How trail cameras can help your hunt
Trail cameras have been around for decades in one form or another, but it wasn’t until digital photography became the norm in the 1990s that their widespread use in hunting circles began. Today, in fact, many hunters consider trail cams as much a part of their everyday hunting gear as rifles or knives.
As with most electronics, the past 10 years have seen costs go down while functionality and reliability have improved, further fuelling the trail cam’s popularity. If you haven’t used these devices for scouting or planning your hunts, it’s time to give them a serious look. Here are some things to consider.
What you’ll see
Trail cams can provide intelligence on the numbers, sex ratios and sizes of animals frequenting an area, as well as the time of day they’re most active around the camera site. This can help give you a broader understanding of the presence, activity and movement of animals locally.
Don’t expect your trail cam to provide a complete inventory of game in the area, however. Big-game animals come and go, especially during the rut, and any given animal that’s in one location today might never return. Simply put, trail cams can’t tell you where an animal has come from, where it’s going or why it was there. A buck caught on camera is by no means a buck in the freezer. And then there are those animals the camera simply misses and you never learn about.
Where to look
Finding just the right spot to set up a trail cam is key to maximizing its usefulness. As with selecting a site for a stand, look for locations that promise the most animal movement, such as funnels, game trails and utility corridors. Entrance and exit routes into feeding locations, particularly agricultural crops, are also ideal.
Setting up cameras along active scrapes or rubs can reveal the presence of individual bucks, but these are not necessarily good spots to place a stand or still-hunt. You’ll likely find that bucks don’t visit scrapes on a regular basis; in fact, they may only visit any given scrape or rub just once, especially if it’s isolated. As well, trail cams regularly show that bucks often visit these locations during the night, after legal hunting hours.
Since motion can trigger your trail cam, hang it on a fairly stout tree that won’t sway in the wind—you don’t want an SD card full of thin air. Similarly, clear the camera area of branches or tall grass that could blow in front of the lens, causing the shutter to trigger. Position the camera roughly one metre above the ground, quartered toward the direction from which you expect animals to approach. And where practical, have the camera facing north so you’ll have fewer washed out pictures from direct sunlight.
When to look
How often you check your camera for images depends on the time of year and how easy it is to access. In the off-season, many hunters check their cams every two to four weeks. During hunting season, however, they’ll check far more frequently.
Certainly trail cam technology is evolving, so much so that one day you’ll no doubt be able to have your cam send real-time images to your cellphone. As such, the ethics of using trail cams for hunting is receiving more scrutiny.
But is knowing what game’s around contravening the fair chase ethic? I don’t believe so, as long as you’re not receiving real-time images and heading out immediately to find the animal. No, when I check my trail cams and learn what game has passed through during the previous few days, it doesn’t help anything but my enthusiasm—and my focus on the day’s hunt.
Top trail cam
Trail cam technology is evolving rapidly, and every year improved models hit the market. The hot new unit this year is Bushnell’s Trophy Cam HD Max. Able to record HD video, it features no-glow black LEDs, making it near-invisible to animals at night. It also records the temperature, barometric pressure and moon phase with each colour image, helping you better understand what influences animal movement.