Thanks to trail cameras, hunters can scout for deer around the clock. But is it fair?

On a recent walleye outing, my friend and I used a fishfinder to pinpoint exactly where the fish were hanging out. Although the sonar saved us some time in finding the walleye, it far from guaranteed a bite. Now consider the use of trail cameras by deer hunters. Some argue the devices are too high-tech, giving hunters an unfair advantage. I disagree.

While sonar can show you the precise, real-time location of fish, trail cams can only reveal that deer have recently been in a particular area; hunters certainly don't receive a report stating that a mature, 10-point buck is bedded just ahead in a stand of conifers. Instead, these remote cameras simply expand your scouting capabilities, hopefully providing photographic evidence that a particular area is worth hunting.

But as all experienced deer hunters know, a photo is a far cry from venison in the freezer-all of the elements of the hunt remain in place, including the challenge of getting close enough for a clean shot. Still, there's no time like the present to start your own deer photo album.

The best reason to invest in a scouting camera is obvious: it can provide photos of the deer that live where you hunt. And few things can better motivate a hunter to head afield than a picture confirming the presence of a huge buck.

Nowadays, it's commonly known that some of the biggest bucks become more nocturnal as they mature. That means people rarely, if ever, see them. These are typically some of the most impressive bucks out there, and a photo revealing that one of these monsters actually exists is enough to convince any die-hard hunter to alter his strategy. (Hunting as hard as possible during the rut, when such a brute is likely to let its guard down to chase does in heat during the daylight hours, is one of the best strategies for these normally cautious bucks.)

Keep in mind that where you choose to set up your camera will determine what you're most likely to capture images of. I've discovered that active scrape sites are among the best places to hang a camera if you hope to collect photographic records of deer. And expect some surprises, whether it's a bear you didn't know lived in the area or a gnarly, heavy-beamed buck no one has ever seen before.

Such evidence also provides ample incentive to stay as long as possible on your stand in hopes of catching a glimpse of-and maybe even harvesting-an impressive animal. Remember, the more time spent afield, the better the chances of filling your tag. I can attest to this, as there are a couple of bucks now hanging on my wall that may not have ended up there had it not been for the graphic proof provided by trail cams.

Hot shots

Over the past several years, trail cameras have evolved at a rapid pace, becoming indispensable scouting tools for hunters wanting proof of what lurks in the woods. Some of today's most popular models take digital images, dispensing with the need for film. While these cameras may cost more at the outset, the savings on film and processing are worth it. With digital technology, you also get to see the images much faster-no more waiting for film to be developed to find out whether you've captured images of big bucks. If you're willing to spend big bucks, you can even get a camera that will e-mail the images directly to your home computer the moment they're taken. For those who worry that the camera flash will spook deer at night, meanwhile, you can now buy trail cams with infrared capabilities (something I'm still testing). And many models also include the option to record short video segments instead of still photos.

Who makes trail cameras? The following companies offer models designed specifically for hunters.

Bushnell: www.bushnell.com

CamTrakker: www.camtrakker.com

Cuddeback Digital: www.cuddebackdigital.com

DeerCam: www.deercam.com

Moultrie Feeders: www.moultriefeeders.com

North American Surveillance & Technologies:  www.trophycam.com

Recon Outdoors: www.reconoutdoors.com

Reconyx: www.reconyx.com

Stealth Cam: www.stealthcam.net