Recently, customers have been coming into the store with questions about which trail camera would work best for them and how to use one properly. There are hundreds of models of trail cameras from a variety of manufacturers. Prices vary from $50 to well over $400, depending on many factors including the size of camera, internal memory, infrared technology, trigger speed and wireless technology. Every person and scenario has different needs. Here is a little advice, some of which I learned the hard way, on how to choose the appropriate trail cam and how to use it properly.
Where do you plan on using your camera to take game pictures? Cameras with faster trigger speeds should be used on game trails to catch quick-walking animals. Trail cams with slower trigger speeds should be placed on a food source, scrapes or bedding areas, places where the animal is lingering longer.
Adjust the height and angle of the camera for each location, there is no set height or angle. The angle of the tree or post, hills or valleys and sun all play an integral part in camera placement. Do not face the camera toward a sunrise or a sunset, or else you will get unclear or blank pictures. Also, remember to clear out the viewing area; you don’t want any brush or limbs in the middle of your pictures.
When placing a camera on a game trail to catch animals in action, place the camera at a 45-degree angle to the trail, shooting down or up the trail. This will give the camera ample time to focus on the animal. If you place the camera perpendicular to the trail, you may not get a picture of the entire animal (even the fastest trigger speeds might not be quick enough).
Put the camera in locations less obvious to game and people alike. Just as you don’t want the animal to notice the camera, you also don’t want people to see it. Trail cams are about as popular to steal as a Yeti cooler. I recommend securing your camera with either a lock and security cable or using a lock box, which are generally made by the camera manufacturer. Putting the camera higher in the tree will make it harder to steal, but also more difficult to check when you want to see the pictures. I usually cut down a few smaller leafy branches and place them around the camera at the base of the tree to better hide the camera and the camera’s strap around the tree. But remember, don’t block the lens.
Make detailed notes of the location of each camera.
“Do I need a flash or infrared trail cam?” It’s a question I often hear. I have used flash cameras in the past, but have become more of a fan of infrared cameras in recent years. Most of the trail cameras I’ve had the best luck with used infrared technology. I have used the Moultrie M-80 IR trail cam for years, and loved it. One of my new favorites is the Moultrie M-550 Gen2 IR trail camera. Here are some basic pros and cons of each kind of camera.
• Full color images at night.
• Resolution and quality are generally better.
• Battery life is short.
• May spook game at night (deer are smart enough to know it wasn’t lightning).
• May attract people to the location of your camera.
• Only produces black-and-white pictures at night.
• Resolution and quality can be slightly diminished.
• Requires very little power.
• Will not spook game (no flash).
Before you leave your camera in a tree, take a test picture. Instead of walking back to the truck, walk in front of the camera so it will take a picture of you. Bring a digital camera or iPad so you can take the SD card out of the trail camera and check you photo to see if the camera needs to be angled more or if any limbs are in the way. Make sure the camera is on the proper mode. Trail cams will have a mode for still pictures and a mode for time-lapse video. Videos give you a better sense of the animal’s actions/behavior, but will drain the battery quicker. Videos are better used on larger, open areas, such as food plots or clear cuts, versus tightly wood areas.
Take your digital camera or iPad with you every time you go check the camera so you can see the pictures and decide if they are even worth taking home to see on a larger screen. Some newer trail cameras have viewing screens, and some cameras with wireless technology can even send the pictures to your phone.
Keep the pictures or video files on your computer at home to help you find patterns in game’s behavior. Older animals are smarter and must be patterned in order to be properly hunted.
Always check your camera’s battery life before you leave. Always take a new SD card to replace the one currently in the camera, hopefully with a shot of the big buck on it. Always bring new or charged batteries in case the ones in the camera are dead. I learned all three trail cam lessons the hard way. As they say, “I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”
Dave Field is the firearms manager for Palmetto State Armory.