Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trail Cams - A How-To

Trail cameras are fun and enlightening.  However, as a tool for hunting, there are some techniques which can help you punch the hole in your tag.
One saying about deer hunting that I have come to find true is ‘the best sign of deer, is deer’.  The camera will help you find the deer.  There are two main types of cameras, flash and infrared.  The difference is the flash camera does just that, it flashes when the ambient light is too dim for the camera to pick up an image.  Of course, a flash is highly noticeable by game animals, as well as humans.  The flash can cause the curious to come and investigate, whether it is a bear or a trespasser.  It is recommended to have a lock box on a flash camera.  The infrared is less conspicuous, as a dim red light is emitted in order for the infrared sensor to pick up an image.  The downfall of the infrared camera is lack of color when a picture is taken after light has fallen.  The great advantage of the infrared is in the number of images and extended battery life, since it does not use a flash to scare game off or drain the battery.

Plot/Field Style Set-up on infrared
style camera.
Location is everything.  Because of this, it is worth noting that camera location can tell you when the game comes out, the quantity of game, and whether there is that trophy you have wanted to hunt.  Will Jenkins of has broken camera set-ups to three strategies: plot, trail, and bait set-ups.  I actually use all, but combine the bait to both the plot and trail.  Basically, I use bait to stall the animal in front of the camera.  Therefore I base my set-ups on two strategies.  One is a plot sight.  Set up the camera on the edge of a field to see what comes out.  Many times, placing a pile of corn, fruits or minerals will help bring the animals visiting the field to the view of the camera.  This technique will show you many game animals and help determine when they are feeding.  If you are only getting nighttime pictures, take note on what animals are showing up, and then move the camera closer to where you think the animal is entering or exiting the field.  Your objectives with a field view camera setting should be in retrieving the quantity of animals, quality of animals, and times.
Trail Style Set-up.  This image catches
the deer traveling to the fields.
The other technique involves a trail setup.  In this setting, you are looking for a pathway to the field or scrape to set the camera near.  This is where you are looking to find out if the deer are returning to the field or from the field.  It helps in finding bedding areas.  With this information, you can determine stand locations and entrances to the stands so as not to spook the deer.  With this technique, you will likely view less game, but should get a better idea of the animals’ actual habits and trends.  You may have to change locations of this camera more often, as trails can change.  Also, with this setup, you will need to leave the camera alone longer in order for human scent to dissipate.  Older mature deer will abandon the trail for a while until it feels safe you have not been there.
It helps to keep a camera log by downloading the images to computer and location and time stamp them.  Using the field camera and trail camera images in conjunction with each other, you can map the deer’s patterns.
Flash Camera set up on a field.  The
racoon family helped devour the corn.

One racoon gets cozy with the camera.
Here are a few other notes on setting up your cameras.  Try to avoid setting the camera facing east or west.  The sun can cause silhouette images on flash cameras and can cause ‘white out’ on infrared cameras.  White out is when the infrared sensor is still reading as dark, even though the sunlight is out causing the whole image to be white or mostly white.  Also, it is best to hang the camera about 3 to 5 feet high with a slight downward angle.  Remember to have the camera close enough to the area you are trying to capture so the motion sensor will pick the game up.  If you set a bait pile 60 yards from the camera, do not expect many images.  Ideally you should expect images from 20 feet to 60 feet.  Lastly, try setting a camera in a tree facing toward your stand and the expected location of game animals.  Deer usually become accustomed to the ‘tick’ of the camera, and while they will turn toward the camera, they are not likely to be spooked by the camera.  This may allow you the distraction you need to draw back the bow or make minor movements before your shot.  And with the camera snapping a short series of photos, it will bring a nice set of images of your hunting adventure in process.
Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News. He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member of Pope and Young, and a regualar contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.


  1. Great post! Do you have any suggestions on using trail cameras on public land? Is it a viable option at all? How often do you check your cameras?

  2. Tim, thanks!! For public land, I would stick to an infrared. I would also try to find the most remote deer trail and maybe even go high with it. I'm not worried about curious game animals as much as the 2 legged envious type! Lock boxes would be must also.

  3. Good selection of Outdoor camping,Hiking,Trekking products at