By Mark Kenyon
Trail cameras are great, but they also present lots of opportunities for us less-than-perfect hunters to screw things up. Even during the summer.
Stolen cameras. Malfunctioning cameras. Crappy pictures. Spooked bucks. Messed up hunting strategies. If you’re not careful, trail cameras can lead to a lot of stressful situations.
That’s why I put together today’s checklist.
When heading out for your next set of summer trail camera chores – whether it be setting out new cameras, checking them or analyzing photos – consider all of the below factors to ensure stress-free and successful utilization of this terrific, but occasionally tricky, tool.
1. Confirm Battery Level: Before heading out to place trail cameras, make sure you either put new batteries in or confirm that your current batteries have enough power to last the length of time you plan on leaving your camera out. There are few things as frustrating as driving out to your property, hiking all the way back to a spot and then setting up your camera – only to find out that your batteries are dead. That kind of thing will drive a sane man nuts.
2. Check SD Card: Make sure you’ve got an SD card in your camera with enough storage space to accommodate the time-length you plan on leaving your camera AND make sure to clear old pictures and/or format the SD card before leaving it out in the woods. If the SD card you’re using has been used in different cameras in the past, make sure to go the formatting route, as that will make sure the card works properly in the new camera.
3. Update Camera Settings Properly: Don’t make the mistake of grabbing a new camera and slapping it up on a tree without updating your camera settings. First, always check to make sure that your date and time is set properly. That information is crucial to getting the most value of out your trailcam pics, so get that updated every time you set one out. Another camera setting to confirm is what “mode” your camera is on. Many trailcams now have photo, video and time-lapse modes. Make sure you’re using the right one for your goals at that time. You’ll also want to properly set your delay between shots and the number of pics you want the camera to take per triggering event. I typically use a 1 minute delay and a 2-shot burst per trigger, but if I’m in an area of low deer density, I’ll up that to a 3-shot burst.
4. Place Your Camera In The Right Areas for Summer Pictures: Deer behave differently and travel in different locations during the summer than they do during the hunting season. So if you want to capture a high quantity of photos during the summer, you’re going to need to make sure you’re accounting for that summer behavior. If you place your summer trail cameras in front of your favorite November funnel treestand, you’re probably in for a disappointing summer trail camera season. On the other hand, it’s hard to beat placing a summer trail camera near a popular summer food (soybeans, alfalfa, clover, brushy field, etc) or water source.
6. Place Your Cameras In Low-Impact Spots: Speaking of placing your cameras, make sure these are low-impact spots that won’t result in you spooking deer every time you go in and out from these locations. Putting a summer trail camera back in the middle of the bedding area is a great way to spook deer and potentially push quality deer out of the area. Instead, keep your cameras near edges that you can access stealthily.
7. Use the Right Attractant: If legal in your area, placing an attractant in front of your summer trail cameras can be a great way to capture more photos. But make sure you’re using the right attractant at the right time. For example, minerals can be great attractants for trail cameras from early summer through August, but their attracting power typically falls off as you get into late summer/early fall. Conversely, something like corn will attract deer at most times, but maybe even more so during the cooler months of the year when deer crave those carbs more than usual. I usually find minerals the best long-term trail camera option during the summer, and then switch to other attractants come hunting season (or move the cameras to areas where I don’t need attractants to get pics, like scrapes or trails.)
8. Carefully Set Height/Angle/Position of Camera: A big part of getting quality pictures is properly setting your camera. That means putting it at the right height, at the right angle, and facing the right direction. When choosing what direction to set your camera, consider the potential impact of the sun, as having your camera facing due west or east can result in blinding sun shots when the sun rises or sets. Of course, check the angle of your camera to ensure that passing deer will trigger the camera and then be within frame for the photo. Finally, you’ll want to consider how spooky your deer may or may not be about trail cameras, and adjust accordingly. If, based on prior trail camera pics or videos, you’ve seen that deer are negatively reacting to getting their photo taken, you may want to consider placing your camera much higher than normal (above deer level), and then angling the camera down. This can reduce the number of deer that notice your cameras. If your local deer don’t seem to be bothered by the cameras, typically deer eye level is the right height to get high quality pics.
9. Consider the Risk of Theft: If your trail cameras are on private ground that you share with others or on public land, you might want to consider how you place and conceal your camera to minimize the risk of theft. In areas such as this, I typically do not place my cameras right on field edges, and wherever I do place them, I try to tuck them back in some kind of vegetation and lock them up.
10. Remove Interfering Vegetation: Speaking of vegetation, while it can be helpful to conceal your camera with, you also need to ensure that vegetation or branches won’t interfere with your photos. Make sure that you’ve cleared as much vegetation out of the triggering area in front of your camera and anything that might potentially grow up in the future. You don’t want an SD card full of swaying grass. With this being the case, I always bring a handsaw with me when setting cameras.
11. Be Careful About How Often You Check Your Cameras: Checking summer trail camera pics is a blast, I know. And for that reason, it’s easy to be tempted to check them early and often – but that’s a mistake. Every time you’re checking those cameras you’re potentially spooking deer and reducing your chances of getting quality photos in the future. That said, I’d recommend checking those cameras as infrequently as you can bear. Personally, I like to wait no less than two weeks between summer trail camera pulls.
12. Be Stealthy and Scent Conscious When Checking Your Cams: When you do go in to check those cameras, make sure you’re doing so in a way that minimizes your chances of educating deer about your presence. Even though you might not be hunting these deer for a long time, you still don’t want them spooking and leaving the area. That, of course, won’t be good for your potential trailcam pics. That said, make sure when you access trail cameras that you’re not going through areas and at times that are deer are out and about. So avoid walking across a soybean field at last light and don’t plunge through a bedding thicket at midday. Additionally, be careful about your scent. While you don’t necessarily need to be 100% scent-control crazy at this time, I like to wear my knee-high scent-free rubber boots when heading in to check cameras, I wear clean scent-free gloves when touching my cameras and anything around them, and then I spray everything down with scent eliminating spray when I leave. Additionally, I try to make sure my wind is not blowing into an area likely holding deer when I head out for those camera checks. If you can check your cameras on a rainy windy day or by way of ATV or vehicle, that’s even better.
Analyzing Your Pictures
13. Remember, Summer Is Not Fall: As noted already, summer deer behavior is different than fall deer behavior. So when analyzing your summer trailcam pics, don’t jump to assumptions. How deer act now, where they travel and where you capture pictures will likely not translate to hunting season, unless your season opens in early September. In fact, not only will behavior change, but a large number of your bucks may completely relocate as well – as a large percentage of bucks shift from summer to fall ranges in early to mid September, leaving you with a bunch of summer pics of bucks that won’t be around during hunting season at all. So don’t get too obsessed with “patterns” from those pictures.
14. Inventory, Age and Target Decisions: While not all of your local summer bucks will remain during hunting season, some will. So taking inventory of all of these potential bucks and getting to know each through photos can still be helpful. First, by looking at the general quality of bucks on your summer cameras, you can at least get a base-line idea of the potential for bucks come hunting season. Secondly, by getting to know your summer bucks and estimating age and whether or not you’d like to target them, you can make decisions much easier if you happen to see one of these bucks when you do actually get in a tree months later.
Want more trail camera info? Check out the resources below: