Trail cameras evolved as a way to get pictures of deer moving into and out of areas for hunting and scientific study. Trail camera photography has morphed into a sport in and of itself. The cameras available today have so many diverse features it can be hard to choose cameras.
Using cameras is as much an art as it is a science and experimenting with trail camera tips and tricks to get the best results is the next best thing to real hunting.
Choosing a Game Camera
1. Decide what you're going to do with it
The different grades of cameras have different features. Game cameras have exploded, just like smart phones, and the market has been flooded with awesome products that do all sorts of awesome things in addition to taking pictures of deer.
Newer models of cameras can transmit the pictures of deer directly to your smart phone in the middle of the night or email the pictures of Mr. Big to the whole hunt camp seconds after it’s been taken. There’s also extremely cheap models that bring once high-end features to cameras that cost as much as a tank of gas.
Avoid over spending by narrowing down what you’d like to do with it. If all you want is to get pictures of deer, then buy a camera that does just that.
To help you decide which cam will be right for you check out our: Best Trail Camera Guide
2. Set a budget for everything you're going to buy
Trail cameras are deceptively expensive to run continuously. When you see the price of an item on the shelf remember to factor in the price of accessories. This can include a security box, SD card, batteries, attractants if you use them and gas to get back and forth to your hunting location.
If you’re in doubt look for the cameras to go on sale after the season or get a slightly cheaper version and invest in a bulk pack of high quality batteries. Consider rechargeable batteries. If you can visit your camera often and can use them you’ll save money in the long run.
3. Consider if the camera is likely to be stolen
Thieves and public land go hand and hand. If you think your camera might be stolen don’t use an expensive camera. Try and get cameras with black flash that won’t draw as much attention as units with glowing LEDs, smaller overall sizes, and better camouflage.
You can also try carrying in a tree stand step to hang your camera up out of arms reach to discourage theft. Security boxes that screw onto the tree, locking cables, and mini locks to prevent SD card theft are available for most cameras.
I’ve also cut bark and moss off trees and glued them onto the outside of the security boxes and cameras to get better camouflage. Get creative and keep your stuff.
4. The trigger speed matters more than you think
The trigger speed of the camera means more than you’d realize when you first start out. The trigger speed is the amount of time that it takes for the camera to sense there’s a deer in front of it and take the picture.
This is important because if the camera is slow it might miss the deer’s head and you’ll get a whole bunch of pictures of the rear end of deer, or worse you’ll miss the deer entirely. A trigger speed of .5 seconds or slower is preferable but the faster the better!
Setting Up a Trail Camera
5. Spring for lithium batteries
Lithium batteries have important and distinct advantages to alkaline batteries. Not only do they last longer, they perform in cold weather much better, conditions that trail cameras will most likely encounter.
Lithium batteries also are less likely to leak or corrode at the terminals when you have them out for an entire season. Batteries are cheap compared to replacing expensive trail cameras because a battery leaked.
6. Use accessories when you need them
Having the right accessories can be the difference between money well spent and a waste of a camera. Look for areas with high hunter sign and use lock boxes if you have to use a camera in that area.
If you want a set and forget camera to stay out months at a time a backup battery or solar panel is a worthwhile investment to make sure you don’t run out of power before you can make it back to check on your camera.
7. Point them the right way
In the United States the best way to point your trail cameras is northward if it’s in the open and southward in heavy cover. This is to control the light that the camera sees when it snaps a picture.
In the Northern hemisphere south facing puts you looking towards the sun year round, important for darker areas of the woods, but too bright if it’s in the open. These are general guidelines, do experiment and find out what works the best in your area.
8. Mount high and point down
Use a swivel mount or a branch to mount your cameras at eye level or above and angle it slightly downward. The trail camera mounting height is important for a few reasons:
- It deters theft because thieves will have to climb
- The height keeps the camera out of the line of sight of the deer
- If you're watching a field or food plot you can see more
The best height for trail cameras is about 6 to 8 feet because you’ll get it high enough off the ground to get it out of sight, high enough to get a good view but not too high that you’re pointing it at the ground.
9. Try not to spook deer
Flash scares deer and the red glow of infrared LEDs can spook deer, try not to do that. If you’re in a big woods remote area, then any artificial light source is going to spook wary bucks. If you live in an area with taillights, porch lights and road reflectors you may be able to get away with red glow infrared lights.
Almost no deer will tolerate a white light flash. If you must use these cameras, then you should use them sparingly and well before the season.
10. Check as little as possible
Every time you go into your hunting area you’re tipping deer off. You’re educating them to your presence giving you fewer and slimmer chances to kill them later on. The same goes for recon missions tending to your trail cameras.
Get extended battery packs or solar panels. Get large SD cards and limit the number of pictures you take. Minimize the number of trips you need to take into your hunting area and you’ll have better success because of it.
11. Get quality pictures over quantity
Deer may spend large amounts of time in front your camera. The amount of time it takes for the camera to notice there’s a deer and take a picture is called the trigger time. The amount of time it takes to take another picture is called the reset time.
Cameras normally have an adjustable reset time so you don’t get bombed with 1,000 pictures in a single night. Try and experiment with the reset time so you get quality pictures of deer you can identify and only get as many pictures as you need.
Trail Camera Tips for Better Results
12. Use bait before hunting season
Level the playing field and make sure you really get a good sample of deer in your area by using some sort of attractant to bring in bucks and does. Use effective cheap attractants that deer love. Try corn, apples, peanut butter, clover, molasses and any number of store bought attractants.
If you have trouble with bears, which can ruin a camera set with the scent of a predator, switch to rice bran, minerals or non-food based attractants. If you live in a state that bans all wildlife feeding, use minerals or mock scrapes and be sure to follow the rules to the T.
13. Target funnels and bedding areas
When you set out cameras, take advantage of natural deer movement for pictures. You simply can’t rely completely on bait to draw deer attention to your camera set. You’ll waste far too much money on corn or other attractants and you’ll overly disturb the deer movement pattern on your property if you try and drive deer unnaturally.
Funnels and bedding areas are great because they’re high traffic and high security areas for deer and other game. Just make sure you find a good pinch point to narrow down the traffic.
14. Learn your property
The reason deer move on trails repeatedly over several years is because that’s the best way to move through the habitat as a deer. It offers the most comforting terrain, the best thermals and wind patterns and is the shortest distance.
You won’t be able to convince each and every buck to go 100 yards out of the way to a corn pile. Instead, find where the deer naturally are and use it to your advantage.
15. Keep GPS locations
This is a small detail that may not apply to everyone but I’m still missing two cameras that I lost in a remote big woods section of an 80,000-acre public spread of land. Being sure of where you put it makes it easier to determine if your camera was stolen.
16. Take pictures of the set
This is in the same category as the last tip but taking a picture or accurate notes of your physical camera can help you find it later on. It can help to find or determine if your camera was stolen, and if it was stolen from private land having a picture of your camera to give to the police can help them find your trespassers and maybe find your camera if they get them.
17. Use rain if you can
If you get the opportunity to, try and set your camera up in the rain. It’ll help minimize scent, hide tracks from other hunters and make it less likely to bump deer. The rain may make it more difficult to hump in bait but it can be a little icing on the cake for mature deer.
18. Visit at midday
When you go in to check your cameras try and visit during midday to minimize the chance of bumping deer and tipping them off to your camera. This also gets you in the woods when most other hunters aren’t so fewer hunters will see you on public land on the way into your area.
19. When to check
How long you can leave a trail camera out depends a lot on your particular situation. Battery life, SD card capacity, storm damage theft and just routine maintenance will alter how long to leave a trail camera out. A good rule of thumb is don’t leave it for longer than 80% of the manufacturers claimed battery life. This leave a good buffer to service your camera before it really needs it.
20. Spread your hobby
Trail cameras have done more for growing hunting than anything else in recent years. Sharing the pictures of fawns, groups of does and yearling bucks enjoying the habitat hunters have built, playing in a group or just doing their deer thing is a powerful message to non and anti-hunters a like.
Hunters are stewards of the environment and trail camera footage helps prove it to people who think all we do is kill indiscriminately. Post your pictures, videos and data that you collect on social media, show people on your phone and bring them along. Grow our sport and defend our rights.
Most trail camera tips are gained through field experience and vary from camp to camp and region to region. This is a basic list of hard earned knowledge on getting pictures of weary bucks to gain information to kill them with. Arm yourself with a good camera, and head out to the best habitat you have access to and enjoy your newfound hobby.