With the archery deer season rapidly approaching, many hunters are busy scouting for locations to hang their treestands, and one tool that's helping them keep tabs on the whitetails in their favorite hunting areas – even when they aren't there – is the trail camera.

Introduced just over a decade ago, the trail camera has quickly become a 'must-have' tool for hunters who want to keep an eye on the deer and other game frequenting their favorite hunting areas. While the first models actually required print film, today's cameras are digital, making them an easy and economical way for a person to capture and download thousands of photos before, during and after the hunting season.

Pennsylvania Game Commission Southeast Region Land Management Group Supervisor Dave Mitchell, an avid deer hunter who has been using trail cameras for 10-plus years, says he likes them because they allow him to learn more about the deer and other animals in the areas he hunts.

"I've killed several bucks that I've gotten trail camera pictures of but only one of them was killed at the location where I got its picture," says Mitchell. "I don't find them particularly helpful as far as (patterning deer). Mature bucks, especially, are very random. I just like to know the deer are still there.

"The other thing that's nice is knowing when they are moving during the daylight. A lot of times you may get a buck that's more active during the daytime so you know that's a deer you might be able to go after."

Like most outdoors products on the market, there are a wide variety of trail cameras from which to choose, with options to fit almost every budget. A person can pick up one for just over $100, or spend more than $650 for a high-end model that will email images to a computer or cell phone.

While he has used several different trail cams over the years, Mitchell has most recently been experimenting with the Bushnell Trophy Cam. He says he learned about the camera by visiting Trail Cam Pro (www.trailcampro.com), a website that offers reviews of the various cameras on the market.

With so many companies and choices available, a first-time buyer may feel a bit overwhelmed when trying to select the trail cam that's right for him or her. Most of today's models come with a wide variety of features including the ability to shoot video clips and a 'field scan' or 'plot watcher' mode that allows you to program the camera to take photos of the area you're monitoring at regular intervals, not just when triggered by an animal, which is a great option when watching a field or food plot.

Among the many factors a person may want to consider when purchasing a camera are the detection range, whether it comes with a built-in viewer and the options available for adjusting the flash mode and the device's detection sensitivity. One of the benefits of Trail Cam Pro is that it field tests all of the cameras it offers and includes comparisons of their trigger speeds, battery consumption and recovery time, the amount of time it takes for a camera to snap a photo, store the image to the memory card and reset for the next shot.

As far as setting up a trail cam in the field, it is a good idea to first check the device to make sure it works the way you hope. After installing the camera, make movements in front of it at various distances and locations to make sure the sensor is triggered and the camera will effectively cover the area you want to monitor. It's also important to make sure there are no branches, weeds or brush in the way that might set off the camera if they move in the wind.

"I'll check them once every week to two weeks to make sure the batteries aren't dead and it's functioning properly," Mitchell says. "During hunting season I keep them places where it's not obtrusive."