Over the last five years, probably no other "gadget" has changed the way we scout more than the trail camera. For many of us, running trail cameras is a hobby in itself, bringing a whole new excitement to our deer hunting efforts. Much more than just something to pass time, however, running trail cameras can give you a unique insight into the patterns of deer on your hunting properties and really tip the odds in your favor for harvesting a mature whitetail. Let's take a look at the features to look for when purchasing a trail camera, and how to get the maximum benefit from the camera once you have made your purchase.
As the popularity of these scouting tools has grown, so has the number of companies offering their own line of cameras. The features on these cameras cover such a wide spectrum that choosing the right one for you can be a daunting and sometimes confusing task. While this article isn't meant to tell you WHICH camera to buy, it IS meant to help you sort through some of the most common differences among the various trail cameras to help you narrow down your search.
The resolution of a trail camera is a measure of the image size that the camera creates. So a 5.0 megapixal trail camera will give you a much larger image - and therefore more detail - than one with 3.0 megapixals. Which resolution you choose really depends on how important it is to have a large, crisp image. If you are only concerned with having a general idea of what deer are in the area and when they are traveling through, then about any resolution offered on today's cameras will suffice. If you want a larger, more detailed image to print off for your friends, then you may want to shoot for something with at least 3.0 megapixels.
BATTERY TYPE & LIFE
In my mind, this is one of the most important considerations when choosing a trail camera, as it will have a huge effect on the cost of maintaining the camera. I have seen some "cheap" trail cameras that burn through six C-sized batteries in a week, and suddenly the "cheap" camera gets VERY expensive! Others claim to operate up to a year on eight AA batteries. So before you go buying a camera based on price alone, keep in mind the battery life, as it may be the most expensive choice you could make in the long run.
Another important feature is the trigger speed of the camera, which is simply how long it takes the trail camera to shoot a picture once something has "triggered" the motion sensor. A faster trigger speed can be the difference between having a great shot of that trophy buck and just having a picture of a deer's butt as it walks out of the frame. If you plan on placing your trail cameras over feeders or a mineral lick, then trigger speed will not be as much of an issue as it would if hung along a trail.
This is almost a moot point, since most trail cameras today have gone to infrared flash. An infrared flash, as opposed to the incandescent flash found standard on most consumer cameras, is less likely to spook deer, uses less battery life, and is less likely to be detected by other humans (i.e. thieves!). While I've gotten plenty of pictures of big, mature whitetails with an incandescent flash trail camera, there is no doubt that some animals are spooked by the bright flash. If you can afford the infrared flash, the benefits certainly outweigh the small increase in cost.
While we have covered some of the most important features to consider when buying a new trail camera, there are many more options that could impact your decision. One of these options is the size of the unit. Size varies greatly amongst trail cameras, and some companies are now producing models that are as small as your hand. Other models go as far as being able to send the pictures it takes directly to your email or cell phone, so the only time you have to check them is when the batteries need replacing. How's that for convenience?
Before you head out to buy your next trail camera, take a minute to think about how it will be used and what features are most important to you. This will make the task of narrowing down your choices much easier when you start the shopping process.
MAXIMIZING TRAIL CAMERA USE
Once you have waded through all the details, made your decision and laid down your hard earned money on a trail camera, all that's left is to hang that thing on a tree, right? Let's take a look at some ways you can be sure you are using your camera to its potential this season and getting the most bang for your buck.
DRAW THEM IN
One of the easiest ways to maximize the effectiveness of your trail camera and insure that you see a good representation of what is in your hunting area is to use some type of attractant to lure the deer into camera range. Probably the most common attractant used across the country is shelled corn - it's cheap, readily available, and the deer love it. For the purpose of getting trail camera pictures, there is no need to invest in an expensive feeder; just simply spread 100 pounds on the ground in an eight to ten-foot circle area where you want to hang your camera. For safety reasons, do not place the corn in large piles or in an area that holds moisture, as this can result in molding that can cause disease in both deer and turkey. Depending on deer density and other available food sources, this should get you five to ten days worth of pictures. Be patient, as it may take a few days for the deer to really key in on the corn and for you to start getting good pictures. Once they find it, though, it won't last long!
Before you start dumping corn on your favorite hunting property, check your local game laws regarding baiting. If corn or other "feed" is prohibited, but would still like to attract deer to your camera location, then you may want to consider creating a mineral lick. You can buy one of the many commercial mixes available today, or simply create your own by mixing 50 lbs of trace mineral, 50 lbs of feed mix salt, and 10 lbs of dicalcium phosphate. Break the soil up with a shovel in the area where you want to create your lick and work your mix into the soil. Once the lick gets a good rain on it, it shouldn't take long for the deer to find it and start paying regular visits.
KEEP IT MOBILE
Unless you are hunting a really small property, or you have the money to invest in lots of trail cameras, then you are going to need to move your cameras around to really get a good idea of what the deer are doing on your hunting property. Don't get caught in the trap of leaving your camera in the same spot all season. This will not only limit your ability to pattern the deer, but it may keep you from discovering that trophy buck that could be hanging out on the other side of the property!
From my experience, two weeks seems to be enough time to get a good representation of what deer are in the area, without your camera spending too much time in one location. You can always bring the camera back to the same spot at a later time, but the idea is to cover as much of your hunting area as possible.
KEEP GOOD RECORDS
Once you have moved your camera around your property and gotten plenty of pictures to look at, the real work has just begun. Now is the time to sort through the pictures, identifying as many unique animals as you can, analyzing what camera sites each deer is visiting and the times that they were there. This should start to give you an idea of the travel patterns on the property, as well as potential stand locations.
This season, make sure you use these tips to get the most out of your trail cameras, and the next picture you get of that monster buck may be the one with you behind him holding his antlers.
Brian Grossman is a wildlife biologist, freelance writer and avid outdoorsman from Mt. Washington, Kentucky. You can visit his web site at www.PoorBoysOutdoors.com .