Many hunters consider trail cameras to be simple devices with which we can capture some pictures of deer. This mindset means most of us simply buy a trail camera, strap it to a tree and walk away. This deer-scouting strategy can work; it just doesn’t work very well. And it really doesn’t take advantage of the technology built into today’s high-tech trail cameras.
If you’re ready to purchase your first trail camera or you’re thinking about replacing or supplementing your existing camera lineup, here the 10 best features to look for and a few quick tips on how to make the most of your trail camera setups.
1. Quality Versus Quantity
Before you think about setting up a trail camera, you’ve got to choose the right one. There are two types of individuals here. The first buys several low-quality, low-cost cameras and peppers the woods with them hoping he will get a full season out of them before they crash. The second buys one or two quality cameras and moves them around the woods as much as possible to gather the right intel. There are benefits to both strategies, but the reality is for about $200 you can purchase a high-end trail camera. Do some research and find offerings that won’t break the bank but offer all of the deer-spying technology necessary to cover you in a variety of situations.
2. The More Megapixels, The Better
Think of a pixel as a tiny piece of a larger puzzle. The complete puzzle is an image. Generally speaking, the more pixels you have to work with, the better your image will be.
A megapixel is one-million pixels, and all trail cameras advertise a certain amount of them. The higher the count, the higher the resolution of your photos will be. With higher-resolution images, you can enlarge photos without losing clarity to see distant deer much better, and of course, you’ll end up with better deer herd intelligence overall.
I’m to the point now where I want to get the best images I can, every time. That means pixel count matters, a lot.
Quick Tip: High-end trail cameras allow you to choose a few different options for resolution. Choose the highest unless you’re worried about filling up a memory card too quickly. If that’s the case, buy a larger SD card. You won’t regret it.
3. Fastest Trigger In The Woods
Trigger speed is the type of thing that is surrounded by marketing speak. What I mean by this is you might see a low-end game camera advertising sub-one-second trigger speeds. That sounds fast, but how fast is it? Probably not as fast as other cameras specifying trigger speeds like .3-second. The difference of half of a second might not seem like much, but it can mean the difference between a blurry deer or a crisp, clear image.
4. Detection Range
If you don’t want to use time-lapse mode, or simply want to cover a large area with your camera, you’ve got to be cognizant of detection range. The best cameras offer about 100 feet in daylight, with a slight reduction in distance at night. This matters because you want your trail camera to trigger when all hoofed passers-by get anywhere near your camera traps.
5. Spooky Flashes
When choosing a trail camera, you’ll notice there’s a lot of advertising that goes into the flash, or more specifically the amount of LED lights used to comprise the flash. Better game cameras offer IR LEDs, which are infrared and won’t spook deer. Cabela’s Outfitter Plus 20MP Black IR HD Trail Camera for example, features 56 black IR LEDs illuminate out to 100 feet If you hunt public land, or heavily pressured private ground, you need an IR-LED-equipped camera. There is no way around that.
6. Better Burst Mode
Most trail cameras offer some type of burst mode these days. That means you can set your cameras to take a set of pictures (one to nine is the norm) with each triggering event. (The Outfitter trailcam mentioned above captures up to three photos in 0.3-second intervals in burst mode.) There are two times of the year when I choose the highest burst mode possible—early season and the rut.
Quick Tip: During early season when bucks might still be hanging together, I want to get images of all bucks in the group. If one buck triggers the camera but three walk by, I want to see them all. During the rut, it’s often the doe that triggers the camera and then her suitor shows up a few seconds later. Burst mode gives you the best chance to see every deer that passes.
7. Time-Lapse Times
Some trail cameras on the market offer a time-lapse mode. This isn’t for everyone, but if you have a food plot or a small pond you want to monitor, you need time lapse. This setting tells the camera to take images at certain intervals regardless of triggering events. In other words, if you want to see who is visiting a secluded pond the first three hours of the day, and the last three hours before dark, a trail camera with a time-lapse setting is what you want.
8. Onboard Review
Most trail cameras don’t offer an LCD screen on which to navigate through your menu and review your images. This is a shame because it’s one of my favorite features. Setup is so much easier with an LCD screen that it’s not even funny. And being able to slip in and take a quick look at the images on your trail camera can tell you whether you should move the camera trap setup, change its settings, or even hunt that afternoon. All of this happens without the need to use a card reader and carry in an extra device.
9. Movie Stars
Most top-notch trail cameras offer video mode, but what does that do for you as a hunter? Plenty. Ten-second video clips provide a better glimpse into how a buck is using the terrain, and which bucks – if any – he is traveling with. All of that info is important, as is any video you can capture in the lead-up to the rut.
You can tell an awful lot about how a buck is feeling by how he acts on film, and when you can monitor their body-language throughout October and into November, you’ll know exactly what is going on rut-wise. This info will inform you on calling decisions, stand choice, and overall seasonal hunting strategy. Win, win, win.
10. Aiming Ailments
This is a simple but oh-so-important point. How you mount a trail camera will dictate the quality of images it captures.
Quick Tip: I’m to the point now where I almost exclusively use mounts of some sort, versus a simple strap. This allows me to mount the camera higher than the deer’s line of sight, and then aim it down in such a way that I get better images. This also allows me to better cover wooded trails and other thicker areas, where a little elevation goes a long way toward better visibility.