July 10, 2017
By Tony J. Peterson
Last fall, I hung a trail camera over a scrape where I figured the biggest buck in that particular woods was living. After dumping a whole bottle of Nationwide Rutting Buck Scent into the scrape, I set my camera to video and left. For two weeks, the camera watched over that scrape and recorded 10-second clips of all the antlered visitors.
I ran into a different buck on the farm during the last week of October that was good enough to wear my tag, so I never got the chance to check the videos before I was tagged out. When I did pop that SD card into my tablet and check out its contents, I was blown away.
Not only did the big boy show, but so did about six of his buddies. Every one of them worked the licking branch feverishly, but only one of them worked the scrape. With still images, I'd have never noticed that almost all of the bucks devoted their time to the licking branch and not pawing the earth to pieces. What exactly that means is anyone's guess, but to this particular whitetail junkie it's very interesting.
That wasn't my first learning experience with trail camera videos, and definitely won't be my last. These days, I find myself using cameras less each year, but the cameras I do use are more often than not set to video, especially in a few specific situations.
When Does Video Mode Make Sense?
Today's trail cameras are amazing pieces of technology. You can set them to do all kinds of things, but most common is so they will take single images or images in bursts. That's what I used to do when the rut would roll around, figuring that I'd get images of the doe first and then her horny suitor. On a whim, I decided to use video mode a few seasons back to see if I was missing anything with the burst mode.
I can't definitively say I was, but the videos I captured were pretty cool. Much cooler, anyway, than a series of still images. Does that offer the hunter any decided advantage? Probably not, but it's more fun and that's one of the reasons I go to the woods.
Outside of the rut, I started using video mode in specific spots just because I wanted to. I've got a few small properties I hunt in northern Wisconsin, with tiny kill plots on them, and I love video mode there. The reason? Because a lot more than bucks come through. Bobcats, bears and turkeys all show up on my cams.
I also realized that a lot of times a specific deer would trigger my camera and in the background of the video, another buck would pass through. This happens with still images as well, but it's easier to get a better look at them with video.
If you're planning on taking inventory on a bait or mineral site, video mode probably doesn't make much sense. The deer are likely to pose for you at spots like that. Ditto for a small waterhole, however, if you're trying to suss out who cruises a specific, deep-woods trail or maybe the top of a certain, hard-to-reach ridge, then video might make much more sense.
The file size of videos is usually pretty large. This means that you'll need a good-sized memory card to handle them, especially if you plan to leave your camera out for a while. I've made the mistake of using 2gb or 4gb memory cards in my cameras only to realize that they filled up within a week or two, leaving my cameras essentially useless from there on out. These days, I opt for at least a 32gb memory card.
The size of videos also makes storage an issue. I bought a tablet specifically so I could check my cameras in the woods and organize photos. The problem is, when I upload a whole bunch of videos I tend to fill up its storage. This really isn't too big of a deal, but does mean that I have to manage my images and videos much more frequently, and diligently.
Battery life seems to be somewhat of a consideration as well. It would stand to reason that video mode might sap them quicker than still images, but I honestly can't say I've noticed since I started using lithium batteries. I, like many bowhunters out there, have dealt extensively with cameras that die too quickly and nothing is more frustrating. I'd rather shell out a few extra bucks for high-end batteries and the peace of mind in knowing my camera, even when on video mode, isn't likely to go to sleep on me before I return to the site.
Does Camera Choice Matter?
Of all of the equipment I get asked about, bows are the number-one query while trail cameras are a close second. Everyone wants a great camera for $100 or less. While getting a sufficient camera for less than a Benjamin is possible, you're far better off looking for something that carries a heftier sticker price.
Quality costs money, and a low-quality camera will either not offer video at all, or produce a so-so product. If you really want to capture great video of deer or other critters, you'll probably spend a decent amount of money to get there. The good thing is, that cameras in the $200 range are almost always more than adequate, and they tend to offer killer battery life, excellent image quality, and a host of other features.
There are a lot of reasons to set a trail camera to video mode, but the most compelling is that videos are more exciting than images. It's anticlimactic, I know, but that doesn't make it untrue. Of course, you might also learn a thing or two about deer behavior and end up with some awesome footage of the other forest dwellers as an added bonus.