How to make the most of your trail cameras

This is the time of year many of us hang trail cameras to get an idea of the number and size of bucks in the areas we hunt.

I have to admit that, after hanging the camera for a week or so, and then changing out the camera card, I can’t wait to see what the camera captured in my absence. I’ve found my camera images not only give me an insight into the deer in my hunting area, they give me great confidence in my hunting location, even if I don’t see deer in the daylight hours.

The camera doesn’t lie and if I know several good bucks live there I’m not likely to abandon the spot because I know, given enough time, one of the bucks captured by my camera is likely to show up.

The type and quality of photos you get on your trail camera depends on a number of things. Through trial and error, following are a few of the things I’ve learned about setting out my trail cameras:

  • When monitoring a deer trail, hang the camera so that it angles the trail. Camera trigger speeds are much faster than they were even a few years ago, but if you’re covering a trail where the animals might pass through relatively quickly, it’s best to angle the camera about 45 degrees to the trail rather than placing it perpendicular to the trail. If the camera is placed at a right-angle to the trail and the animal passes through the sensor area, you may only have an image of the animal’s back end or, in many cases, no animal photo at all.
  • Pay attention to the rising and setting sun because that can prevent you from getting photos during the best part of the day. Place the camera either north or south of your target area and remove all debris. If the camera faces either east or west, the rising or setting sun is sure to cause problems. By facing the camera in a northerly direction, your daytime photos should have the best lighting.
  • After placing the camera, make sure to remove all obstructions that may be in front of it. I had a friend who got about 500 pictures of a corn field because each time the wind blew, the moving corn stalks triggered his camera and took a photo of the waving corn. After placing my camera, I take the time to cut small branches, weeds and twigs out of the way and I try to make sure I have a clear path to my target area. If this step isn’t taken, the LEDs on the camera will light up the brush in front of the lens, leaving the target area underexposed. It can also cause false triggering. If a large, sun-saturated branch is passing in front of the camera’s sensors, you’ll have an SD card full of useless images.
  • One of the features I have on my trail cameras is the ability to take time-lapse photos. I can set the camera to trigger at predetermined time intervals rather than depending on movement through the sensor area to set it off. The time lapse is a great feature for covering food plots, agricultural fields or any large open area. If you can’t figure out which trails the deer are most often using to access a food source, time lapse can be of great help.
  • When running multiple cameras like I do, be careful not to switch SD cards between cameras as that could cause problems. I have two cards for each camera and only use those two cards in a particular camera. This is extremely important if you have cameras from different manufacturers. The other option is to reformat each card after viewing and saving the photos.
  • Finally, most cameras claim they are good to a certain range. In reality, most fall short of the maximum limit advertised. Set them close enough to your target to get good nighttime illumination on the subject from your infrared flash.

After purchasing my first trail camera, I found I needed more than one. I now own five cameras and leave them in place all season. After hunting a stand, and before leaving for the evening, I trade out the current camera card for a fresh one. That way I get an up-to-date report on what’s happening around my stand when I’m not there.

It’s only a few days before the season begins and my cameras have photographed several very nice bucks. I can’t wait to see what shows up in the weeks ahead.

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