Hunting season is upon us, and I'd like to review a piece of gear I used heavily last year that directly led to a successful harvest. I'm talking about trailcams, short for Trail Cameras but also known as Game Cams. First off, I'd like to say I am amazed at the technological leap these cameras have made in the last ten years. Not only the resolution, but the features they manage to cram into these cameras is incredible. Most of them are better quality than my actual camera, let alone a high end camera phone. The Bushnell TrophyCam HD Aggressor is no exception, and I've got the pictures to prove it!
The trail camera market is really competitive, with dozens of brands popping up in the last 5 years. I ended up picked up the Bushnell TrophyCam HD Aggressor, only after trying a Stealth Cam G series and breaking the plastic latch on the door the first day. I wasn't completely satisfied with the image quality either, so I promptly returned it and opted to give the Bushnell a try. The Aggressor caught some good shots of my buck, as well as plenty of does and fawns, and even a few coyotes
Why use a trail camera?
An old hunter once told me "If you want a big buck, you've got to put time in the field. You won't make that payday if you don't punch the time clock." While there are those guys who are in the right place at the right time, and end up bagging a monster within a hundred yards of where they parked their truck, that just isn't me. Not because of pride or self-righteousness... but because I'm just not that lucky. To me, hunting is a lot like fishing: you really have to be in the right place at the right time to catch something with quality and maturity. However there are quite a few tools and techniques to improve your odds and help you position yourself in the right moment with the right equipment to seal the deal. There's nothing dirty about it, the cameras can't shoot and dress the game themselves... the user still has to put the effort in.
The advantages game cameras offer are huge. Obviously getting to see what animals are in the area is the main benefit, but the data you get from the camera really helps you get quickly dialed into that location. Not only can you see the number of bucks in the area and the points/size of the animal, but you get a timestamp every time they trip the camera. You should start to see a pattern of when that particular animal is moving down that trail, what direction they're coming from, and what direction are they going. If you strap the camera to one tree and only checking the footage weekly, your results will be extremely limited unless you found the honeyhole on the first try. I moved the camera around every 4-5 days until I started to catch antlers on screen, often times using it to be in two places at once, while I sat on a trail in a treestand while the camera kept an eye on another possible route.
What I've found is that deer can be just as unpredictable as they can be predictable. Meaning there are times when a buck's routine shifts, and unless you are out every minute of the day to witness and document that behavior, stumbling across a bruiser on opening day is really a stroke of pure luck. All bucks go into the rut during certain known times of the year, but sometimes blacktails can also switch to a nocturnal mode in which their movement patterns shift until after legal shooting hours ended, and you'll never see them again til after the seasons over.
My 2015 Hunt
The little wooded oasis I hunt isn't huge, but most years it becomes a highway for lots of blacktail bucks in the area to cross around. Most aren't legal, some just barely legal and very few are 3-4 years old and stand out from the rest. After being clearcut and allowed to regrow just a few years ago, it has become ideal habitat for browsing, with no pressure from predators or other hunters. The issue is that the bucks don't show up until about mid-month, leaving a short window until the season ends a couple weeks later. With the wrong combination of weather and lunar cycle, the bucks often come out later and later until they're only active at night. I know this, because I would stake out a few well used game trails until after dusk with no activity, only to return and see prints, scrapes, and droppings the next morning.
Using the Aggressor, I was able figure out which trail was more frequently used by a deer, and I knew when the bucks had started to arrive in the area and about what hour of the day. I was currently working at a Cabela's about 40 minutes away from the hunting spot at the time, and the buck on my radar was consistently making his rounds around 6:00PM. I would get off at 5:30PM, and by the time I'd get to the spot he was already there and gone. The day before the season ended, I got off at 5, raced home and was able to get setup where he walked right to me. Game over!
The Bushnell TrophyCam Aggressor performed best at night, when the contrast of the dark background and the IR flash reflecting off the animals makes for crisp shapes. It does come in Low-Glow and No-Glow models. The difference is pretty nominal, some animals may see the low glow and shy away from the camera, and bugs like moths will see the glow and tend to be drawn toward it, triggering the camera. I didn't want to skimp on brightness of flash so I went with the Low-Glow model.
During the day I found the brightness and contrast to be okay, but not as great as I would have liked. I did have to tweak the settings to get a good balance of night time flash without blowing out the animals in white, as well as adjusting the sensitivity so a branch moving in the wind didn't set off a bunch of shots and waste battery and memory. Being in Washington State, it got rained on consistently, and was exposed to freezing temperatures every night and warm sun during the day. They say in my state: "If you don't like the weather, just wait an hour." Fortunately this Trailcam is robust enough to survive those conditions.
Several reviews on the Aggressor complain about the picture quality during pre-dawn and pre-dusk where images appear dark during day to night transition under certain lighting conditions (cloud cover). Bushnell has a firmware update to fix the issue and improve performance at all levels during this critical time for trail cams to perform. Please encourage users to follow the link below to find out if they require this update. Click here to download firmware update.
The conditions the camera sucked at was fog or mist. Even in the hours before dawn, the flash just bounces off the moisture in the air and makes everything blown out. I had set the NV flash level down to medium/normal, and left it there the rest of the season. The menu is easy enough to use on the Aggressor's backlit LED screen. You can also choose between photos only, video only, or "Hybrid Capture" mode where a it snaps a full res photo quickly followed by a video.
I didn't use the Field Scan 2X mode much, because the trails I set the camera on were pretty close quarters. Field Scan mode is a mode where you preset 2 time slots during the day for the camera to capture time lapse images as well as trigger-activated images, presumably at dawn and dusk when deer are most active.
The advertised fast trigger speed is as promised. The camera can freeze birds in mid flight. The sensitivity and interval between shots can be adjusted to avoid repeated shots of grass and branches swaying in the wind, which I did end up doing after the first night of footage filling up a 2GB card. The delay settings are pretty useful, letting you stall the camera between 1-60 seconds between each shot, and then 1 min intervals above that. At its fastest setting it can snap 2-3 pictures in under 5 seconds. Most cameras under $200 don't have that customizability in shutter delay.
Overall, I have been pleased with the Aggressor having only forked over $150 after using some discount codes at Bass Pro Shops. While it lacks the convenience of a picture viewer and wireless capabilities, it was an excellent choice for a first camera and I look forward to putting in out in the field again this year.
FIREARMS INSIDER REVIEWS - 8 KEY POINTS
CLAIM TO FAME:
The Trophy Cam HD Aggressor's are exactly what hunters have been waiting for.
FNBS (FEATURES & BENEFITS OF THIS PRODUCT):
14 Megapixel Resolution
Video Length:Up to 60s w/ audio
SD Card Capacity: 32 GB
Field Scan 2X
Freeze Frame anti-blur setting for the NV shutter
Hybrid Capture Mode
IR Sensor: Low/Med/High/Auto
Low Glow LEDs for invisible infrared flash
B&W Text LCD Display
Powered by AA batteries (4-8)
Battery Life:Up to 1 Year
Includes adjustable web belt
1/4-20 threaded socket for installation on mounts or tripods.
WHAT OTHER AESTHETIC OPTIONS OR FINISHES ARE AVAILABLE?
Solid Dark Green, or Camo Dipped for extra $$$
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING?:
"I am sorry that another reviewer had a bad camera/experience. My 14MP Aggressor has worked very well. I have had mine running for about a week. I have it in my back yard, centered on a set of bird feeders. I want to check out the night visitors. So far during the day it has taken excellent color pictures and videos (with sound) and excellent black and white pictures and videos at night (with sound- you can hear the tree frogs chirping). At night it picked up a small rabbit that came into the field of view (FOV) at 25 feet, and two different raccoons at the same range. It also picked up my wife at night at about 40 feet as she entered the FOV. I have uploaded 4 pics, 2 day (note how small the targets were that triggered it) and 2 night. Since it is hot out, I have it on High sensitivity and Medium shutter speed. I like the embedded moon phase, temp, date and time. It also embeds lat/long, but that is not printed on the picture. Once I understood the set-up instructions, it was easy to get going and is now very easy to change the “parameters.” I like it so much that I have ordered a second one to monitor the entrance to the back of house that has its motion-sensor light go off occasionally. I appreciate that the camera can be set to take pictures in the day or night or both. I have it installed in a camlockbox mounted to a tree using a camlockbox heavy duty universal swivel bracket secured with a Master Lock Python. The combination works well for me. Some of my pictures were a little blurry after a hard rainstorm. They were OK after another rain. I have since installed a camlockbox rain hat which has good reviews." B. Hart, Amazon User
LINK TO OTHER REVIEWS:
(MSRP versus actual retail)
MSRP = $179.99 solid color, $199.99 for RealTree Xtra camo
Retail = $149.01 Amazon
I NEED IT NOW! AVAILABILITY:
- Latch is rigid and large
- External power compatible
- Gasket seals out moisture
- Crispness and brightness of Night photos are fantastic
- Shutter speed is as fast as Bushnell claims
- Sensitivity and Delay settings to maximize efficiency
- Batteries are exposed when retrieving the SD card / changing settings
- The wide angle screen mode cuts off about 40% of the vertical picture of a full screen, and the full screen picture mode has all of the horizontal info of the "wide screen picture." So what's the point?
- 80ft sensor range is more like 30 ft at night.
- Pre-dawn and pre-dusk times suffer from confused flash (get the firmware update)
- Lock and cable loops are plastic and thin
- Would be great to select variable flash brightness for daytime vs night