Trail Cameras

By Frank Pallo
9/5/2012 12:51:39 PM

Hunting season is just around the corner and now is the time to get those trail cameras out there. If you haven't tried scouting with trail cameras, you should consider adding this tool to your arsenal. Trail cameras let you see undisturbed deer and other game that you didn't even know were there. They also let you know the times the animals are utilizing that area and where they are heading.

Choosing a Trail Camera

There are tons of cameras on the market ranging from $50 to $500 or more. There are cameras with incandescent flash for color night images and infrared flash with black & white night images, cameras that record video and audio, cameras that tell you the temperature and moon phase at the time of each photo and cameras with field scan mode that take pictures at predetermined intervals. This is good for watching a large area, like a food plot, without the need to wait for an animal to trigger the sensor. There are even cameras that send the images wireless to your email or cell phone so you can view them immediately without disturbing the area around the camera. Although, the downside of this is cost. You will most likely have to add an additional data plan to your wireless phone service for this feature.

Seven years ago I paid over $450 for my first camera that took 3MP images and video that was very choppy and blurry. It was the size of a hardcover book and took D batteries. I was lucky to get three months out of the batteries, and even less in cold conditions. Now many cameras are palm-sized and can run for a year or longer on AA batteries. This year I purchased one for under $200 that takes 8MP photos and records full HD video with audio. Like most technology, they keep getting better and better and the prices more affordable.

Cameras vary in image resolution, trigger speed (the time from the sensor being triggered until the picture is taken), recovery time (the time from when a picture is taken, until it is armed and ready for the next), detection zone size and more. I like a camera with a fast trigger speed, less than 1 second, and a detection zone that's as wide as the camera's field of view or slightly larger. Now that cameras are digital and we're not paying to have film developed, I don't mind getting blank images. I'd rather have a deer, that may not be in frame, trip the sensor than have one missed completely because the sensor's detection zone was not wide enough or the trigger speed too slow. So, I would suggest buying the best camera that you can afford, keeping these features in mind.

A great website to check out before purchasing a new camera is They test and give unbiased comparisons on many brands and can save you a lot of time researching for the best deals. They test and review everything from the detection circuits, to picture quality, to how easy a camera is to operate.

Protecting Your Investment

Most cameras supply a simple strap or bungee that allows you to attach it to a tree. Unless you don't mind losing your hard-earned investment to someone with sticky fingers or a curious bear, get a steel security box and pad lock. Bears love trail cameras for some reason and I've heard countless stories of bears tearing them up. With a security box, you also deter thieves from simply walking away with your camera. Many cameras come in a camo pattern to hide them or you can also use camo tape to conceal them. I use Gorilla brand camo duct tape and

completely cover the security box and any part of the camera that isn't hidden by the box. Obviously when adding tape to the camera, DO NOT cover the lens, flash or detection sensor. Don't forget to put some camo tape on the pad lock as well since most have a reflective finish.

Trail Camera Placement

I'm not going to get into the details here about placement as far as travel corridors, funnels, etc. but I'd rather talk about how to place the camera once you find a spot.

I hang my cameras at about eye level with deer, about 3 feet off the ground. Be aware of the location of the sun so you don't have the sunrise or sunset shining right into your camera's lens for the obvious reasons. Point your camera to the north or south to avoid this.

If placing your camera along a deer trail, point the camera down the trail rather than across it. This allows more time for the camera to sense movement and take several pictures or video with the deer still in frame, rather than having a deer pass perpendicular across the sensor's zone and possibly being out of frame before the camera is triggered.

Make sure you clear away any vegetation from in front of the camera that can set it off. I have checked cameras to find many images of nothing more than a fern, a limb or tall grass that was swaying in the wind, setting off the sensor.

You may also want to add mineral blocks or some form of bait to draw the deer in front of your camera, offering you plenty of images. Just be sure to check your local game laws. Here in Pennsylvania, you cannot hunt anywhere that has had bait within the past 30 days. So if you do bait, be sure to remove it well before the season begins, if that's what your laws require.

Don't forget scrapes, including mock scrapes. Both bucks and does visit scrapes year round and you can get plenty of images overlooking one of these spots as well.

Checking Images

I check my cameras once a week or every two weeks. It's very tempting to check them every few days but you don't want to keep disturbing the area. Don't check them during prime deer movement times such as mornings or late afternoons. Go during midday when deer are bedded down so you don't spook them and ruin your spot. Also, have at least two memory cards per camera. Move in, pull the card from the camera, replace with another and get out of the area.

Each time you check your cameras, It's as exciting as a child opening birthday presents because you never know what you might find. You will be amazed at the things you capture. Plus, when the season rolls around, hopefully, you will have a better idea of when and where to set up to intercept that trophy this fall.