By Mark Kenyon
How often should I check my trail cameras? Where should I put my trail cameras? What do I need to think about when I’m actually out there checking them?
I’d venture to guess that almost every one of you has asked one of these questions at some point, and for good reason. These are important things to consider! If used carelessly, trail cameras can actually screw up our chances of hunting success more than they could ever help. And that’s why you need to consider the above items carefully, and make sure you’re making the right decisions on each.
With that said, today we’re going to tackle each of those questions related to trailcams and look at them during both the summer and hunting seasons. And if you have additional opinions on any of these questions, let us know in the comments!
How often should you check your cameras?: During the summer, bucks are in a state of calm, relative to hunting season, and therefore can be seen during daylight and on camera more consistently than at many other times of year – but only if you play your cards right. You have to resist the temptation to check your trail cams every couple days because, just like during hunting season, bucks will react to your human pressure and move out of the area or at least stop visiting those specific camera locations. That said, I try to force myself to wait at least two weeks between checking my cameras during the summer. Longer is even better. Exceptions can be made if you’re already going to be passing by the trailcam location to work on food plots or other projects on your property.
Where should you place your cameras?: When running cameras in the summer I like to keep them close to a prime summer food source, such as a bean or alfalfa field, a food plot, or a water source. I also like my cameras on edges, making it easy to check those cameras without leaving too much scent or spooking deer out of their bedding areas. As far as the actual placement of your cameras, during the summer I like to keep my cameras at eye level, as these produce the best pictures at a time that I’m mostly interested in just getting a good look at each buck to identify whether or not he’ll be a target buck. I’m not quite as concerned at this time about deer being spooked by the camera being right in front of them.
How should you check them?: When checking cameras in the summer it’s best to act as if it’s hunting season, and be careful about your scent and where you walk to minimize spooking deer. A best case scenario is to take an ATV or truck right up to the camera, but if you have to hike in make sure to avoid bedding areas and time your visits to occur during midday.
How often should you check your cameras?: During the hunting season, I ramp up how often I check my trail cameras – but only if I have good access opportunities (more on that later.) The risk of checking cameras often during the hunting season is that you can put too much pressure on your local deer and screw up your hunting, the benefit is that you might be able to use some of the intel you garner from the photos to put together a plan of attack. You need to balance these two concerns, and every situation is different, but whenever you have a “safe” opportunity to get in and check a good camera location in-season, I’d recommend you do it. On average, I’ll probably check cameras once a week, but only if it’s possible with very minimal intrusion and in the right circumstances.
Where should you place your cameras?: Similar to during the summer, I like to place my cameras primarily in areas that I can easily access without having to go through deer hot-spots. In the fall this usually will come in the form of a food source or field edge, along trails that I’ll be walking to/from tree stands, or old logging roads. Fall food sources such as corn, soybeans (later in the season), brassicas, clover or acorns can all make good places to key your cameras around – as can terrain funnels when you get closer to the rut. And if you’re trying to get an inventory of what bucks are in the area, putting your camera pointed towards a scrape is a dynamite strategy. Differently than during the summer, during hunting season it might be a good idea for you to place your cameras higher in the tree and angle them down. This will minimize the chances of a buck being spooked by your camera during the season and changing his patterns – which could in turn hurt your hunting.
How should you check them?: As mentioned earlier, I’m especially careful when checking cameras during the hunting season – and usually I’m waiting for a safe opportunity. These “safe” opportunities include anytime you’re passing by a camera already on the way to a stand, if you get a rainy/windy day, if the farmer is already working the area, or if you can drive your vehicle right up to the camera. I’ve also found a good way to check cameras, in situations where you know deer will move off to other areas after dark, is to drive your truck or ATV to check your cams in the middle of the night. Make sure to wear rubber boots and gloves when touching the camera or any surrounding vegetation, and spray everything down with scent eliminating spray before you leave.