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.