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November 4, 2010

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

Okay, I'll admit it... I'm a tech guy. Well, let me clarify that - I'm a person who knows very little about all of the new technologies available to us, but definitely still enjoy my toys. My new cell phone is a prime example. I got one of those Droid phones from Scott's Cellular and I love it. Funny thing is, when I talk to other people who have them, I realize I'm only scratching the surface of what I can do with the new technology.

I'm sure the same thing can be said about my latest addition to my hunting gear. I recently purchased a new PlotWatcher trail camera system from Bange's Gun Shop in Memphis.

So what makes this new system different from all the rest?

PlotWatcher is a time-lapsed high definition video camera. Makers Day 6 Outdoors also include a unique software package called GameFinder that offers plenty of interesting options for hunters.

But back to the camera. While lots of trail cameras now offer video options, what makes the PlotWatcher special is the wide angle recording area, which the company claims will allow us to watch 10 times more area than a traditional trail camera.

While I discovered this depends on placement, I would have to agree that PlotWatcher definitely expands the recording area, allowing hunters to watch more ground.

The machine is very customizable as well, offering settings for recording every three, five, 10 or 30 seconds. You can also easily program start and stop times with a built in option for a midday skip period, when deer traditionally are not moving.

My wife set ours up to run for five hours in the morning, with a three-hour midday skip before it resumes recording images until dark.

Yup, that's another difference between the PlotWatcher and trail cameras, there is no infrared, meaning no after hours shots on the PlotWatcher.

But what you need to realize is PlotWatcher is built to be a tool to allow hunters "to stop guessing where to hunt." It's not made to provide you with poster-quality pictures of your deer, but it will help you put the real thing on the wall.

While most trail cameras are used simply to record images of deer to allow hunters to know what's out there, PlotWatcher is meant to target potential hunting locations to allow the wide angle recording to provide specific information on game activity as far as how and where deer are entering the location.

It ultimately is meant to allow the hunter to better prepare a strategy on how to hunt a particular area, as far as where to place stands, and where to watch for the activity.

To me this is an ideal tool for archery hunters, as deer are far more patternable before and after the rut, which is traditional bow hunting times. That's not to say PlotWatcher is useless during rifle season, but we all know the rut makes deer far more unpredictable. I guess one would want to focus more on the doe patterns during this time.

While the camera is obviously the key component in this purchase, that cannot take anything away from the GameFinder software that comes with the purchase.

For those of us used to mouse clicking our way through hundreds and hundreds of still images, GameFinder is a welcome relief.

You simply press play and watch the time-lapsed video (still shots taken at your determined time interval). In a hurry? Well, simply choose to view in 2x speed, or 3x speed or even faster.

Don't have time for that? GameFinder has a built in search mode, that scans your video for deer images. Okay, this function isn't perfect, but it is a neat tool that speeds up the video view if you have several days to try to look through.

The function is customizable, allowing you to set the motion search sensitivity. At a high setting, the search will pull up images of moving grass, clouds, etc, so dependent upon the backgrounds of your video, it may need to be turned down to medium or even low to fully appreciate the search mode. Another neat feature is the ability to set the region for the program to search.

For example, in one set of video my PlotWatcher took, a high sensitivity setting was picking up cloud movement in the sky and weed motion adjacent to the camera. That can easily be eliminated by removing the sky area above the trail as well as the troublesome area nearest the camera. It's sort of like cropping a photo, you just cut those areas out of the searchable region, dramatically improving the results of the function.

Another neat feature of the search is a special marking system on the video status bar. As the play area moves across this time line, a special mark is placed each time the search identifies a deer. So once you have searched the entire file, you can easily go back to each of these found deer for further review.

Day 6 Outdoors appears to have found a winner. While I'm not an official field tester, if they are listening, I'd suggest providing at least one or two more sections for the pole stand for the camera, as we found the existing stand is a little too short for some areas we'd like to scout.

Buyers also will have to pay a little more than a normal trail camera, as the PlotWatcher retails for somewhere around $225, which isn't out of line for the higher-end game finders. One final note, the PlotWatcher runs on 4 AA batteries and uses 4GB or 8GB USB storage devices, not the traditional camera cards. I found those both to be pluses.