Skip to main content

Trail-Camera Strategies For Viewing Backyard Wildlife

Trail cameras can be a fun way to explore the secret travels of neighborhood critters.

Trail-Camera Strategies For Viewing Backyard Wildlife

Trail cameras can be a fun way to explore the secret travels of neighborhood critters.

Trail cameras are the go-to scouting strategy for most whitetail hunters these days, but digital recon can go far beyond pinning down a specific buck’s movements.

In fact, to enjoy trail cameras, you might not even need to leave your backyard. The practice of running a cam on a bird feeder or maybe a pile of corn in suburban and even urban settings is more popular than ever.

Not only can this be a lot of fun, but it can expose the secret travels of critters we tend to assume live deeper in more undisturbed woodlots.

I’m reminded of this often by my wife, who shares various social media posts with me from folks who capture images of a wide variety of animals in the suburbs where we live. Of most interest to her are the images of black bears, which are far more common in my part of Minnesota than most folks would assume (myself included). Backyard cameras are truly eye-opening.

This strategy isn’t worthwhile solely for the bird-watchers either. Hunters looking to test out trail camera features and see what their cams are really capable of, can learn an awful lot by doing a run-through in their yard. This can help us fine tune image and video setting so that when we do place them in the woods on a recon mission, we can expect quality results.

What You Need

Obviously, you need a camera. This category has exploded in recent years, with high megapixel, bleeding-edge, tech-heavy offerings coming down in price. What used to cost maybe $250 or more a few years ago can now be had for half of that.

Even if you’ve only got a tiny patch of woods in your backyard, you might be surprised at the animals that pass through it. A good trail camera set up, for example, might show you that bears are far more common in your neighborhood than you’d expect.

It’s a pretty safe bet that any camera in the $100 - $150 range will do everything you need, including taking quality day and nighttime photos, capture videos, and not break down a week after you get it. If you opt for a cheaper model, of which there are many available, results vary wildly.

Nearly all cameras function off of four to 12 AA batteries, and either a standard size SD card or a micro SD. I used to buy expensive lithium batteries for my cameras that would be left out for weeks in winter temps, but not anymore.

Do you want great trail camera images? Then mess around with your setups in your backyard first, to fine-tune settings and functionality.

Modern cameras are highly efficient, and I often get half of a year or more out of a single set of run-of-the-mill batteries. When it comes to memory cards, I still opt for higher quality. This is because cheap SD cards are unreliable, and often not built to handle the file size or the data-write speeds of trail camera videos. This is an important consideration if you want HD video clips up to two minutes in length.

Some predators, like coyotes, might be far more common in your backyard than you’d expect. …
… Others, like rabbit-eating bobcats, could be more rare but it’s still possible to capture cool images of them (and other animals) in urban and suburban settings.

To view your images and videos, take a look at your laptop or desktop computer. Does it have an SD card port? If so, you’re in luck. If you don’t have that, you’ll want to pick up a card reader. I have a simple card reader for my smartphone that also works with my tablet because they are made by the same company.


If it’s legal, you can really increase your odds of capturing images by putting out a mineral block or maybe a pile of corn. Check the hunting regulations carefully, and then consider where you’re located. If you’re near a major highway, baiting in deer might not be such a great idea. If you’re in a CWD zone or some other unit where wildlife feeding is prohibited, you want to know that.

Even if you’ve only got a small wooded area to work with in your backyard for a trail camera setup, there are still considerations for exact locations. Look for sign and think about how animals might use your yard, and the tweak according to the image results.

The Setup

Naturally, if you can place bait or some other attractant, you’ll want your camera positioned to capture the visitors. Most people naturally place their cameras about three to four feet up in a nearby tree, but I often like to mount my cameras higher and angle them down. An adjustable camera mount can help in this situation. This angle gives a wider look at the visitors, and provides an interesting angle.

Even with just-for-fun backyard camera setups, think through how you’ll mount your cameras. A good strategy is often to hang the high and angle them down to provide a better angle.

If you can’t put out an attractant, then you’ll want to read the yard or woodlot you’re working with to see where to hang your camera. Where I live, almost everyone in our neighborhood has an acre or two of yard that typically dips down into lower land areas.

Understanding your camera’s settings and functions will help you capture better images in the woods and a great run-through for this can be to monitor backyard critters for a few weeks.

These are critter highways and great spots for cameras. Maybe you’ve got a similar situation, or just a small patch of woods to work with, or maybe you just want to see who is munching on your garden at night?

Either way, take a look around and decide where the best bet is for hanging or mounting your camera.


When I put out a camera to scout deer that I plan to hunt, the less intrusion I bring to the woods the better. This means that my cameras might soak for weeks without me returning to check them. Backyard, all-for-fun cams, are different. I’ll check them with my little girls nearly every day that we are home.

Not only is this fun, but it allows me to adjust my camera positioning and settings if I need to. For the latter, if the deer or other critters are only showing up after dark, then I might opt for burst mode with the highest resolution images possible. If they are showing up more in daylight, I might go with video mode.

A backyard trail camera setup might capture images of an elusive wild animal, or maybe just the neighbor’s dog who has been digging through your garbage.

This is part of the fun, because it’s a low-pressure activity that can allow you to not only get to know your camera, but get to know the animals that have adapted to suburban and urban life. Where I live, I’d have bet anyone quite a bit of money that animals like bears, mink and big bucks were absolutely rare. After running cameras for a few years in my backyard, I’m happy to admit that I was wrong.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now