“You can observe a lot by watching.” ~Yogi Berra
Christmas morning was a hard time for my parents. I was that kid who went to bed late because I couldn’t contain my anticipation enough to fall asleep, and once I did fall asleep it only lasted for a few hours. I was that kid up at 4 a.m. trying to sneak a peek at the tree without waking my parents. I was that kid checking my stocking in the dark because I couldn’t very well leave it be. I was a very excited kid Christmas morning. Checking my trail cameras brings back those feelings. I can feel my anticipation growing even as I first hang the camera. “What is going to be on it?” I am already wondering. I haven’t even made it back to the truck, and I am considering running back to see if anything has happened.
I would like to say I wait a month and head back out to check my cameras, but I rarely make it past two weeks. Sometimes it is only a week, and I am so excited to see the images I almost rip the back off the camera trying to remove the memory card. “What is going to be on it!” I am wondering even more excitedly than before. I am tickled to see a squirrel, excited to see elk and deer, and elated if there is a bear. I can’t even tell you how I reacted to a cougar. I will just say you would have thought by my reaction that I actually bumped into the cougar on the trail. It’s silly, but I love it.
Trail cameras are useful for a variety of reasons. First, they help locate game. Whether you are searching for bucks, elk, bears, or cougars, trail cameras give one a sneak peak into what is visiting the area. Second, you can learn the habits and routines of an animal, like: what pathways are they frequenting, what are they eating, or who are they hanging around with? Third, you start to learn the timing of the animals. What time are they moving? What time are they eating? Finally, you can learn which animals made it through the hunting season. Plain and simple, implementing a trail camera into your hunting preparations leads to more successful hunts.
While setting up a camera is relatively simple, here are a few tips for trail cameras that will better your results.
- Before you head out, make sure to update any software for your camera. This will save a headache once out in the field when discovering the camera required an update in order to work. Also, make sure your memory card is empty, ready to accept images, and has enough space to hold a large number of images. I typically use an 8GB card, but sometimes I will use a 16GB. Oh, and batteries! Remember to grab extra batteries for your camera. I always carry a new set of batteries out when I check the camera. So, the checklist before heading out: software updated, memory card ready to go, and spare batteries!
- When selecting a location for the camera, choose somewhere you can access discreetly. For example, if you have a wallow you would like to watch, place the camera in a location where you can check it without having to cross the trails into or out of the wallow. While there might not be game around when you hang the camera or are checking it, they know you have been there.
- Choose an area you have seen game in or where there is evidence of activity. If you have a particular buck you are stalking, by all means set the camera up in his territory.
- Place the camera to the south of the area of you are targeting. You want the lens of the camera to be pointing north. Doing this will help to avoid glare from the sun in your pictures. Also, and this sounds like a no-brainer but I do it all the time, be sure to hang the camera on a stable base. If the tree you are using sways in the wind, your camera will be filled with 1,000 shots caused by the light breeze in the area for the first thirty minutes of sunrise. That is never a good surprise to find after waiting two weeks to check your camera.
- Hang the camera high in the tree and pointed at a 45 degree angle down the trail or onto the location you are watching. While it seems like another no-brainer, it is an easy step to forget once you get out into the field and are placing cameras. Hanging the camera high provides several benefits. First, it is less likely to get messed with. I don’t know how it happens, but I always end up with cows licking my camera. Not elk cows, but moo cows. Second, the flash from the camera, even the infrared ones, often will spook game. Having the camera higher makes it less likely the game will be aware of the flash. Third, the higher placement and wider angle will give you a better picture of the entire animal. Nothing is more frustrating than half a deer or elk head. Finally, animals are less likely to smell the scent of a camera if it is placed higher. You could also spray the camera box with a little scent before you leave to help with smell.
- Take a sample photo with the camera before you leave. I always carry a small digital camera with me for this reason. Snap a picture with the camera and view the results. This will allow to ensure a few things. First, you know the camera is working. Second, you can check the angles and glare on the lens. Third, you can look for obstructions, such as bushes. You can also look at the background of your photo. Is it distracting?
- Deter thieves! Nothing breaks the spirit more than a stolen camera, but it unfortunately is a risk you take when hanging game cameras. First, hang the camera in discrete location. Try to avoid heavily used trails. Hang your camera higher up on a tree. This will make it more difficult to spot. You can use a security cable, but this will not deter someone determined to steal a camera. It also might just result in the camera being broken. Finally, there are cameras with security codes now. So, if your camera does get stolen at least you know the thief won’t be able to use it, which might give you a little bit of satisfaction.
- Bait? Many people I know use salt licks, corn, or attractants for deer and elk. Bait barrels with meat in them are common practice for bears. Check your local laws to see what is legal. If you are able to use bait, you will want to set the camera in June or possibly earlier to get animals returning to the same spot, but again you will have to check the regulations in your area.
Do you have trail camera tips? I would love to hear them!