Trail camerasare tools that can prove nearly invaluable if they’re used correctly. Used incorrectly, or at least not to their full potential, they can actually be a hindrance.
This is especially true if you base the location and timing of your sits off of their intel. In that case, which is what most of us do to some extent each fall, poor recon can result in even poorer choices. This is no good.
Instead, think about your setup—and your settings—to maximize your trail camera intel and ensure that you’re making good decisions every time you slip into the whitetail woods.
Most of us hang our cameras about 3 feet off of the ground and point them right where we expect the deer to be. If you’re a public land hunter or someone who frequents pressured ground, this will result in disappearing cameras eventually. If not, it’ll likely result in tight shots of deer butts and noses and, often, alarmed deer.
Whitetails know their home ground well, and they can get cagey around cameras that show up right in their faces. Instead, if the situation allows, consider hanging them as high as you can reach. Better yet, carry in a set of climbing sticks and hang them 7 to 10 feet off of the ground.
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This does wonders for theft issues and results in fewer spooked bucks, but also provides a unique look to the images that allows you to see multiple deer in the same shot and get a better look at antlers overall. Of course, to accomplish this you need to either use a trail camera mount that allows you to angle the camera, or a camera with a built-in mounting system. Either way, always triple-check to make sure you’ve got your camera aimed correctly before leaving it to soak for a few weeks.
When trail cameras first came out, memory cards were big in size and small in data storage. Today, the opposite is true. Now you can pick up a memory card that will store a year’s worth of high-resolution photos, or a couple months’ worth of HD video clips, for what you’d spend on a post-scouting fast food meal.
That means there is no reason to not opt for burst mode and the highest-resolution images your camera allows. Typically, that means nine images per trigger event. Set your camera for the highest number of images per event as possible, and then bump up the resolution to the max so your pictures will allow you to really zoom in without losing much clarity. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can be when a buck sneaks through off of the main trail and is 40 feet beyond where you expected the deer to travel.
When it comes to video mode, which is something I’ve found myself using more and more lately, memory cards will fill up quicker, but you can opt for 30-second or one-minute clips and still gather plenty of quality intel. I love this strategy for when the bucks are in bachelor groups or chasing during the rut because the first deer to trigger the camera might not be the one I really want to get a good look at.
Whether you choose stills or video, consider setting your camera to rest for the shortest amount of time between events, which is usually five seconds. Today’s memory cards, like the 64 GB or 128 GB options, allow for plenty of data to be gathered, so there is no reason to miss something because your camera is set to sleep for 30 seconds or a minute between events.
There are programs out there that will store your images and separate them into bucks, does, turkeys or whatever. These can be very solid options if you’re running several cameras and don’t have the spare time available to maintain the images yourself.
If you’d rather manage the images yourself, consider how you’ll store them so they are easily accessible and provide as much benefit as possible. My personal solution is a tablet that serves as my camera-checking and image-storage device.
With that tablet, when I upload files from a camera, I go through them at the first chance I get and delete all of the images that don’t do me any good. This means that most of the images are gone within a few hours of them being uploaded. I want only the images that show deer that interest me. With a pared down selection like this, it’s easier to go from camera to camera and day to day to recognize patterns.
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This is, after all, the reason to run trail cameras, but sometimes that gets lost in the simple pleasure of seeing pictures of what was happening in the woods when we weren’t there. But the reality is, if you want to use a digital scouter correctly, you probably need to jettison the images of leaves blowing in the wind, raccoons walking by and any other nonessential pictures.
This is also the best way to avoid running into storage issues on your computer, tablet or phone—wherever you upload your trail camera findings. If you’re only running one camera, that might not ever be an issue, but if you start running several, it will be, especially if you opt to use video mode often.
GUIDE YOUR PLAN
Scouting cameras are awesome tools when used correctly. If you understand the best ways to hang them, set them up and store their digital clues, you can maximize their usage and turn their findings into an actionable plan that will result in better hunting.
And what whitetail hunter doesn’t want that?