SPRINGFIELD – Clyde Hutchinson was introduced to the trophy buck on his Greene County property by a third party – his trail camera.
In fact no one had ever seen the buck before it showed up for the first time in a trail camera photo in 2010.
Hutchinson nicknamed him "Flamethrower" because the buck's impressive antlers glowed like they were on fire in the infrared nighttime photograph.
"We were all after him at our camp, Taylor Creek," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson and a friend finally bagged Flamethrower on Nov. 9 by hiding in a log pile near where he had been captured on camera and his sheds had been found in the past.
More hunters – and nature enthusiasts – are turning to trail cameras to see the deer and other wildlife that come around when people aren't.
Sometimes the pictures can raise eyebrows.
This fall, four trail camera photographs were used to confirm sightings of a cougar (or cougars) in Illinois.
Dan Cline of Sidney missed a buck while archery hunting in early November, and the deer turned up on his trail camera the next day.
Cline said they called him "Pretty Boy" because he kept showing up on trial camera images.
Ten days later, Cline got a second chance.
Modern trail cameras are a big improvement on the old, improvised system where hunters used a piece of string pulled across a trail and connected to a timer to get a sense of when deer were active in the woods.
Today's trail cameras are smaller and more compact, thanks to the use of AA batteries that are gradually replacing larger, heavier C or D batteries.
New models also get the most out of their smaller power sources, stretching battery life to months. Some boast of batteries lasting up to one year.
And image quality keeps improving. Many models now capture more detailed still pictures and high-definition video. Some trail cameras record sound.
Others can provide a time-lapse look at a hunter's food plot or hunting area.
They also are reasonable in price, ranging from $100 to $500.
"There are a lot of good cameras for $150 out there," Hutchinson said.
Hunters often buy several lower priced cameras and place them strategically throughout the woods.
Put to good use
A trail camera gave Hutchinson his first glimpse of the elusive buck back in 2010.
"We found the sheds – I found one and the neighbor found the other," Hutchinson said. "That was the only picture we had of him, and we had never even seen him before."
Page 2 of 2 - No one saw the buck during the daylight until Hutchinson took a shot at him during bow season and again during firearm season.
It still took two tries, but Hutchinson finally had his prize, and last weekend entered it in the Field & Stream Illinois Deer & Turkey Expo's trophy deer contest, where it scored 195 3/8 inches. That's good enough for the Boone & Crockett Club record books.
Hutchinson said he thinks there is another big one out there.
"I've got five cameras out right now where another buck has been seen," he said.
To be sure of success, Hutchinson said he likes to place cameras at 45-degree angles to a game trail.
"I don't like to catch them dead on, looking straight at the camera," he said.
The angle gives the buck more time to be in the camera's field of view. If the camera is perpendicular to the trail you might have "a perfect picture of the trail and nothing of the buck."
A little extra time in the camera's view allows it to trigger while the animal is in range.
"If they are going to spend a couple of seconds within your field of view you don't need a fancy camera and spend 350 bucks," he said.
Chris Young is editor of Prairie State Outdoors, GateHouse News Service's outdoors and nature website. He can be reached at (217) 788-1528 or twitter.com/ChrisYoungPSO.