In this digital world we rarely plan our whitetail season without first seeing images of the animals walking around in our potential hunting spot. Trail cameras have taken the hunting industry to a new level, and I say that in the most un-biased way possible. As with most things in life, I believe in finding that middle ground where we don’t abuse power, but we do use our knowledge to give us an advantage. Trail cameras have a happy medium, just like anything else, but where that line is drawn will be left up to each individual hunter to decide. Sure, my heart rate goes up when somebody emails a trail cam photo of a huge buck directly under a tree stand, but that rush of adrenaline doesn’t compare to the surprise of the deer actually walking under my stand.

How hard can it be to buy a trail camera, strap it to a tree, put batteries in it, and check it now and then? When you consider how many different cameras there are to choose from, how many trees there are to choose from, and everything that goes on in the woods that you don’t necessarily want to capture… It can be more challenging that you may think. I’ve put together a few ideas for those of you who may want to get that perfect photo without the drama.

  • Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Depending on how many areas you need to spy on, and how often you’d like to check your photos, different manufacturers offer products that can specifically fit the mold you’re looking for. If you’re a guy who wants two specific views of your general hunting area, then it’s acceptable for you to splurge and buy the latest and greatest technology in trail cameras. Those two cameras could give you real time updates on what is walking under your stand, and may also give you the option of getting accompanying video of the creature. If, however, you are looking to scope out your hunting grounds from afar, and this would require a dozen or so cameras, then you may want to find a happy medium so that you can still afford to buy your tags (and beer) when season approaches. You don’t have to go broke just to set your trees up with cameras. Consider purchasing one expensive camera, and a few not-as-expensive cameras, and compare as the year goes by. Trust me, when you see the results you’ll know which style of camera fits best with your plan.
  • Which one is his good angle? We all love to see a painfully huge whitetail walking down our shooting lane, but seeing him from multiple angles is quite unnecessary. If you have followed rule #1 (see above) and you have your cameras in hand: I’d like for you to sit down and really think about why you want to put that camera on a tree. You want to know what’s going on when you’re not around. Right? Similar to putting spy cameras up in your own living room: you won’t benefit from multiple angles. 1. Choose a tree. 2. Put a camera on that tree. Don’t put another camera up on the next tree over unless if you have reason to believe that a world class deer is walking through and you may not get the blue-ribbon photo with the first camera. The deer you are trying to photograph will typically have some type of pattern that they are following. When you decide what that pattern is, then you can decide which side of the tree to put the camera on. How do you decide on what their pattern is? Look at the time code. And then keep looking at the time codes on the photos until you see if he is following a routine.
  • Hate to see you go, but love to watch you leave. Where is the food? Your deer in question will likely be headed for food when they wake up and they will also be headed to bed from that food when they want to get some sleep. It really is that simple. Find the food source, find the bedding area, then find a tree in between. If you find the perfect tree: situated in between the food and bed, on a beaten down path full of deer tracks, then the next step is to put your trail camera onto that tree and stay out of there for a while. When you check your photos for the first time, assuming that your huge buck has waltzed through the timber, you will either notice that he is facing the camera, or he’s not. If you can see his face, then I will congratulate you on achieving the goal at hand. If, however, you only see backstraps and but hairs, then I suggest going in and moving the camera to the other side of the tree. Consider a different tree altogether if that one is pretty far away from his travel route and you only caught a slight glimpse of his tail. My reasoning for putting this tip in here is this: we can tell a lot about a deer from head on, but it’s deceiving to see a buck from the back end because of the spread. It generally looks like a bigger deer from behind than it does from straight on. (I credit this to human imagination: “imagine what the G2’s might look like”…) To get the right angle for judging your deer, move the camera to his better side: the front or either side.
  • Back to the Basics. Our entire idea of trail cameras was based around the fact that we want to know what is walking through the woods when we are at home snoozing. A little research on the subject reveals that some cameras function relatively well in cold weather, and others experience difficulty with battery life and overall functioning. This is one more reason why I suggest purchasing your camera ahead of time to test it before you purchase multiple cameras from one company. The reviews are mixed, and I’m not entirely sure if this is because the reviewers are biased, or because the cameras literally malfunction in cold weather conditions at times. Either way, I think you’ll be pleased if you purchase one camera from your favorite brand and try it out before you buy 10 more just like it. If all else fails, remember, a blurry shot is better than no shot at all… Unless you’re talking about scopes.
  • Wasted space. You’ve made the investment in the trail cameras, and now they’re on the trees doing what they were made to do. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting, or neglecting, to check your work. Slip in quietly (and as scent-free as possible) to check your images. If you can check them on the spot, which many cameras offer now, then I suggest deleting the photos you don’t want to keep in order to save space. If, however, you see something you want a better look at, then take the card and get out of there quickly. Having a backup SD card for your cameras with you is an ideal situation for those times when you need a closer look at what’s been captured. I generally write a note on each card that identifies which trail camera it goes to (nicknaming my stands), and I have one backup card in my pocket just in case if I want to switch one. This tip, obviously, is only valid for trail cameras that have the view screen option. I recommend this because it does save time, and you can see what’s been through immediately upon arrival to the camera. For those of you who use cameras that must have the card removed, I recommend getting backup SD cards for each one so that you don’t miss out on any important information that may happen to walk by. And your organization tip for the day: label your cards. It’s nice to know which stand you pulled it from instead of trying to identify trees for 10 minutes.

Common sense tells us many things in our quest for the perfect trail camera setup. The first thing I consider is that I need to see the deer and what they’re doing. This tells me to purchase a trail camera that is not only in my budget, but will also provide that information to me. My common sense also tells me that I can move my trail camera as often as I need to. The strap can be easily removed from the tree (unless if it’s been there for nine years), and I can quickly move it to a different spot that may have something other than coyotes walking around.

Don’t make a mess of the area that you’ll be putting your cameras in. Get in and out of there as quickly and quietly as possible.

Don’t believe that you have to leave your camera in a spot where it only captures the rump-end of a deer. You can move it.

And, finally, don’t believe everything you hear. Do your research, buy what you think will work, and do the field testing yourself to decide if it’s a company that you want to believe in. I’ve field tested trail cameras, and so have hundreds of other outdoor experts… But don’t take our word for it: go out there and see which one will work best for you.

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