November 04, 2022
By Fred Eichler
Checking your trail cameras is a lot like walking downstairs on Christmas morning: None of us knows what “presents” lie in store for us inside that wrapped box or stored on a tiny piece of plastic, yet the excitement level is pretty much the same. And for those readers who use trail cameras? You’re lying if you don’t echo my sentiments.
For me, it’s the sheer curiosity of what surprises might await my eyes via the pics and videos my cameras have taken. They are never the same, and sometimes you get that amazing animal or bird that you hadn’t anticipated, or that you may have never seen before in person, or in that particular way.
Personally, I feel they are great for scouting or just seeing what animals are around. Others might not feel the same way, and I’m not here to delve too deeply into the debates on them or recent state legislation regarding their use. I’m just here to tell you that I love trail cameras — and why.
I don’t feel they give hunters an unfair advantage. Most seasoned woodsmen and women usually have a pretty good idea of what critters are roaming around on their hunting areas based on tracks or other sign, which then leads them to place cameras in certain areas for further confirmation.
That said, I will add that in certain cases on public land, where there is only one waterhole around for miles, I have seen trail-camera use get a little ridiculous at times. And in those cases, I do feel it may be detrimental to wildlife that need to drink without being spooked by the noise or flash of multiple cameras turning on — even if it’s the infrared lights.
I have also seen as many as five blinds around one waterhole in Arizona. While I consider that example to be more of an issue of hunters not respecting their brethren (another topic altogether); isn’t surrounding the only viable water source around for miles with multiple blinds pretty much on par with a waterhole trail camera when it comes to possibly deterring thirsty critters from drinking?
But I digress…
Since I put some of the pictures I get on my wall, I often set up my cameras for scenic backgrounds, because who doesn’t like a pretty picture? Others are placed in the off-season, so I can enjoy looking at images of things like calves and fawns being born, or bear cubs doing what they do. Or for keeping track of elk and deer that are close to shedding their antlers (important intel if you’re a shed-hunting fanatic like me).
Despite sometimes having different goals when I set up my cameras, some rules always apply.
To decrease false triggers and to get better images, I do a lot of small things to mitigate the odds of being disappointed with a lot of pictures of nothing. For example, I rarely set my cameras facing directly east or west, because the sun and/or direct shadows falling on the camera’s motion sensor can cause false triggers.
To prevent this from happening when setting up my cameras, I always pay attention to where the sun will be at different times of the day. I also trim any small branches or grass in the intended path of my camera’s “eye” that might cause repeated false triggers due to their being moved by even the slightest of breezes.
If I’m setting a camera on a game trail, I don’t face it perpendicular to the trail, but rather on a quartering angle to the trail. Doing so helps ensure I get a pic/video of the whole animal instead of just body parts — even if it’s walking fast or running.
Since many animals are curious and spot the cameras, I will sometimes place mine eight to 10 feet above ground and looking down, to avoid their getting messed with. Another advantage to placing your cameras at this height — especially on public ground — is to thwart people from stealing them. Speaking of theft, I also recommend protecting your cameras from animals like bears by enclosing your cameras in a manufactured “bear box.” They are invaluable!
I also want my cameras running for long periods of time without filling up SD cards or having batteries die. That’s why I always go with 32 GB cards, because they can hold thousands of hi-res photos or lots of video clips — depending on length of video and resolution. As for batteries, I recommend lithium. Are they more expensive? Yes. But they last a lot longer than the alternatives I’ve used — I have left cameras running for seven months without their lithium-powered batteries dying.
My last bit of trail-camera advice might be the most important, and it brings us back to my opening paragraph: If you’re using and checking cameras regularly, please do so with caution. I will take great pains to slip in and check my cameras in the middle of the day or late at night (always being scent-conscious) to minimize my human presence as much as possible. After all, isn’t that why we set up cameras in the first place?
I’m sure after reading that last paragraph, many of you are thinking, But what about cellular cameras? Valid point.
Cellular cams are awesome, and I own a few of them myself (currently Stealth Cam’s DS4K because it suits my personal needs and criteria for any and all cams I buy). But they, like anything else in life, are not without a few shortcomings — cost and service signal being the two biggest — so be sure to do your research before dropping cash on a cell camera and data plan.
But once again, I digress…
Good trail cameras — no matter the make or model, cellular or conventional — can and will provide you and others with years of enjoyment, like they have for me and my family. Just be sure to check the regulations before setting up a trail camera in the area where you’re planning to hunt.