Can You See Me Now? – Cuddeback Cell Camera Review
There are very few instances when I like to see technology seep into nature, but when it comes to game cameras, I welcome it—kind of. Over the past few years, hunters have seen the rise of cellular game cams and for good reason. First, it is almost like Christmas to a hunter when great pictures appear in our email, app, or text messages. Next, it allows you manage game from afar and limits our scent in hunting areas. Finally, it allows you to pattern game in almost real time. So, why the hesitation?
Well, generally speaking, the best game does not hang out where there is cell service. Thus, my two-year-long battle, one failed season, an eternity of customer service calls, and enough purchases and subsequent returns to frustrate even St. Hubertus, the patron saint of hunting.
This all began when Hook & Barrel began leasing its now infamous testing grounds. We are located in the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, near Honobia, Oklahoma, in the heart of where the locals swear Bigfoot lives. It’s easy for you to find—pick up any cellular provider’s map of service. You’ll notice a dead zone in the region—that’s us. It is mountainous with sharp elevation changes, over-grown with vegetation, and as remote as it gets, outside of the Rockies or Alaska. We should have known better, but we decided to try several brands of cell cams—all failed. And by failed, I mean epic disaster. Guess it’s like they say, “You can tell a Texan, but you can’t tell him much.”
I had all but given up on my hopes and dreams of consistent game images populating on my phone when I came upon some good luck. There is one spot, on the very top of a mountain, that when the wind blows just right, gets a bar or two of service. Conveniently, it is also a great spot to hunt.
There we staked our claim: one tree, with a booster antenna run 25 feet up into the branches, and reaped the reward of a season of pictures rolling in. Naturally, we became greedy and wanted more locations to work, so again, the cycle of insanity repeated. And again, we failed. But if there is one thing you absolutely can’t tell a Texan, it’s “It’s impossible.” After the season, I stewed on the problem. I built antennas that the military would approve of, scoured Google Earth for similar terrains on the lease, and even stalked cell cam companies at hunting expos from Fort Worth, Texas, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with one singular objective: figure out a solution for more working cameras.
Enter Cuddeback Digital Cameras. The CuddeLink system was designed to communicate with a proprietary wireless mesh network of radio frequencies, not Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The cameras transmit images from up to 24 remote cameras to one home image collection camera. The distances they can communicate does range based on several factors but generally, as advertised, camera to camera, range is up to a quarter mile in dense forest and much further in open terrain. But here’s the key, the new CuddeLink Cell camera (Cuddeback Model K, $200), utilizing AT&T or Verizon towers (you don’t need to have either of these services for your cell phone, the camera just needs access to their network).
This was a game changer and should be for you too if you are struggling with a similar situation and/or just looking for a stable and reliable camera system. Here’s how it works: The CuddeLink network of cameras send their images to one home collection device that is equipped with a cellular modem. This cell device collects and sends the images from all the remote cameras. So instead of worrying about multiple cameras having cell service, all you have to worry is about one. Naturally, we placed the home CuddeLink cellular camera on our one tree that had service we discovered the year prior—and voila, we have six cameras all sending images reliably. To make things even better, the Cuddeback system of cameras automatically daisy chain to extend range to miles from the home camera and transmit via the path of least resistance. So even if one cam goes down, the system will redirect the transmission to find the home cell cam.
With the home cell camera secured and locked in a CuddeSafe ($35; I would suggest these for any remote hunting areas to protect from theft or in our case, theft and bears), we fanned out happily setting up our new hunting locations. A pro tip here would be, once you install your home camera, activate the next camera at the camera you just deployed. It will link up via radio. Then, simply walk to the next area keeping an eye on the radio connection and so on as you set up the entire network. Think of it like testing walkie-talkies. The connection level ranges from 99 to 1 (99 being the best). The system will function on even a level one (though not recommended)—it just has to stay at one or higher.
Our first set up was a half mile away from the home camera and up and over a very steep hill. The signal dropped off though, leaving us in a location that was not a known hunting area. We were concerned about this first link going the distance given the terrain, and actually were surprised how far the camera did work. In this case, we knew we had a ways to go but no more obstacles terrain wise, so we deployed Cuddeback’s secret weapon, the CuddeLink Repeater ($130). This simple but effective tool repeats the signal and allowed us to continue on to our prime hunting area another quarter mile away. With that camera working and locked safely to a tree, we continued deployed the next cam and so on. I couldn’t believe it was that simple. This whole time, two years of issues, and hours of research solved by Cuddeback. It was like the Booner buck you never saw on camera walking out late morning just before you are going to get out of the blind and standing broadside 20 yards away. Finally, I had solved my issue!
Depending on the location, we used Cuddeback model G ($300) or model J ($209) cams just depending on the distance we wanted the IR night cameras to function at. Also, as recommended by the company and Hook & Barrel, buy the auxiliary battery packs ($50). There are very few downsides to the system, and if I had to be ultra-picky it would be battery type. The cameras function off of D batteries—not a cheap price tag for the amount you will need for a system of our complexity. Without the aux pack, a camera will last about three months. With it, six months. For the extra spend, we deemed it necessary due to the remoteness and benefit of not adding any unnecessary additional human scent.
Bottomline: there are cell camera’s out there, all expensive, all complicated. Don’t be fooled with promises of service, big antennas, glitzy screens, and fancy apps. At the end of the day, you want reliability and no headaches while in the woods. This system delivers and then some.
For more in-depth details and specs visit, cuddeback.com.