s a reason why many of your nighttime trail-cam pics suck. Most scouting cameras come with an image sensor that functions best during the day, or the night, but rarely both. Enter the Core DS from Bushnell, which is equipped with a pair of sensors, one for day, the other for night, and the camera recognizes when to use one or the other. The result is super-clear photos and videos of your bucks whenever they decide to show up. Also new for Bushnell on this model are a removable battery tray, three simple pre-sets (or advanced setup), and a .2 second trigger speed. I’ve been using Bushnell cams for many seasons because they’re easy to set up and they perform great, but to be honest, the nighttime footage has never been their strong suit. The Core DS promises to solve those issues, and I’m pumped to strap it to a tree this spring.
A couple years ago, Cuddeback upgraded the way thier trail cameras captured and stored photos and videos with its CuddeLink system, which marries up to 15 cameras to a single home unit to help decrease the time spent checking multiple cameras and limit intrusion in the woods, which can spook the deer you’re trying to pattern. For 2019, Cuddeback upped the game with CuddeLink Cell, a single device that collects and zips the images from the CuddeLink mother unit to your phone, which means you only have to pay for one service plan, not 15. What’s more, the CuddeLink Cell features a .25-second trigger speed, less than a one-second recovery, a 20 megapixel camera, and the company’s Power House technology, which uses super capacitors to store energy and deliver up to three times the power to the LEDs. It’s a pretty ingenious concept, but if there’s a potential hiccup it’s that all cameras have to easily communicate with one another, and in rolling or mountainous country, that might mean placing at least one camera in a spot solely for maintaining the link and not necessarily where you expect game action.
In Covert-speak, M2M stands for machine-to-machine technology, which means this top-class camera will immediately transmit pictures or video to your smartphone, laptop, or tablet using a Verizon connection. Better yet, the Blackhawk sports advanced capabilities like instant picture viewing, the ability to record weather and wind data, and real-time control, which allows the user to set controls (or even turn the unit off) from a smartphone or other device. Last year’s Blackhawk sent links to pics through a text message, but the 2019 version instantly sends the photo (or five-second video) to your phone using a wireless app. The 20 megapixel camera runs on 12 AA batteries, features invisible flash technology, and you can program it for up to a 10-shot burst. If there’s a downside, it’s the .65 second trigger speed, which is not exactly lightning fast in today’s camera market.
Game cameras that transmit images and video via a cellular connection are the new hot ticket, especially as performance improves and prices descend. Moultrie’s newest wireless cameras, the Mobile XV-7000i and XA-7000i are a perfect example. These completely integrated systems combine the modem and camera into one unit, and operate on either AT&T or Verizon plans. The service is pretty cheap too; you can pay by the month, there’s no-contract, and it’s only $10 per month. The camera’s features are also impressive. The 20 megapixel units have an 80-foot detection and flash range and 1080p video capability. You can set the camera controls remotely using the Moultrie Mobile System, and 12 AA batteries run the show. If this camera performs even reasonably well, it’s worth paying attention to if only because the up-front cost is about half what other companies charge.
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Over the last few seasons, I’ve used plenty of Primos’ Proof Cam2 trail cameras, which is the predecessor to their new AutoPilot, and I’ve largely been impressed with their performance, battery life, and perhaps most important, the ease of use. The Autopilot promises to take that simplicity a step farther; simply enter a few settings, strap the cam to a tree, turn it on, and you’re set. The Autopilot features a 16-megapixel camera, 48 low-glow LEDs, a .3 second trigger, and a 100-foot detection zone, all at a very reasonable price. When I spotted this camera earlier this year at the annual ATA show, I immediately thought “Dad-camera.” My 89-year-old father likes to help me with all things deer, but anything involving technology seriously challenges him. I think he could handle the uber-simple Autopilot with ease, and I plan to get one in his hands this fall.
I feel about Reconyx like I do about Sitka gear; sure it’s stupid-expensive compared to the competition, but if you’re absolutely determined to make the most of your time and energy in the field, it’s worth the extra expense. The Hyperfire 2 is the company’s upgrade from their incredible Hyperfire. It features a .2-second trigger speed and GEN3 High Output infrared night vision sensors that capture high-definition videos and images up to an incredible 150 feet away. It’s also one of the few trail cameras made in the U.S.A., and it comes with a 5-year warranty. I’ve tested many cameras over the years and if there’s anything that outperforms Reconyx, I have yet to see it—though I don’t like the price tag any more than you do.
There are several perks to having an uber-small trail camera; it’s less visible to deer and cam poachers, plus you can mount it almost anywhere. The latter is the biggest plus to me, especially when I need a camera on a fence line surrounding a field, or a clear-cut edge where good mounting trees don’t exist. That’s why I really like the 3x3x2-inch Micro Cam. Wildgame Innovations has made huge performance strides in thier cameras in recent years, and this unit shoots hi-definition pics and video, and it can operate for up to six months on six AA batteries. This camera, and its super-smart ball-head mounting system, was one that really caught my eye at the 2019 ATA show, especially since it’s one of the most reasonably-priced cams out there.