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Trail cameras are gaining popularity for Minnesota, North Dakota deer hunters

A deer is captured by a trail camera. Special to The Forum

Fargo - Doug Leier likes to compare a trail camera to a high-definition TV when he explains the increased use of the scouting tool in recent years.

It's all about price.

"Ten years ago a well-to-do hunter had one trail camera," said Leier, a biologist for North Dakota game and fish. "And now that guy has three or four of them that are sending in the photos to his email inbox. Anybody that wants a trail cam can basically afford it now."

North Dakota's firearms deer season opens at noon Friday. Minnesota's opens Saturday morning, a half hour before sunrise. North Dakota is projected to have 90,000 hunters out for the opener, Leier said. About 450,000 hunters are expected to take part in the Minnesota opener, said DNR big game program coordinator Lou Cornicelli.

Many of those hunters will be using information gathered off their trail cameras leading up to the opener.

"There is a couple ways to look at it," Cornicelli said. "It helps people when they scout areas. It also proves that there are good deer out there."

Al Messner, the archery shop manager at Scheels in Fargo, has seen the popularity of the cameras grow in the recent years.

"There's no question that trail cameras are a very booming part of the hunting industry," said Messner, who has hunted for more than 30 years. "We sell more and more trail cameras and accessories every year. It's becoming a bigger part of our business all the time."

That brings us back to the price. Messner said a hunter can purchase a trail camera for around $50 on the low end. His store also has trail cameras that cost nearly $600 at the high end. Messner said his top selling camera is priced around $130. Those prices have come down in the last few years or so, Messner said. Prior to that, an entry level camera would cost $200 or more, he said.

That price dip has made the trail cameras more accessible for hunters like Mat Sanders, from Fargo. Sanders said he's used a camera for about five years. He hunts near Fort Ransom, N.D.

"They give you an idea of patterns of the deer and size of the animal," said Sanders, who has hunted for more than 20 years. "You are hoping to catch some mature bucks on the cameras."

Jared Crane, also from Fargo, hunts around the Bismarck area. Crane has used a trail camera for around six years. He has multiple cameras set up where he hunts and uses them to help target a specific type of deer.

"I won't take one unless it's a bigger mature animal," Crane said. "I won't shoot anything that's not what I'm looking for. If I know he is not the biggest buck in there, it's easier to pass on him."

Part of the fun for Crane is checking his cameras leading up to the hunt to see the images that are captured. If he gets a picture of a big buck on a camera that he never sees in person, that doesn't frustrate him.

"Without the camera, I would never get to see them," Crane said. "It's not all about killing them for me. It's just seeing them and I keep those pictures. I've got pictures of some real beautiful deer over the years and that's special to me, too."

Messner is primarily a bow hunter and he uses eight cameras to scout out his hunting grounds. His approach is similar to Crane.

"I think it's more of an informational tool to help you be more selective as a hunter," Messner said. "If my goal is to hold out for the biggest deer, I know not to shoot the third biggest deer."

And while trail cameras can help when hunters hone in on activity patterns and find the type of deer they want to target, that doesn't necessarily mean they will increase a hunter's success rate.

"It doesn't shoot the arrow and it doesn't pull the trigger," Leier said. "It can, on the flip side, create a little more frustration, going, 'Man, I have been sitting on my tree stand every night for a week and a half and that 4x4 buck hasn't showed up when I've been sitting out there.' There's good and bad like everything else."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson's blog can be found at