In the autumn of 1985, Dean Reidt, a bow hunter, was waiting along a deer trail wondering what deer hunters have wondered for generations: How many deer have used this trail , he wondered, when he wasn't here?
In Reidt's case, he'd spend all day in a treestand next to a buck scrape and see nothing. The next day he'd see evidence the buck had revisited the scrape. Wouldn't it be fun to know when?
But how can a bowhunter be in two places at once in the woods and at home?
Reidt began tinkering with an idea. A 3M engineer who specializes in dental products, Reidt placed a digital clock inside a box that could be attached to a tree. He added a string to place across the deer trail and tied the string to a switch closer connected to the clock.
"What I did was turn a digital clock into a stop watch. When a deer hit the string, the clock would stop," Reidt, 56, recalled the other day.
"So then I knew what time the deer came through and from which direction."
Reidt called his invention the Trail Timer.
Months later, Reidt found himself in the trail-timing business, although that wasn't his intent.
"I was making them in my basement for friends," he said.
His first order was for 12,000 Trail Timers. Today, Reidt is recognized as a pioneer in what has become a growing trail-camera business. Instead of a string as evidence of their presence, deer and other wildlife are leaving their pictures as they mosey down a trail.
In 1988, Reidt said he initially designed an infrared monitor into a device that pushed the shutter button on a 35 mm camera.
"When the animal walks through the infrared beam, the shutter was pushed," he explained.
Dozens of models, including Reidt's Photo Hunter and EZ-Cam, are now on the market.
Most trail cameras utilize infrared technology and 35 mm cameras enclosed in waterproof cases to monitor game trail activities. Prices vary from roughly $150 to $300.
Models with digital cameras also are being introduced ranging from $200 to $600.
Reidt said his St. Paul company is working on a digital model but the new product doesn't have a name just yet
"Down the road, I think you'll see trail cameras with wireless transmissions," Reidt said.
Clearly, the idea of seeing what you're missing in the woods is fascinating. But is such information also an unfair advantage?
Some hunters are debating the point, but Reidt contends the pictures are fun to see but offer no advantage that jeopardizes a fair-chase hunt.
"You still have to put in your time in the woods; you still have to shoot," Reidt said. "It may not improve your success but it all adds a new element of excitement to the hunt."
Indeed, the pictures are entertaining and informative, akin to checking tracks in the snow.
This fall a trail camera near my deer stand provided a few fascinating pictures, including the photo of a giant buck that I had killed the day before the film was developed.
Plus, holy trophy, there was a picture of an even larger whitetail still out there somewhere.
Also fun was the tight shot of an inquisitive black bear who stuck his nose into the camera lens as the flash went off.
Reidt said he's seen pictures of just about every critter coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, pine martens and so forth.
"The neatest picture I've seen is a jackrabbit in full stride," Reidt said.
However, he said, the camera didn't record who was chasing the jackrabbit.
Contact Trail Timer Game Monitors at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 738-0925.
Ron Schara may be reached at email@example.com.
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