How to Get the Most out of Your Trail Cameras
August 15, 2016
In the not-too-distant past, trail cameras lacked the kinds of features we've come to expect from quality trailcams we see marketed today. What those bulky precursors to modern cameras did for us, however, was expose hunters to what could be by providing the first glimpses of a tool that could keep tabs on the woods for us 24 hours a day.
Today's trail cameras have evolved to do things we didn't imagine and many of them offer technologies and settings most of us really don't understand. This is partially due to the fact that a lot of us are used to setting a camera up to take pictures and that's about it.
Manufacturers have responded to this particular demand by creating pre-set options that address the needs of bowhunters all over the country. However, just because they are easy to use, doesn't meant that those settings are the right choice for every situation. In fact, most bowhunters would benefit greatly from trying to understand their cameras better and then setting them to wring the most out of each setup.
This results not only in better photos and videos, but far better information that can influence when and where to hunt a specific spot. And after all, isn't that why we use them in the first place? Here are some fundamental things to keep in mind when you're shopping for a quality trailcam that will help make your purchasing decisions easier.
Trail Camera Basics
When you cruise through the aisles of your local sporting good store, you'll see cameras advertising how many megapixels they use. A general rule in photography is that more megapixels result in higher-resolution photography.
This means if you use a camera that is five megapixels and a camera that is 14, the latter will allow you to zoom in on your photos and crop them down further while still preserving the integrity of the photo.
This may not be a big issue if you run cameras tight to a mineral or bait site, but what if you set one up on the edge of a two-acre food plot or a much larger soybean field? The buck that passes right by the camera will be easy enough to see, but what about his buddy who feeds through 20 yards farther out? That's when those extra megapixels become valuable.
When I'm setting up my cameras, I tend to choose settings that offer the highest resolution pictures as possible for much of the season. This is an insurance policy for me in case I get an image with a buck that's at the outer edge of the camera's range.
The downside to high-resolution photography is that each image will eat up more of your storage space. Opt for a larger 16GB or 32GB SD card (Stealth Cam even offers a 64GB card), and you won't have to worry about it filling up after a couple of weeks.
Another trail cameras basic that is worth understanding is trigger speed. A lot of companies will say something like they offer a sub-one-second trigger speed. That sounds fast, but it might not be depending on how far under one second they actually are.
This is one of the reasons why so many of us have gotten pictures of headless deer or half of a buck walking past the camera. If the trigger speed is slow, your photos won't feature the entire animal.
Stealth Cam's new Pro Series cameras offer a trigger speed of about .4 seconds. That type of trigger speed will provide images of your photo subjects even if they are moving quickly. This is something that can be appreciated all season long, but is invaluable during the rut when the deer you're targeting are very likely to be on the go.
Of course, you can also opt for video mode, which is something I'm using more and more each year. This technology allows you to capture HD video of critters moving through the woods and fields and is also a great rut setting.
I also like video mode for turkey season, and in the late summer when bucks are in bachelor groups and three or four deer might walk past my camera within 10 or 15 seconds. If you're not using a camera with HD video, you're missing out.
Another option that has become standard throughout the trail camera industry is time-lapse photography. This essentially allows users to choose a time of day and image frequency in order to monitor food plots and other food sources. Since an animal doesn't have to trigger the camera to take a picture, you'll capture more images of distant animals.
The problem with this technology is a lot of it isn't very good, and what's worse, many cameras will only snap the time-lapse photos when they are on time-lapse mode.
This means that a 200-inch nontypical could walk right in front of the camera and you'll miss him because it wasn't at the exact moment in the interval where the camera would be shooting a photo. This is no good.
Instead of living with "what ifs", the minds behind Stealth Cam's Pro Series cameras built in PIR Sensor Override technology for their Time Lapse setting, which gives you the best of both worlds.
You'll get your images at the time you wanted them, but also extra images of critters walking past. In other words, you won't miss a thing and if you should get so many images that your SD card fills up, the SD Card Override technology will allow the camera to keep taking pictures by overriding the oldest pictures first.
If you're used to taking a camera out, setting it up to take a picture per event and nothing else, you're greatly underutilizing the game-changing technologies available at your fingertips.
Instead of continuing in the old ways, consider learning the features of your camera and then setting them up to take advantage of each specific scenario throughout the year. If you do, you'll be surprised at what you've been missing.