A black bear walks down a slope toward its den in this 2017 trail camera photo. Credit: Courtesy of Kenneth Beland

Just before bear season a few years ago, I crossed paths with a couple fellows I knew to be hunters.

We struck up a conversation, and with an air of confidence, one of them boasted “Yeah, I don’t have much time to bear hunt this year so I’m just going to put up a cell camera on a bait behind my house. I have a spot where I can see the bait from about a hundred yards away and when one comes in, I’ll just sneak down and shoot it.”

With a slight smirk and subtle chuckle, I nodded in response. He was, of course, talking about using one of the hunting world’s latest and greatest innovations to help him find success: cellular trail cameras.

I had barely heard of trail cameras until I was maybe 12 or 13. Most hunters were securely rooted in old ways and found little room for any technological interference or distraction.

The closest thing I can recall, as it relates to remote game detection back then, were crude little “Trail Timer” game monitors sold at sporting goods stores and hardware stores. Basically, you set the time on a small digital clock device to which a string was attached. You stretched the whole deal across a deer trail or other chosen area, secured it to a couple trees and whatever came along that was large enough to pull the string tight enough would disrupt the clock’s circuit, memorializing the time of the event.

I remember being excited one Christmas to give my father one as a gift, but I suspect it’s likely still in a box of gear, unopened.

It took only a few years for trail cameras to secure their permanent place in the hunting arena, and manufacturers as well as consumers have never looked back. Trail camera technology advanced rapidly, allowing for continued improvements and added features.

Cellular trail cameras have become all the rage among Maine hunters looking for a convenient way to scout their preferred hunting areas without setting foot on the property. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent

They went from large, cumbersome units with bright, startling incandescent flashes and actual 35mm film — which had to be developed at the nearest Rite Aid — to pocket-sized, extremely user-friendly, fully customizable digital marvels with infrared flashes, massive storage and standard high-definition photo/video quality.

The undisputed champion of all trail camera tech, however, has been cellular transmission capabilities, which enable photos and videos to be instantly sent remotely from the camera to a user’s cell phone, computer or other device.

I admit that cell cameras are hands-down one of the coolest pieces of hunting gear out there, and, for the most part, I thoroughly enjoy using them. I have owned a handful of them the last couple years, but my stock has dwindled down to only one.

It’s not that I can’t afford more or am taking some sort of principled stance against them — I just can’t shake my vacillation. On the one hand, they serve as incredibly efficient scouting tools, offering both entertaining and useful information relayed remotely and in real time.

Other than initial deployment, there is no need to unnecessarily disturb the area with repeated visits to check SD cards or the camera’s status, thus placing less stress on the animals, the environment and the hunting area. They offer incredible convenience, allowing more time and freedom for the user to do other things with a “set it and forget it” approach.

On the other hand, an argument could be made that they provide further replacement for learned and applied skill, knowledge, experience and effort. Hunting should always involve an appropriate, relevant amount of difficulty. It was never intended to be an easy endeavor, and technology’s continued flirtation with the notion of fair chase is sometimes hard to ignore.

In Maine, we are currently allowed to use cellular trail cameras for hunting purposes without any specific regulation. Not all states agree, however.

Numerous Western, Midwest and Southern states have significant restrictions and prohibitions when it comes to using cellular trail cameras. Some even prohibit the use of any type of trail camera for hunting purposes, with a few exceptions for private landowners or in specific situations.

For our hunting neighbors in New Hampshire, it is unlawful to attempt to locate or take a game animal within the same calendar day while using what they call “live-action game cameras.” Some recordkeeping clubs such as Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young deem the use of cellular trail cameras inconsistent with their fair chase standards in certain situations and may disqualify an animal if it is determined to have been taken with their aid.

Do cellular trail cameras have their place? Absolutely.

The trail camera industry certainly isn’t going anywhere either. Sales were well over $100 million worldwide last year and are projected to grow rapidly, exceeding $170 million, in the next 10 years.

I’ve spent my fair share of money on them over the last decade or so, but they’re definitely worth it — sometimes — I think.

And what of the bear hunter mentioned earlier? Well, after an alert to his phone, he got his bear just the way he’d planned, and judging by the grin on his face in the picture, it sure seemed to set well with him.

What about you?

Chris Sargent is an avid outdoorsman, a former Maine Game Warden and lover of anything wild and tasty. Chris’ passion and appreciation for hunting, processing and preparing wild game has become more...