Photos of nocturnal animals going about their business during their normal waking hours have somewhat suddenly been made commonplace by the advancement of digital photography. Every hunter routinely sends and receives, via email, photos of a quality that was once cause for worldwide sensation.
Credit for the first such photos goes to George Shiras, III, a Yale-educated Pennsylvania attorney, avid hunter and amateur naturalist who, in the late 1800s, began experimenting with ways to capture images of the natural behavior of nighttime critters using a large format camera and a tremendous flash, ultimately arriving at a string-and-pulley-based automatic triggering method he termed a “camera trap.”
A hundred years later, supply, demand and technology have converged to put trail cameras into the hands of deer hunters nationwide. By 2000, innovation and the marketplace had given the deer hunters I knew the means to see what was out there when they weren’t, and what was out there, in a lot of cases, was raccoons.
The first such rigs I ever saw put a flimsy 35mm camera into a sort-of-weatherproof housing and connected it to an occasionally-motion-activated trigger. The cheaper the trigger, the more affordable the package, something most guys didn’t discover until they started developing their film. If the trigger activated the camera five seconds after whatever set it off walked by, they got a nice picture of the empty woods and nothing else. To get pre-season photos of deer with these things, then, hunters had to do something that kept the subjects at an optimal distance long enough to be photographed, and the main thing they did was pour out a pile of shelled corn in late summer and point a trail camera at it, an act that was perfectly legal if not always effective.
I remember well witnessing their anticipation as they took a double handful of rolled film for processing, how they waited with bated breath, or baited breath in their case, to get the photos back, and how their faces would fall as they flipped through print after print of raccoons inhaling their corn. Somehow they never thought it was as funny as I did.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.