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 Post subject: Game Cameras and Their Possible Use in Field Research
PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 11:32 am 
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Written by Paul W

December 03, 2005

Since the late 1990s, the use of game cameras, or remote motion activated cameras, has skyrocketed in the hunting and wildlife research communities. Two primary reasons for this rapid growth are the ease of use and the quickly lowering cost of ownership of these cameras. You can now purchase simple 35mm cameras at most major sporting goods outlets or online for as little as $30 per unit, so the ability to place several in the field is now within reach of the masses.

This brings up the obvious notion of using them in field studies for Sasquatch research. This is not a new idea; it has been pursued for several years by some of the best in the business. To-date however, at least publicly, this endeavor has failed to produce any unquestionably clear photos of anything resembling a Sasquatch. This is not to say it has been a failure, as there have been several interesting photos taken, but nothing of an earthshaking nature.

The primary reason for this, I believe, is simply that the right camera has not yet been in the right place at the right time. It is a matter of numbers, and the more cameras placed intentionally for this subject, the more likely that success will follow. To-date, every known animal that has been targeted for capture on film with a game camera has been photographed. This includes such notables as the Asian Cheetah in Iran, the extremely rare Arizona Jaguar, and even the fascinating “giant chimps” of the Congo basin. There is no reason to think that Sasquatch cannot be similarly captured on film if they exist. I believe that eventual success will be due to a combination of greater numbers of cameras in the field, with placement in good locations.

This article will concentrate on the mechanics of arranging a good camera setup, and will also look at choosing a location, camera stealth, and setting up long-term field projects. With that in mind, let us take a look first at the pure mechanical aspects of game cameras, how they work, and their limitations.

The Mechanics of Remote Cameras

Game cameras work on the same basic principle as motion sensing yard lights; that is, they employ a passive infra-red light or heat sensor which is designed to detect a significant increase in ambient background levels of infra-red light and/or heat. Contrary to popular belief, the more common commercial versions do not employ any type of emitted or projected light, infra-red (hereafter referred to simply as “IR”) or otherwise. Thus, even if a subject were capable of seeing in the IR spectrum, it would not be possible for them to see the IR detector on a game camera, as no IR light is projected. Game cameras only detect changes in the ambient IR level, which generally occurs when some heat source, such as a warm-blooded animal, moves into the detection zone.

This method of detection has positive and negative aspects in field use. The major plus is that simple motion of objects such as wind-blown trees, brush, or even insects generally cannot set the camera off. There are, of course, always exceptions. It occasionally happens that sun-heated trees, or even bare spots on the ground heat up fast enough to trigger the IR sensor on the camera, and trip the shutter. If your camera tends to have a lot of empty daylight shots, particularly in the morning or evening, this is almost always the reason. The fix for this is relatively simple: Try as much as possible to never point the camera east or west, into the rising or setting sun. The best direction is north, but in sufficiently shaded woodlands, this is not as critical. Try to avoid placing the camera in a location or direction where it will be pointing out into an open sunny area, from a more shaded or dark area. This type of arrangement tends to create false trips of the shutter as the more open area is illuminated during the daylight hours.

The “false positive” is relatively rare, when the sun’s position is taken into consideration. Cameras using passive detection of heat sources have the obvious advantage of reducing the likelihood of this type of incident, but they have a disadvantage also: They only work at relatively limited distances. While detection range varies among the various brands, it is a safe assumption that most do not work very well beyond about 90 feet, and often much less than that. For this reason, it is important to try and place cameras in such a location or position as to take these limitations into consideration.

Another limiting factor for many cameras is the distance to which the flash will illuminate. While some have flashes capable of illuminating out to 100 feet or more, most are somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 feet. This limited distance must be taken into consideration when cameras are set, as it is typically about half of the distance that the IR detector works; thus, at times, you end up with something triggering the camera, yet nothing is seen in the photo because the subject is far enough away from the flash to be out of the illumination range. To avoid this, we must try to place the camera as close as possible to the location where you hope the subject will cross or enter — the closer the better, to a point. Failure to do this will result in a lot of empty night shots where it is apparent that something triggered the camera, but nothing is visible on the photo itself other than the background, of course.

Other factors that may affect the end results are the height and angle at which the camera is set, and any vegetation that might be present within the camera’s field of view. Most cameras have some type of test function to allow you to locate the detection zone of the IR sensor and set the camera accordingly. The height of the set can effect this zone, with the best results generally coming from cameras set at about 3-6 feet off the ground; this can, however, be altered to fit different needs or desired results.

Choosing a Location

With most subjects, such as deer and other more common animals, it is a relatively easy task to anticipate location and movement, and set cameras accordingly. Not so with rare — or, as in this case, undocumented — animals. Factor in our general lack of the subject’s habits, making it nearly impossible to anticipate activity, and it makes it all the more difficult to anticipate location. This is a likely reason that no photos have been forthcoming thus far, given the rarity of the subject, and the difficulty of choosing a camera location.

Camera location is obviously the single most important aspect of a successful program. Pick the right location, have an active camera there, and bingo…success! However, that’s been part of the problem to-date. Choosing that location relies on research, knowledge of the equipment and its limitations, and a good measure of gut feeling and guesswork.

Research should begin with choosing your location; you should have some indication that your subject might actually be in the general area. With Sasquatch, this is obviously the big question. Most of us have no way of knowing whether or not they are in an area, or that they even exist for sure, but if you are one of the lucky few who have had a sighting, or activity at a location you have access too, this is the best case scenario. If not, you are limited to choosing a location based on second hand reports, or just gut feeling…which, given the success rate to-date, may be just as effective!

Once you have chosen a general location, you need to pick a more specific spot to set your camera or cameras. This location will determine your “set;” in other words, the specific location and placement of the cameras. The best case would be to have a location with consistent activity, in a very small, localized area. Such a situation would occur with a target subject making frequent visits to a specific location, be it a natural one such as a food source, a river full of migrating salmon or a patch of wild berries, or a man made one such as a home, smoke house, shed or barn. If such a situation were found, then camera placement would be at least marginally easier. Simply arrange the camera or cameras where sightings are happening, or where tracks are being found, and place them close enough to overcome the aforementioned limitations. Unfortunately, to-date no claimed scenarios of this nature have proven to pan out, at least to the point of generating any solid, measurable evidence, photographic or otherwise.

Another more likely scenario is one of scattered but consistent sightings over a slightly larger area; an entire farm, several farms, a large swamp, or a stretch of river, for example. Camera placement in this case will require a bit more thought, and while the specifics of placement will be a bit less exact, the chance of finding this type of situation is much greater. This situation, ideally, would employ a number of cameras. Classic locations such as bottlenecks, travel routes, food sources (crop fields and orchards for instance), river crossings, and downed fences can be targeted. If several sightings have occurred, or other evidence has been found in a specific location, a “picket line” of cameras can be deployed. This may well represent the best chance of success. The set is simple: arrange a line of cameras so that the detection field of one covers the area up to the next camera. This can be continued in a line, with as many cameras as are available or required to cover the area in question. The end result is that anything crossing the line of cameras will trigger at least one of them. If tracks, sightings, or other evidence have been found in a fairly localized area such as tracks along a particular section of river or lake shore, or several sightings along a stretch of road or field edge, then a picket line of game cameras covering the area should eventually result in capturing something on film. It is my belief that this scenario is the one most likely to result in success. It employs not only multiple cameras, and thus a larger coverage area, but also “locks in” an area with total coverage…and if an area is found to be hosting numbers of sightings, it is likely that cameras arranged in an array will be the most likely to successfully capture an image.

Individual camera placement in such a situation will be determined by simply setting the first camera in the line, then setting each following one at a point within the detection zone of the previous one. Single sets should be placed at locations such as downed fences, breaks in cover, field corners, river crossing points, or even along remote trails or roadways.

Baiting and Attracting

Another method in attempting to capture a Sasquatch on film would be to appeal to its assumed natural sense of curiosity. There have been many reports of encounters at camp sites and other gatherings. It is possible that a camera simply set at the edge of a campsite, or on a trail or similar location leading to one, might get lucky and capture something coming in to check out all the noise. One advantage of this type of set-up is that stealth, at least for the most part, seems not to be of any particular importance. Indeed, a camp full of kids, music and other interesting sounds, may well attract the attention of a curious animal. A camera or two placed along the perimeter may just be the one to capture a sasquatch on film, and placing bait nearby may increase the chance of success.

Food is the most obvious bait, and perhaps the most fraught with possible problems. First, we have no idea for sure what these animals prefer to eat. Their diet may well be regional in nature, and what may be attractive in one location or season may not be in another. Also, when leaving bait of any type, but particularly food, the chance of leaving lingering human scent is very great. As to the type of food to use, that will be as much guesswork as anything. I personally think that natural raw foods would be best — fruits and meats as opposed to manufactured, processed foods — but this is admittedly pure guesswork. If food is to be used as bait, it is imperative that caution is taken to leave NO human odor on it. This may make no difference at all, but it’s easy enough to accomplish, so why not make the minor effort? Use latex gloves when handling food, wash all food in clean water and baking soda prior to use, and rinse completely. This will eliminate human odor, which can do nothing but improve your chances of success. Food baits should, if possible, be placed in as natural a setting as possible. If apples are used for example, in an area with apple trees, put them near the tree. Bait should also be placed in such a manner as to try to reduce the chance of non-target animals being attracted. If feasible, place bait off the ground, for instance. Cameras should be placed within 10-20 feet of the bait, and should be thoroughly hidden if at all possible. Methods for doing this will be addressed later in the Stealth section.

Another type of bait to consider is “trinkets.” This is a controversial subject, but one that has been used in other primate studies with some good results. The basic idea is to appeal to the curiosity of the subject. I think most will agree that if sasquatch do exist, they are likely relatively intelligent, and like all great apes, possess a strong sense of curiosity. Many alleged sightings and encounters touch on this possibility, and capitalizing on it may be a viable method of baiting. This may be a method best saved for use around human activity, such as homesteads, camp locations, or areas with frequent sighting reports. The method is really very simple: Put something in front of a camera that may make an animal with at least great ape intelligence curious. This could be nearly anything; a ball, bells, something shiny, something colorful, something that could be used as a tool. In this case, it’s pretty much up to the imagination. As stated earlier, the location for a set using this method would almost certainly be dependent on previous activity, as an animal willing to investigate a human location or habitation may be also be willing to take a look at something pretty and shiny sitting out in an obvious location.

Hiding Your Camera, or, Putting the ‘Stealth’ in Stealth Cam

In almost all situations, camera stealth is something to be considered. While I do not for a moment believe that the subjects we are discussing know what cameras are or what they do, it’s entirely possible that a camera placed in the open, and obviously visible, would be recognized as something out of the ordinary, and thus avoided.

One of the more debated questions in camera use is: Do they scare the Sasquatch away? This is an area fraught with controversy. Some people think that they may know what a camera is, and thus avoid them. Others think that cameras are totally out of their sphere of knowledge, and would be completely ignored. My own feelings tend to fall between these extremes.

First of all, I do not think that Sasquatch could possibly know what a camera is, or what it does. It is not even a question of intelligence; it is a question of culture. Even IF we assume a near-human level of intelligence, a creature such as this would still have to have had the cultural experience of, and exposure to, cameras and human civilization to know what they are. For example, take a citizen of ancient Rome: Intelligent, from a relatively highly educated civilization. That person would, for all of that intelligence and culture, have no idea what a camera was if it was placed in front of them, because they would have had no exposure to or knowledge of them from their own cultural experience. It’s the same with Sasquatch. Even if they do have near human-level intelligence, they will have no idea what a camera actually is. If a camera is hanging on a tree in full view, they may well see it as something out of the ordinary, but they do not know what it does, or why it’s there.


This does not mean that it isn’t important to hide cameras anyway! The reason is simple: If something out of the ordinarily suddenly shows up on your kitchen table you will notice it. The same idea applies here. If suddenly, some obviously different thing shows up hanging from a tree, an intelligent ape may well shy away if it notices it. This is the reason that stealth may well be a good idea in camera use. I have had even relatively “dumb” animals, such as deer and wolves, notice a camera. Do they know what it is? No, but they did know that it was something different, and it caught their attention. This tells me that it is possible for our subject to do the same. Now, in a situation where they are coming in to a human location anyway, it may not matter if a camera is there or not, for example the camp location mentioned previously. But if cameras are being placed in the wild to try to capture a photo by sheer luck, it would make good sense to try to make the cameras as “invisible” as possible. After all, if a bear can notice a camera and avoid it as an unnatural object, more than likely so could a Sasquatch.

Camera stealth falls into 3 areas: Visual(most important, in my opinion), olfactory, and audio.

Visual Stealth

Here is a photo of one of my cameras after I have camouflaged it.

File comment: This wolf seems to be aware of the camera.
image006.jpg [ 24.91 KiB | Viewed 935 times ]

The bottom line is, if the camera looks out of place, it is. Does this mean it won’t work? Not at all. To-date, even I have not practiced the level of visual stealth I feel may be needed. However, it is not difficult to hide something as small as a camera, or at least make it less noticeable, so I feel it is a reasonable precaution to take. The most basic method would be simply camouflaging the color of the camera housing. Cameras can be purchased in camo color now, and can even be covered with camo tape, or painted. Beyond basic camo, you can take the additional step of breaking up the square outline of the camera using strips of burlap or other material. This makes the camera look like nothing more than a clump of leaves, and if placed in relation to other vegetation, nearly invisible. One could also go beyond even these methods, and employ such ideas as a false cover made of wood or bark, and wire mesh covered in leaves which could be molded to any shape and make a camera literally invisible if sufficient time is taken in setting it up. One could use bark from the tree chosen to place the camera on (with permission of the landowner, of course) to completely mask the camera, and have it seemingly become part of the tree it is on. Not only might this help keep it from being noticed by the subject, but it may well save you having a camera stolen by other people who may come across it.

Another method of hiding the camera may be to place it very high in a tree, but pointed down, thus out of the normal visual range of most subjects, or to have it at ground level and nearly covered in vegetation. This, however, opens up the possibility of getting a lot of false-positives if small forest animals wander by, but it is a very good method of rendering cameras nearly invisible. Visual stealth is easy, and while the need for it may be in question, it is certainly better to err on the side of caution.

Olfactory Stealth

The second consideration in hiding your camera is disguising its scent. I feel this is likely less important than visual camouflage, but by no means something to be ignored. It is also the easiest problem to deal with. All of the known great apes have a sense of smell not terribly dissimilar to humans. If Sasquatch is then similar also, then olfactory stealth is likely a moot point. However, since we do not yet know the level of olfactory acuteness of the subject, again it is not a bad idea to err on the side of caution and assume a more highly developed sense of smell in the Sasquatch. Animals such as canines, bear and deer, all with a very good sense of smell, have been proven to be able to detect cameras that are totally hidden. Bear in particular are known for this, and often will destroy cameras, presumably due to the smell of the minute amount of gelatin contained in the film inside. This is not to say that an alleged North American ape, even a very smart one, would have this ability; but since we don’t know, why not just take the simple precaution? And simple it is, thanks to the advent of scent elimination technology, driven primarily by the hunting industry.

Over the last decade, a number of scent-killer sprays have come onto the market, and they all work very well. The use of them could not be easier. Simply start by washing the camera with cold water and a non-scented mild soap, making sure the camera is fully closed. Cameras are waterproof, so this is not a problem. Dry with paper towel, then spray the camera heavily with a commercial scent-killer spray which is available at any hunting store. Without touching it, allow it to air dry. From this point on, handle only with latex gloves. After drying, and with gloves on, place each camera in a large Ziploc bag, seal it, and that’s it! When handling or loading film, use latex gloves if possible. Keep the camera in the Ziploc bag until it’s ready to be set. Keep a bottle of scent killer handy, and spray the camera again after it is set up. If the camera is visually camouflaged as discussed previously, make sure to spray the material used as camoflauge, as well as the entire set, as a last-minute tactic after it is set in place.

It is also important to minimize the human odor you leave in the area while setting up the cameras. The methods of doing this are varied, but basically, if possible, always wear latex gloves and knee high rubber boots. If possible, shower just before going out to set the cameras, and wear fresh, laundered clothes with no perfumed or scented detergents or fabric softener. If you really want to go all out, you can purchase a scent-loc garment from a hunting store. This is a purpose-made item used by hunters which traps and stops all or most human odor. It is expensive, and may well not be needed, but if you really want to leave no remnant of human odor in the area you are working, it helps greatly. Avoid brushing or touching any vegetation as much as you can, particularly with bare skin. Again, gloves really help here. Doing all of the above, while tedious, will pretty much assure that there is not enough human scent to alert even a deer or bear to your presence, and if you combine those techniques with good visual stealth of the cameras, they can become practically invisible.

Auditory Stealth

There has been some speculation that it may be possible for some animals to hear the very high frequency whine given out by the flash prime of some cameras. Recently, experiments I have done using remote cameras seem to support this notion. What appears to be happening is that when the I.R. sensor in a remote camera detects a heat source, there is a slight lag between the time of detection, and the instant that the camera trips. During this time, the flash primes if the lighting situation requires it, which gives off a slight, relatively high-pitched sound. This can be heard by most humans to a distance of perhaps a few feet.

My personal take on this is that even the very acute hearing of bear, deer and wolf likely cannot detect this sound beyond about 10-15 feet. The reason for this speculation is that in no case have I had any of the above animals appear to react to the camera before the first photo is taken, at any distance beyond this. However, I have had wolves, bear and deer seem to detect the camera on occasion inside of this particular distance before the first photo snaps, as evidenced by the fact that in the photos, they are looking directly at the camera.

image004.jpg [ 23.42 KiB | Viewed 935 times ]

The most likely scenario to explain this is that the wolf in the above photo, taken by a stealth camera in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by the author, heard the flash prime in the second or two prior to the shutter. The wolf had just enough time to turn and look at the sound source. This brings up a major point bearing on this subject; the time frame indicated here between the initial detection and the trigger of the shutter did not even allow such a hair-trigger animal as a wild wolf to react and move out of camera range. So even IF it is possible for a Sasquatch to hear this sound and thus detect the camera, the chance of it being able to move out of the shot is minimal. Indeed, without previously being exposed to a camera, a Sasquatch would not have any idea what the result of the sound would be. The natural reaction of any animal when exposed to a new sound or experience is to freeze for a moment before fleeing to determine what it is or where it’s coming from. Thus, even if detection is possible, it is unlikely to result in a ruined opportunity. It is more likely to result in an almost perfect portrait, as in the wolf photo above.

Having said all of this, it is still possible to mitigate even the very slight chance of detection. The easiest method of doing so would be to simply line the inside of the camera housing with a foam sound dampener. This is simply a thin layer of closed cell foam, available at most stores dealing in music recording equipment. While like the scent idea it may well be moot, it’s something to consider trying if you have the inclination. This foam has been shown to greatly reduce the amount of ambient sound given off by electronics, and thus may be applicable here to some degree.

Film Versus Digital

Finally, a brief overview of film vs. digital game cameras. There has been a great deal of discussion as to which is superior for use as proof, should a sasquatch actually be captured on a camera. Personally, I don’t think it matters a great deal, as no photo will be truly accepted as proof to anyone other than the person who takes it. However, film does have the advantage of having a negative, which can be studied and used to make duplicates, and can be used to ascertain the legitimacy of the photo, if not the subject in the photo. The disadvantage of film is its cost over time, and the need to have it processed, which occasionally goes wrong and results in ruined film. Can you imagine how you would feel if you got something on your camera, particularly this — a suspected Sasquatch, and the film was ruined by an incompetent clerk?!

Digitals have the obvious advantage of having no film cost. Also, the number of photos that can be taken on a media card is much greater than a roll of film, and the likelihood of ruining a photo is minimal as compared to film. Digital cameras are also much quieter than film, use batteries much more efficiently over time, and can be left in the field for longer amounts of time. Their major disadvantage is the unit cost of digital cameras, which can range from $100 to several hundred dollars per unit. Initial cost per unit for inexpensive film cameras has now dropped to as little as $30 per camera, thus 3 or 4 film cameras can be deployed for the cost of a single digital. Over time, however, the cost will even out due to processing charges. My belief is that if you can afford it, digital will be the way to go, but for the ability to deploy numbers of cheap cameras, and to have a negative, film still has the advantage. I believe the single most important factor in camera use is numbers — getting sufficient cameras into the field, in areas with at least an indication of activity, therefore film in this case still leads the way.

In Conclusion

To-date, no one has been successful in capturing a sasquatch on a remote game camera…at least, no one who is talking. One thing we all need to consider is this: It may be that there is simply no subject to capture. However, it is my belief that there is sufficient evidence out there which strongly indicates that there is a subject to be captured, and that it is only a matter of time before that happens. If you want to try to capture the subject on film, I hope this has been of use to you. If you would like more assistance, please contact us via this website, and specify the nature of your request. We will be happy to get someone in touch with you who is familiar with all of the above methods. While photographs will never prove anything conclusively, a good clear photo may at least prove to you that sasquatch are real, and who knows…it may be the thing that kick-starts serious inquiry into the subject.

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This forum will sometimes contain copyrighted information, however, it is placed here under Title 17

Not withstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.