It is no secret that trail cameras have revolutionized the sport of hunting by allowing us to scout for game 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their constant vigilance captures animals’ natural behavior without the presence of man, who usually messes things up. But there is more to achieving a full photo gallery than simply walking into the woods and hanging a camera on a random tree and hoping to catch an image of a giant buck. Here are 10 helpful tips to improve your image/subject quality and quantity of pictures taken:
- Location, Location, Location: Randomly hanging and camera on any old tree in the woods will 9 times out of 10 lead to a disappointing review. The easiest approach to trail camera placement is scouting an area in the same manner you would when determining tree stand locations. Heavily used trails between bedding areas and feeding areas are a sure fire way to fill up your memory cards with photos of deer. I like to set the camera in-line with the trail so that a deer will be in frame longer, giving the camera the maximum amount of time to detect the deer and snap the photo. Whereas setting the camera perpendicular to the trail really limits your camera’s ability to react fast enough to capture a quality image. Other great areas to set a rail camera are edges of agricultural fields or food plots, oak trees dropping acorns, staging areas where large numbers of rubs are present, and over scrapes. Using attractants near these established traffic areas can also increase your chances of capturing deer on camera and is discussed farther down the list.
- Positioning the camera at the correct angle and height is also vital to capturing your target animal on film. Remember that the camera is motion activated. Therefore, you will want to position the camera where the laser is most likely to encounter the animals movements. For a whitetail deer, I target the deer’s legs. On flat terrain, I usually set the cameras no more than around 24″ off the ground. Sloping terrain requires an adjustment and depending on if I am looking uphill or downhill, the camera may be chest high (4-5′) or at ground level. The field of view of most cameras will be large enough to compensate for the camera’s position. The important thing is your camera has a chance to respond to the earliest movement of the animal to prevent photos of the deer’s rear-end when what your looking for is the front.
Another important consideration is the direction the camera is aimed in relation to the sun. The rising or setting sun is more than capable of triggering the camera, bleaching out (over exposure) a photo, or create such a strong glare as to prevent you from being able to determine what is in the image. If possible, avoid due east or west directions or place camera so that over hanging branches, etc. may block direct sunlight. Just be careful that these items do not trigger the camera on a windy day.
- Attractants: Most trail cameras have a maximum range of around 50 feet or so and have a limited angle from the lens in which the animal must be to trigger the shutter. For best results the subject should be closer and ideally in the center of the frame to better trigger the camera. Free range animals have the world at their finger tips, or hoof tips, and so getting them to pass by your set up within this window can be difficult. The use of attractants or bait can significantly improve your cameras success by making your set up more appealing to the animal. Whether it be a pile of corn, mineral lick, apples, commercial product, etc. knowing which the target animal will respond to and at what time of year will dramatically increase your photo yield. Centering the attractant within the cameras frame will improve your image quality by keeping the subject within the camera’s view long enough for multiple images to be captured.
- Trigger Speed is a popular selling point amongst the countless commercials for trail cameras. But is it really important? In short, yes. Trigger speed is the time it takes the camera’s shutter to close (snap a picture) once
movement has been detected. A faster trigger speed is definitely an advantage when capturing moving deer. A buck chasing a doe can run right by your camera and if it is too slow to fire, the end result may be an empty frame, deer’s tail, or at best a blurry image. The down side of the higher speed is usually a higher price tag. You can save some money by purchasing a mid-ranged camera and using an attractant to keep the deer in frame long enough to capture him.
- Checking too often is a common mistake that hunters make because we get so excited to find out what size monster buck is roaming our hunting grounds this year. But all we are doing is adding more human scent and disturbance to the area. Although you should treat any excursion into your hunting area as if it were a hunt when it comes to scent control, minimize your intrusion. Whitetail deer will often leave an area or go nocturnal when they feel pressured by increased human activity, which in either case reduces your chances of harvesting him.
I often set my cameras year round, but in most cases, hanging your camera at the end of June or first week of July will start your observation season. At this time of year, a buck’s rack is really starting to take shape. Although it won’t stop growing until the end of August, you will start to see which deer have the potential of becoming the “big one.” Plus, the fawns are still in spots and you can gather a lot of information about the composition of your deer herd.
Now that it is up, I don’t check the cameras again until the day I hunt the area in which it was hung, which in Maryland is early September. This gives me 8 weeks of photos from an undisturbed area. The photos are downloaded, cleared and reset immediately. My next check won’t be until November o see what bucks from neighboring areas have moved in during the rut and then one last check at the end of December to see who survived the season. My trail camera regime is governed in large part due to the fact that I live 10 hours from my Maryland hunting grounds. So for those of you hunting in your backyard or just down the road, it may prove to be beneficial to
check more often to keep tract of changing deer movements. Even so, the longer you can wait the better, and I would recommend a minimum of 2-3 weeks between recoveries if possible.
- Memory Card selection is easy and yet still very important. Depending on how often you plan to check your cameras will depend on how much memory you will need. The minimum that should be used is 2 MB cards (some model cameras have a maximum of 2 MB). This allows for over 1,000 images leaving room for accidental triggers from windstorms and non-target animals. Usually 4-8 MB is more than enough to capture several months worth of images.
- Infrared vs Flash: The battle between these models is largely determined by preference and price tags. We have used both models with great success and you will find numerous examples of photos taken with each type within our
Trail Cam Galleries. The difference of course is the flash and whether or not you believe that it spooks game. In the 5 years that we have been setting up trail cameras, we have captured bucks repeatedly on flash cameras that indicated no interest in the camera at all, as well as some that were not seen again. Now there are a lot of variables that can explain their disappearances such as harvested by another hunter, car accident, etc. but perhaps the flash did create a negative response. The safest bet is to eliminate any potential risk of spooking deer from your area. I would add that, by far, more deer seemed to notice the sound of the camera’s shutter, regardless of model, than the camera’s flash.
Both models are capable of taking quality nighttime images. However, a flash camera can capture color images at night versus the infrared’s black and white only photos. This can lead to better detail and a more enjoyable photo.
- Resolution of the photo is based upon the number or megapixels with which your camera captures each image. The higher number of megapixels, the clearer the image will be. Most of today’s cameras are over 5 megapixels and I have captured several photos so clear, that I printed, framed, and hung them on my wall. One thing to keep in mind is that the higher the pixel count, the more memory each photo will require. Although I recommend setting your camera to the highest resolution (if your camera allows custom settings) you may need to check your cards more often. In my experience, a 5 megapixel image creates a .jpeg file of 800kb – 1.1 mb in size.
- Sensitivity of the camera is a setting that many cameras offer to the operator for determining the amount of movement required to trigger the camera’s shutter and snap a photo. At first thought you would think the higher the
sensitivity the more likely you are to capture that deer. This may be true, but be prepared to sift through the hundreds if not thousands of great photos that you may have of waving grass, blowing branches, insects, rain, snow, even moving shadows and sunlight. Determine your sensitivity level by the environment around your camera not just the target animal.
- Money is always a consideration because it often determines which brand and model camera you decide to implement into your scouting arsenal. I have seen cameras range from $40 – $600 retail. Now, we at DEER30 Outdoors, do not receive compensation in anyway for recommending any product over another and in all honesty we have not field tested every model of every brand on the market, because we couldn’t afford it either. But between the six of us we have used Moultrie, Cuddyback, Primos, Wildgame Nation, and Stealth Cam cameras and various models. Our cameras were purchased at a price between $100 – $280. Visit our galleries and compare the images form each brand and model with what you are looking for in your next trail camera purchase.
I have loved my Moultrie cameras and the M100 has quickly become my personal favorite.
I think you will find that if you consider these 10 tips when setting up your next camera or before purchasing your next camera, that you will find greater success in capturing more, higher quality photos of the game in your woods.
The use of attractants or bait is nothing new in the hunting world. Trying to draw deer to your position by use of piles of corn, apples, mineral licks, commercial products, etc. in an effort to increase your chances of harvesting an otherwise elusive animal seems like a no-brainer. Whatever helps your chances right? However, is it really sportsman-like to “cheat” by using bait? Shouldn’t you rely on your woodsmanship, knowledge about your prey, and hunting skills to accomplish your goal? After all it is still called hunting right? Not killing? This debate can be fierce between the two sides. So much so, in fact, that each state has its own stance on the matter. Some allow you to bait freely, while others have made it illegal to use bait at all or at least during the hunting season. The state of Maryland and Virginia, for example, address baiting deer as follows:
“Baiting deer is legal, except on State-owned or State-controlled properties, or areas where it is specifically prohibited due to Chronic Wasting Disease”
2013-2014 Maryland Guide to Hunting and Trapping
“Supplemental feeding: Hunting over bait is illegal in Virginia, and feeding deer for any reason is illegal from September 1 to the first Saturday in January (4VAC15-40-285). However, feeding of deer is legal in Virginia during the rest of the year. Biologists across the United States and Canada have voiced concerns about the increased risk of disease transmission, negative health impacts, adverse behavioral changes, and habitat degradation associated with supplemental feeding of deer and other wildlife.”
2013 Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
“Bait shall mean any food, grain, or other consumable substance that could serve as a lure or attractant; however, crops grown for normal or accepted agriculture or wildlife management purposes, including food plots, shall not be considered as bait.”
2013 Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
If you are considering the use of bait in your hunting practices, first consider the following:
- Is it legal. As discussed already, each state views baiting differently, so familiarizing yourself with the local regulations will prevent a lot of headaches with the warden service down the road.
- Does the land owner allow it? You do not want to risk losing your hunting privileges over a difference of opinion.
- Are there concerns over disease in your deer herd? If your hunting area is a high risk area for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) or other diseases that can be transferred from animal to animal due to close proximity feeding, then it is not recommended that you bait or supplemental feed deer regardless if state law allows.
- Will it make a difference? It often takes several days, if not longer, for deer to discover your attractant site. Therefore, if you are on a short hunt, you can probably save your money and time fooling with a bait site and spend it in the stand or scouting.
- The time of year and goal of its use. Are you using the attractant as a scouting or management tool or to increase harvest success?
- Should you bait? Of all the reasons for and against, this is the most important consideration and only you can make this decision. I like to think of the subject of baiting as a sliding scale:
At the far end you have the staunch non-baiters insisting that baiting of any kind will take away the spirit of the hunt, reduce the clever and cunning whitetail to a mindless drone guided only by its stomach and thereby diminish the sense of accomplishment when the opportunity at a big buck, or any deer for that matter, presents itself. They weigh the efforts made by a hunter who spends his time scouting and learning the deer’s habits above that of a hunter who walks to a stand with a bucket of apples. They enjoy all aspects of the hunt from the scenery, sounds, mental escape, excitement and suspense, challenge of wits, and the whole man being one with nature thing.
At the opposite end, pro-baiters argue that baiting is just another way to prevent their freezer from being empty after a long, tough season and they simply need to get something on the ground to help hold them over to next year. “If its legal, why wouldn’t I?” They weigh the success of the hunt/season by the size of deer killed, number of deer killed, and how many pounds of meat they put in their stomachs.
Of course, somewhere in the middle is where most of us, I think, would place ourselves. Its may be ok to bait in the off season but not to hunt over it. Baiting deer is ok, but it is important to respect and admire all facets of the hunting experience. What makes #6 so controversial is the fact that it tugs at our inner values and forces us to make a decision as to which way of hunting is the “right” way. Because of this, the answers are as varied as the number of hunters who take to the field each season. Everyone has a slight variance on the matter and each are equally right and each are equally wrong depending upon with whom you are speaking at the time. It is not my place to pass judgment on anyone for their choice in this topic, although I have in the past and have been wrong for doing so. I have my opinion, don’t we all, and approach the subject with a certain subdued bias.
Personally I prefer to use attractants only in the off-season on my Maryland hunting grounds in combination with my trail cam set ups. First and foremost, I love seeing deer. Trail cameras are an excellent invention to which I have quickly become addicted. The more deer I can capture on camera the more excited I get. Therefore, attractants allow me to see more deer and better assess the overall health of the herd, number of fawns dropped that spring, sex ratios, number, size and age class of bucks, and favored areas of use. My early season hunting tactics are geared around identifying summer patterns and a hit list of “shooter” bucks, so a good trail cam survey over the summer months is an essential tool for my opening day preparations.
I choose to use a mineral product poured/placed directly onto the ground during the spring and summer months. Whitetail deer actively seek out soils rich in essential minerals and ingest those soils normally. By adding a mineral site, you are simply creating a source location for those minerals to which the deer are naturally drawn. These minerals also promote body health and antler growth, thereby maximizing your herd’s genetic potential. I typically set a site up in early spring and will refresh it around July.
The flipside of this regime is the promotion of close proximity feeding by potentially high numbers of deer. This increases the chances of spreading diseases through the deer herd and at a potentially higher rate. The biggest concern over the years has been the appearance and spreading of CWD. I fully appreciate the concern and check the Maryland DNR publications each season prior to setting out any mineral sites to be sure my region is not under a disease watch and that attractants are not prohibited.
By the end of August, the deer start to shift away from the minerals to a search for calories. Food based attractants work well this time of year and indeed through the late season. Scents can be used as an attractant during the pre-rut and rut phases of the season but I have had no success with this strategy in my own trials. Instead I would suggest attracting the does first and the bucks will follow.
I choose not to hunt over bait because I personally feel that doing so does take a little away from the my hunting experience. I like the challenge of studying the deer and figuring out where they will be without the conditioning of a bait site. In my experience, by the time hunting season opens in mid September or early October, the deer show little to no interest in the summer mineral sites and are more focused on the agricultural crops available or the dropping acorns. In years past, while growing up in Maryland, I had baited throughout the season and found very little effect, especially when the bucks focus changes from feeding patterns to searching for hot does. So I now restrict my use of attractants to the spring and summer where it can be most beneficial to the deer’s dietary needs and provide myself with the most information for my preseason deer inventory. By the time the season opens, it’s up to me to take what I have learned and make it count.
The use of attractants can definitely increase the numbers of deer that you will see in your hunting area when used legally and properly. It is a good idea to ALWAYS check your state and local hunting regulations regarding the use of bait/attractants and if possible locate that agency’s definition of “baiting” BEFORE you begin using attractants for any game animal. Also check for any publications of infectious disease concerns in your area. Like everything else, there is a method to the madness of attracting game and so learning when, how, and what to do will increase your chances of success. But beware that baiting deer comes with certain stigma and at some point in your hunting career you will be asked the question “Do you?” and “Why?” Regardless of your answer, remember the only hunting experience you need to be concerned about is your own.
Game check-in laws vary state to state, some states don’t require a hunter to report game harvests at all. Call me “old school” but I have long missed the days of old when you took your buck to the local check-in station. We stood in line telling tales of the hunt with fellow sportsmen adorn in camouflage or blaze orange, my dad sipping a cup of Exxon coffee with a Marlboro Red in the corner of his mouth and with pride, pointing at me and answering “Nope, he got it!” when asked if he was the lucky hunter. We would often run into friends and family that we only seen during deer season at these chance encounters.
When it was our turn to have our deer inspected by the game warden, the animal was weighed, aged, and scored (if rack was large enough). Not only was this educational, but provided instant bragging rights for whomever was in possession of the biggest buck in line. The grins and handshakes were quick to follow.
Then the paperwork began. We would remove our licenses from the protectors hooked to the back of our jackets and read off the large block numbers, give a close enough location of the kill, just in case any curious ears were tuning in, and received a paper check-in card.
Now I know the spirit behind today’s modern check-in processes with the “phone-in” automated system or even online check-in is in convenience for the hunter. A more convenient check-in process that can be done from home or by phone encourages its use. Let’s face it, deer harvest numbers are never truly accurate as many hunters out there forego the 5 minutes it takes to follow game laws and report their harvest unless required to for taxidermist purposes. So for wildlife biologists working with DNR’s encouraging more harvest reports will better their abilities to monitor game populations and adjust regulations such as seasonal bag limits, daily harvests, etc. I admit that although the nostalgia of the check-in station is still close to my heart, the convenience of the modern system is quite handy.
States requiring game harvested to be tagged in the field before moving the animal from the place of the kill, reported to the DNR within 24 hours and allow all three methods of reporting, in my opinion, have got it right. It provides the hunter with flexibility to make the report the day after what could be a long night of tracking, field dressing, and hiking back to the truck, good luck finding a check-in station that is open at 3am; and of course the DNR gets another statistic to add to the database.
As hunters we all share a responsibility to follow the state regulations that govern our sport by checking in harvested game. It is an essential tool used by DNR biologists to better conserve, protect, and enrich game populations, habitat, and our hunting experiences. So the next time you take that buck of a lifetime, or fill another doe tag, remember to visit your local check-in station, call your local DNR office, or jump online and compete the game harvest record for your area.