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John Hollenhorst ReportingHave you ever wondered what animals are up to in the woods when we're not watching? Well, now we know. A new generation of gizmos is making it possible to spy on the critters, even as you relax at home in your easy chair.
When Scott Root, with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, hits the trail to shoot some animals, it's not with a gun this time; it's with something called a trail cam. He chains the camera to a tree, and then he can go away.
When the camera's motion detector senses movement, it snaps a shot. If you want, it will take another, and another, shot after shot, more pictures than you probably need. It's like Candid Camera for the critters.
Root says, "This is an opportunity to actually capture wildlife in a relaxed, natural state."
Capturing the secret life of wildlife started in the 1980's with nature photographers and biologists. A local favorite is putting the trail-cam at man-made watering stations known as guzzlers.
"And we wanted to know, are these being used, and if so, by how many species? And we've got just tons of photos that have given us a great idea of the value of a guzzler," Root says.
They've caught photos of unsuspecting birds, flying bats, scrambling squirrels, even a swimming bear.
"My favorite photo is of the bear cub that's just taking a bath in the little water trough of our guzzler," Root said.
In recent years hunters started using trail cams before hunting season to scout their future targets.
Root explains, "You get to see patterns of wildlife, and that increases your odds significantly of finding game."
One of the disadvantages is that you wind up with a lot of pictures you don't want, like some guy just blundering down the trail. Some of the fancier camera models will even transmit the picture so you can pick it up on your cell phone and look at it wherever you are.
So Bambi had better run, unless he's ready for a close-up.
Trail-cams are illegal in a designated wilderness. On public land you need permission from the appropriate agency. Trail-cams are easily stolen, so they're best used in places where animals are common and humans are rare.