Early Trail Camera Expertise for Anyone

By Vikki Trout

You don’t need to be an expert to make good
use of trail cameras. Here’s 3 reasons simple
is best, plus 14 in-the-field basics!

Bobcat caught on a trail camera in daylight

This bobcat obviously had no qualms about appearing in broad daylight. It has probably fed frequently here since ample cover was available. (Photo: Vikki L. Trout)

I could hardly believe my eyes — a huge bobcat right up close to one of my scouting cameras! Thankfully, I took the time to set up my camera and place it in the woods. Otherwise I’d never have known about the massive cat lurking in the area. Since his sighting, we have removed an entire section of tall weeds and briars and replaced it with Imperial whitetail clover (www.whitetailinstitute.com) food plot.

On the flipside — a fresh deer track right in front of another trail camera gave me a rush because it was a big track and I could hardly wait to insert the SD card into my computer and see “who” left it. Unfortunately, that card was blank and I have no idea what went wrong. It has to be activated by using a remote control plugged into the camera, and is very confusing. And that’s why I believe simple is better.

A deer caught out of range on a trail camera

Proper camera placement is crucial to avoid photos of animals that seem to be just out of range. Relocating the camera may help turn this type of photo into a great photo! (Photo: Vikki L. Trout)

Here are three reasons simple is best when it comes to trail cameras.

1. Cameras in the closet are useless

You will be far more likely to use your camera if setup is minimal. Remember, your camera simply monitors game activity. It is not necessary to have added features such as cell phone access that also include subscribing to costly data plans. With too many buttons or settings that are hard to understand, let alone activate, you’ll be frustrated and end up leaving your camera in storage where it does you no good.

2. Beware of complexity

A scouting camera with unnecessary features can lead you to believe you are setting it up correctly, when in actuality one small error can make the camera refuse to function.

Companies that advertise “programming can be as simple or as complex…” scare me away. If I miss something they consider simple, the end result is an empty memory card.

3. Look for a good instruction manual

Even a simple camera needs a good instruction manual. The trouble is, manufacturers put all their effort into the camera itself. Small instruction manuals give the appearance of “easy.” However, concise is not always best when it comes to instructions. If the explanation leaves something out, or if the trail camera has even one setting you don’t understand, you may be lost before you start.

Complex, feature-loaded cameras might be fine for a high-tech wizard, but make you forget why you got the camera in the first place.

A hidden buck from a trail camera picture

Slow trigger speed can leave you wondering what you have. That was the case with this camera that I previously owned. Buck or doe? The deer is almost out of the picture. (Photo: Vikki L. Trout)

With that in mind, let’s review some in-the-field basics.

Reasons for a simple trail camera:

  1. The main objective for a trail camera is to scout your hunting location, not to be a high-tech hunter.
  2. A camera is low-impact compared to a human walking in the deer woods, so it will not spook wildlife as easily. In other words, you can have the camera on a tree or tripod, and keep your presence away from there.
  3. Not only does a simple camera minimize your human, deer-spooking presence. It also minimizes your time there. A more complicated camera will keep you there longer when setting it up and when returning to check the camera.

Putting your camera to work:

  1. Do as much setup as possible at home. Install the batteries and SD card, and take a couple of test shots before you head outdoors.
  2. Regardless of whether you mount your camera on a tripod or tree, make sure it is placed about waist high for best results.
  3. Just as important as programming and setup is camera placement. An improperly placed camera, or a camera with wind-blown vegetation in front of it, will provide little or no information.
  4. Food plots or well-used game trails are great locations for a scouting camera.
  5. If you are not getting photos, consider moving the camera to another location. Sometimes just a short move will produce activity.
  6. Be sure your camera is not facing direct sun, pointing up in the air or down on the ground. Several cameras include “aim” points and are well worth using. Then, you can see exactly where your camera will activate.

Other benefits:

  1. Ever since I got my first scouting camera, I’ve been a firm believer in them. In most cases, it is a treat to get home and check the card on my computer. It is amazing at the number of deer you can capture — and it’s exciting to see the mature bucks that frequent your area.
  2. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn of a flock of turkeys using your food plot.
  3. On the flipside, (yes, always a flipside) you may be in for a shock. Recently near the place where I captured the bobcat photo, another camera photographed three people with saplings they had cut over their shoulders and trespassing across our field. They never noticed the camera but it sure nailed them.
Hunter setting up a trail camera for deer hunting

Once the desired location is found, put the camera up and let it do its job. This camera was placed along a well-used game trail, with plenty of evidence that turkeys and deer were passing by. (Photo: Vikki L. Trout)

Do your homework:

  1. Before purchasing any camera, do your homework. I suggest you do an Internet search on trail cameras and consider reviews written by actual users. ChasinGame (www.chasingame.com) or Trailcampro (www.trailcampro.com) include field reviews written by outdoorsmen/women for various trail camera brands.
  2. Basic factors worth considering include: fast trigger speed (1 second or less), efficiency in low light, no bright flash (Black IR LED is best) and a waterproof case.
Hunter cleaning up the area around her trail cam

After the camera is placed, prune all debris that may interfere with the camera’s functionality. Nothing is worse than retrieving an SD card with 100 photos of a weed or limb moving back and forth in front of the camera eye. (Photo: Vikki L. Trout)

Once you are comfortable with your camera and ready to take it to the field, I suggest putting it to work in the early spring as well as late summer and fall. In nice weather batteries last longer, and the photos provide a plethora of valuable information as to who is in the area (friend or foe) and the home range of big bucks. It may also give you a stronger desire to hunt early season before that wall-hanger leaves in search of estrous does during the rut — but that’s a topic for another article!

About Vikki Trout:

Outdoor writer Vikki TroutVikki Trout is a full-time freelance writer and photographer from southern Indiana. She loves hunting turkey, deer, bear and small game. When she’s not hunting, she loves capturing wildlife thru the lens of her camera. Please visit her website at www.troutswildoutdoors.com.

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2 Responses to Early Trail Camera Expertise for Anyone

  1. I’m admin of trailcamerajudge.com, I’m impressed with your article. great guide for first time buyer!

  2. HavalonKnives says:

    Thank you, Kenneth. That says a lot, coming from you.


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