Maximizing Your Hunting Time With Trail Cameras

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


Definitely a night vision

Definitely a night vision camera would be appropriate to these kind of shots. Glad you capture some good images there.

Retired2hunt's picture

  A very complete article


A very complete article Brian - both with the basics on trail cam specs and then on the use of one. 

I have done all of my hunting without a trail cam.  The scouting in Ohio was rather easy as most of my hunting was on private land.  Using my eyes and not a camera I was able to find runs, rubs, and scrapes and do my decision making based on that real evidence versus the camera.  Now don't get me wrong here - as I would like to then see the deer in a picture for the area I chose but it wasn't absolutely necessary because of the real evidence I had seen with my eyes.  The trail cam in this instance sort of takes the mystery away of what you will eventually see if set up in the area.

Now hunting in a western state maybe necessitates the need for a trail cam.  Most tags are only for a smaller specified timeframe than an eastern season on whitetail.  You need to get the most out of your hunting time.  So maybe a trail cam is the answer to give you more absolute data on what animal is where and how often.  But I have yet to still use a trail cam in my western hunt efforts.  That may be due to just ignorance or maybe still the thrill of hunting based on real first hand observed animal signs versus pictures.

If I should purchase a trail cam or two you have provided some great information on what specs the trail cam should have based on usage.  You also have provided some good basic information on how to use the trail cam to get your best usage out of it.

Numbnutz - you too have provided some learning curve information as well - Thanks!

I am still not looking to purchase a trail cam or two - yet.  Maybe next year's scouting efforts will change my mind.  If so, I will use this information to make a sound decision on my purchase.



numbnutz's picture

I have 2 trail cameras and

I have 2 trail cameras and use them every spring and through the summer. Once the season starts I pull them out of the field. I don't want them to get stolen since i have them on public land. I have gotten some very good pictures and data from them. You can start patterning the deer in just a few weeks like mentioned in the article. I have a couple older Moultrie's they are 4 mega pixle and take a quaility picture. The battery life is pretty good at about 60 days. They do not have the IR flash like some of the newer ones. I would tell any serious hunter who hunts the same are to invest in at least one trail camera for their scouting aresonal. Even though my cams have a normal flash they have NOT spooked game. I'm sure there are some that will argue that but from my experience with it they haven't spooked any deer or elk yet and until they do no one will be able to convince me other wise. Great information here. The only thing I will add is trail cam placement. Don't set it up to shoot straight across a trail rather point it either up or down the trail. the argument of trgger speed is kind of pointless unless you are pointing straight across a tral or opening which in my opinion is rather dumb. Also try to keep it from aiming directly towrds sunlight. It doen't matter what kind of cam you have you will get false trigger from the glare. Also clear away all small trees and branchs and weed from the front of the cam or the wind will start blowing and you will get false triggers. Other tha that good luck and have fun.

Swisher- the picture in this article are not from an IR cam, They are froma regular flash. Once you have seen both you know the difference.

swisheroutdoors's picture

Good points

You have some good points here.  Since you do use them regularly maybe you can answer a couple of questions.  I can't let go of the deer looking right into the camera I was wondering when its triggered do the electronics give off some kind of sound?  Perhaps that's why many photos they are looking directly into lens.  Or is it just happenstance due to location of camera as you said looking down a trail rather than across it?  Regular flash is going to be a bit intrusive I only brought up the IR cams because they are supposed to be the improvement to flash.  I guess until I invest and use one I’ll be a skeptic based on the pictures I see.  Has the use of the trail cam offered you a better opportunity to target a specific animal?  I do like the date and time stamp on photos.  Thanks.

swisheroutdoors's picture

Corn and Cameras

Corn not used properly and you know people will not use it properly will cause more harm then good.  Camera as cool as they are I'm not willing to deal with thieves and not convinced on infrared flash not spooking deer.  It’s just all too intrusive.  Like the deer in the picture they are starring right at the camera.  If I was a recreational outdoorsman that just wanted to observe wildlife I might put up a camera.  Big maybe.  Otherwise observe nature with your own eyes or behind the lens of SLR 400MM lens or through a 3x9 scope.  That's just me.

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